How Neil Gaiman’s ‘Make Good Art’ Speech Inspired My Writing Career

There’s always a story behind the story.

Writers don’t write because they have nothing better to do. They write because there is a story they must tell. It’s a difficult craft. It involves discipline and motivation to sit for hours on end, typing words that might never be published. There’s no guts or glory, or a guarantee of success. There’s only hope in what they can accomplish and the fears and doubts that accompany it.

No one hears the author’s story. It is usually hidden behind their work. Yet today I’d like to tell mine. There’s something that changed my life I’d like to share in the hope it will change yours.

When I Began Writing

Like most writers, I was an avid reader. When I learned that there were people behind books, and they write for a living, I longed for that career as well.

I cowrote my first novel with a good friend in seventh grade. It was a story about a princess who quests to find twelve magical jewels to defeat an evil lord. In my innocent mind, writing was simple and inspiration was everywhere. I began stories about genies, warring tribes, people living inside a volcano, fairy tale retellings, historical fiction. Anything that crossed my mind, I wrote.

Needless to say, I failed to finish any novels in high school. However, at that point, completion was not important. The important part was writing, relentless writing, and I improved with every story. Experience and practice can teach more about the craft than studying it.

During that time, I began a historical novel that I was passionate about. I decided this was going to be the one I finished. It took me years to write the first draft of Lethal Shores and my writing became better with every chapter.

As I graduated high school, writing full-time was not a goal. I was told how impossible it was too many times. Writing was going to be a hobby, and nothing more. I was interested in health, so I was going to become a nutritionist. That was going to be my real job.

When I Finished the First Draft

I went to Israel a year before university. I continued Lethal Shores’s first draft and halfway through the school year, I completed it.

I was sitting in an empty office where I typed the last sentence, words I had planned before I wrote chapter one. I read it a few times, whispering it to myself, as closed the laptop and walked to my dorm room. I was dazed, giddy with pride, and yet depressed that something so close to my heart, a part of my life for so long, has ended.

My fellow writer friend shrieked and congratulated me when I told her the news. I suppose shrieking and jumping up and down is more appropriate reaction to such an accomplishment. I didn’t expect the end to be so bittersweet, and yet through the gloominess, I couldn’t stop smiling.

Of course, that was not the end. Editing and revisions had only begun, but I took a break from the story for the rest of the school year so I can begin editing with a fresh mind once I returned home.

What Inspired My Entire Writing Career

Meanwhile, my writer friend printed a speech by Neil Gaiman, author of Coraline, Sandman, American Gods, Good Omens, and many other titles. I knew none of this at the time. In fact, I had only vaguely heard of the man. Still, my friend insisted I read the speech.

This very speech.

‘Make Good Art’ – The Best Advice for Writers

There are few things that changed my life so instantly, but this was one of them. Every word Gaiman said spoke to the artist in me, the writer with hundreds of stories to tell, the little girl who wrote about a princess and magical jewels all those years ago.

I walked out of my bedroom with a euphoria only clarity can provide. For some reason, I couldn’t stop laughing; everything seemed funny to me.

“I was going to become a nutritionist!” I cried. “Isn’t that hilarious?”

“Why is that hilarious?” asked my confused friends.

I waved the speech in their faces. “Because I’m a writer.”

Then I got Lethal Shores published along with twenty other novels, half of which became movies, I traveled the world, and lived in author glory for the rest of my days.

Just kidding. Being a writer does not give you an easy pass through life. Quite on the contrary, the starving writer stereotype did stem from somewhere. However, as Neil Gaiman said,

You have the ability to make art.

And for me, and for so many of the people I have known, that’s been a lifesaver. The ultimate lifesaver. It gets you through good times and it gets you through the other ones.

Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all the other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do.

Make good art.

Writers and artists have powers no one else has. We can create, we are imaginative, we are gods, and we see the world in a way nobody else can. 

I have printed and highlighted quotes in Neil Gaiman’s speech and I recommend you do as well. If you are an inspiring writer or an old pro, this is a speech you need to hear. It just might change your life.

Comment below about why you became a writer.

Now get writing!

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