Just Write Is Just Right

Read­ing Time: 3 min­utes

I took my daugh­ter and step­son to see one of my favorite authors a cou­ple of days ago. Neil Gaiman also hap­pens to be one of their favorite authors, hav­ing penned a favorite sto­ry, Cora­line, they both share a love for. Con­sid­er­ing that most of my favorite authors have passed away, this was a rare treat for all of us, and we did not come away dis­ap­point­ed.

Mr. Gaiman came out and was imme­di­ate­ly charm­ing and wit­ty, which is not some­thing all authors are, prompt­ing my step­son to observe that if the whole book thing does­n’t work out, he can suc­ceed as a come­di­an. I don’t expect authors to be good at any­thing but writ­ing, and it’s always a nice sur­prise when they are. It’s also nice when any­one can so imme­di­ate­ly grab the atten­tion of a 14-year old teenage boy who spends most of his time buried in video games, YouTube, SnapChat, or some oth­er online endeav­or. That itself was worth the price of admis­sion.

Mr. Gaiman per­formed sev­er­al read­ings of var­i­ous works, all of which were read and enun­ci­at­ed with a qual­i­ty I am sel­dom used to hear­ing from an author, and all of which were incred­i­bly engag­ing. Even works which I had already read were brought to life with a col­or I had not found in my own read­ing. The fact that my 17-year old daugh­ter could be brought near­ly to tears by a short sto­ry was again worth its weight in gold.

Hav­ing said all of that, the most inter­est­ing part of the evening, and why I am writ­ing this, were the audi­ence mem­bers’ ques­tions Mr. Gaiman answered between read­ings of his myr­i­ad col­or­ful works. Ques­tions rang­ing from opin­ions on oth­er authors, to what he thought of Amer­i­cans (Mr. Gaiman is British by birth), to what he thought of being “a nerd-girl’s dream man.” It was his answer to the much-hack­neyed ques­tion of what advice he would give to aspir­ing authors, how­ev­er, which was the most pre­scient.

With a brief pause and a bit of a rue­ful chuck­le, his advice to aspir­ing authors was to “stop aspir­ing.” He went on to elab­o­rate, “write some­thing.” It is sim­ple advice, and pos­si­bly dis­ap­point­ing to those look­ing for some secret sauce to help them under­stand why they have not yet suc­ceed­ed as writ­ers, and yet more dead-on and hon­est than the usu­al advice-filled arti­cles on the sub­ject.

Just write” might be the go-to expla­na­tion for any num­ber of endeav­ors from fic­tion, to non-fic­tion, or even to soft­ware devel­op­ment. How many of us, the “aspir­ing” writ­ers of the world, spend an inor­di­nate amount of our time try­ing to fig­ure out the secret to suc­cess, all the while post­pon­ing the one thing that might get us where we so long­ing­ly desire to go. Writ­ers of fic­tion need to write, writ­ers of non-fic­tion need to write, and devel­op­ers of software–writers in our own right–need to write.

Pro­cras­ti­na­tion seems to be the birthright of every sort of cre­ative per­son. We are often con­tent, too con­tent, to live with­in our own minds, dream­ing of the things we will write, the things we will cre­ate, the won­ders we will bring forth to an ador­ing world. And yet, to an outsider–everyone who is not us–we have not done any­thing. We are the dream­ers, the weavers of tales, the cre­ators of things, the mak­ers of the worlds that live only with­in our own thoughts.

I am as guilty of this as any­one, and just as capa­ble of hid­ing this truth from myself. I can write entire arti­cles in my head, con­coct soft­ware from whole cloth that will change the world, and some­how be con­tent in the knowl­edge that “I could” even if I do not. That might sat­is­fy us on a super­fi­cial lev­el, but I think that deep down we all know the truth: that we have done noth­ing. Cre­at­ing a thing, and sub­ject­ing it to the crit­i­cism of the light of day and the vagaries of the human con­di­tion takes an immense amount of courage, and it is often eas­i­er to keep our cre­ations as pris­tine and unmo­lest­ed suc­cess­es, if only in our own mind.

Ulti­mate­ly, how­ev­er, as we grow up we must put aside child­ish things, and that means accept­ing the fact that we must com­plete some­thing. We must take what is in our heads, com­mit it to its prop­er form, and let come what may. It may be good, or it may be bad, but it is bet­ter for hav­ing seen the light than any­thing not giv­en form but in the world with­in our own head. Mr. Gaiman may be more cre­ative than some, and less cre­ative than oth­ers, but he has learned the one thing that many of us have for­got­ten, or nev­er learned: that we must stop aspir­ing if we want to see our dreams real­ized. This arti­cle, for instance, could have con­tin­ued to float gen­tly around the aether of my mind, but I stopped aspir­ing and I wrote some­thing, and that was the whole point.