Gaiman is a master storyteller, whose works span genre and medium; short stories, novels, audio theatre, comic books, films, graphic novels and television. The Sandman, Gaiman’s greatest work, has revived its cultural standing in the wake of a well-received Netflix adaptation. His work is grand, unconventional, and beloved, so its no wonder the writer was scooped up to conduct his own Masterclass series.
The class itself sits behind a paywall, but a short promotional clip features a sage bit of advice, well-worn but worth hearing about through his personal experience. Gaiman insists that the key to engaging an audience, no matter how out-there his story is, relies on honesty, because that’s what readers and viewers are after.
Per Gaiman, the hardest part of his career was its staggered beginnings. Gaiman felt unable to break into the industry as a writer, and so sought to learn what it was that professionals were capable of which he had yet to employ. Making himself out to be a journalist, Gaiman infiltrated writer’s workshops and gatherings, and quickly made a key observation: despite being on the path to become a writer, he still read material as an audience, while the authors he observed read as craftspeople. His approach had been wrong.
If you want to be a writer, you’ll have to sacrifice your comforts as an audience for commitment. This experience had a profound effect on Gaiman, who abandoned his skill for taking on the voice of writers he had admired and set about writing truthfully. Gaiman clarifies that his lack of honesty in writing prior to this was not the result of a lack of life-experience, but rather a reticence to reveal himself through his work; to be totally vulnerable. He did not want to be judged. But accepting that scrutiny is a necessary sacrifice, if you have designs to be a writer of merit. Exceed the level of honesty you’re comfortable to project.
Gaiman fully expected that once he had torn down the walls and put himself into his work completely that he would be judged and rejected. In fact, the opposite happened: where once he had been rebuffed, his work was received warmly, because they felt personal. In this way, Gaiman was able to take his darkest period, and turn it around.
It’s humorous to see Gaiman turn this piece of writing advice into a story in of itself, as if he can’t help but narrativize his every thought. On your way to catch up with the new Netflix series adaptation of Gaiman’s The Sandman (and to take notes, of course).