Great writers build spaces for compelling stories and settings that capture our imagination. Here’s how author Neil Gaiman hooks readers using exploration and discovery of a setting in Chapter 1 of his novel Coraline.
“I always consider the entire process about failure, and I think that’s the reason why more people don’t write.”
“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”
Nike CEO Mark Parker called up Steve Jobs one day, shortly after Parker had become CEO:
“Do you have any advice?” Parker asked Jobs. “Well, just one thing,” said Jobs. “Nike makes some of the best products in the world. Products that you lust after. But you also make a lot of crap. Just get rid of the crappy stuff and focus on the good stuff.” Parker said Jobs paused and Parker filled the quiet with a chuckle. But Jobs didn’t laugh. He was serious. “He was absolutely right,” said Parker. “We had to edit.”
Parker used the word ‘edit’ not in a design sense but in the context of making business decisions. Editing also leads to great product designs and effective communications. According to Steve Jobs, “People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying ‘no’ to 1,000 things.”
A couple of intriguing thoughts from Toronto artist/teacher Misha Glouberman in his book The Chairs Are Where The People Go:
Art is communication made in the hope that interesting miscommunications will arise.
You can’t make art by working on it only when you feel like it.
There’s this terrible idea that the things you do are like this manifesto against everything else.
If you’re worried about failure, then it’s very hard to let yourself be surprised. If you’re thinking you shouldn’t fail, then probably you imagine that there’s somewhere in particular you need to be. You’re probably intent on taking a particular path to get there. So if you find yourself somewhere surprising, you might find the need to go backwards, to get back on the right path. That means you’ll miss a lot of interesting and useful surprises. It’s good to learn to suspend the fear of failure. Game structures can be very useful for that, because failure is built into games. If you’re playing baseball and you swing at the ball and you don’t hit the ball, you understand that’s part of the game. It wouldn’t be a very good game if you always hit the ball. What happens mostly is you swing at the ball and you don’t hit. Does that mean that playing baseball is a miserable experience because you’re mostly failing? If you miss the ball playing baseball, it doesn’t mean you’re playing baseball wrong. It just means you’re playing baseball.
Practice success and failure amnesia. Forget that you succeeded. Forgive and forget that you failed. Learn from both and move on fast. Failure can be a patient teacher—it’s often a learnable event. Success can lead to signal and pattern blindness. The greatest achievers I have met are grounded and focused. They practice success amnesia. Achievement is a state of mind. It needs to be practiced, protected and sharpened. Don’t let success blind that state of mind or failure bog it down. The faster we forget the twins of success and failure and focus on only creating value the faster the engines of achievement can carry you forward.
Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.
When tomorrow comes round there’s another pile of emails, phone messages, and to-do list items. If you carry on like this you will spend most of your time on reactive work, responding to incoming demands and answering questions framed by other people. It’s a never-ending hamster wheel. And it will never lead to remarkable work, in Seth Godin’s sense, “worthy of being remarked on.”
On being called a “rebel”:
I just don’t understand why I should do what people tell me to do. The majority is always wrong. I mean if the majority was right, then we would live in a better world. But the world is not good, which means that the majority is always, always wrong. So you always have your personal way of thinking, and you just cannot let it go. There are things that I believe in and nothing in this world would make me change my mind.
On what defines a creative person:
I think if somebody has to make an artistic work, he will finish it no matter what. It has nothing to do with the money, with the time. I was sure that I was not made for artistic work, and I tried to make another kind of work. I was supporting myself, you know, making all sorts of shit work that everybody else does. And I got completely depressed. I had to take pills, and I was really not well. So it wasn’t that I decided [to be an artist]; I just didn’t have any other way out. It was that or I would be in the mental hospital. It was as easy as that. If you have to do something then you do it. People say, “I want to make this movie but I don’t have real connections.” You don’t need to have real connections. If you really have to do it, then you will finish it, I’m sure of that.
I can tell you that’s exactly how and why I finished my novel. (My third novel, son! Kanye voice: Ayy, ayy, ayy…) But the part about “making another kind of work” also applies. I wonder if I’m trying to build two careers instead of throwing everything into just one. Anyway, I’ll leave with these words from the interview:
Life is too short and we cannot spoil it. I don’t have 300 years in front of me. So I just do the things that I really want to do at the moment because that’s the only way you will do them well. If you don’t believe in yourself, it won’t work. Because creation, you know, it means that you don’t have any salary, you don’t have any retirement, all of that. So if you don’t have the security, at least have the freedom. I go for the freedom.