I’ve been looking for this article for a long time. This particular quote was really important for me:
My old school got me in a few times to do “careers advice.” I was the token writer, and people would come up to me and say “How do I get to be a writer?” and I said “Well, first of all, if you can do anything else, do that. You know, there are lots of other things you can do that are an awful lot more fun, pay a lot better, will let you sleep far easier.” [laughs]
I also really like this bit:
Your fans are known as serious gift-givers. Jill Thompson says you’ve probably gotten more tapes than any writer at Musician magazine.
NEIL: Most of the tapes I’m given are terrible. You know, Scandanavian death-metal or whatever. You know: [sings in a deep, slightly American voice] “Oh, Morpheus, come down from the sky and give me good dreams CHA-DUNG CHA-DUNG CHA-DUNG” or one guy accompanies himself on a harmonium or whatever.
Well, that last one sounds interesting…
NEIL: It wasn’t. But I still play them. I had a tape given to me in San Diego a couple of years ago by somebody who said “A friend of mine is a huge Sandman fan, she’s just recorded this, she wants you to have it, she talks about you on one of the songs.” About three weeks later I got around to playing it, and it was terrific. Absolutely stunning. There was an address on it, and I wrote to her and said, “I think it’s wonderful, and thank you very much for mentioning me on the song,” and that was Tori Amos, and that was the tape that later became a number of tracks on Little Earthquakes.
I’d give that same advice to anyone else considering a career in writing. I tried to find something else I could do for living, but I was never able to.
I thought I remembered a part with him talking about deciding to become a journalist, but I guess it was a different interview from around the same time. I did find this interview with him telling more or less the same story:
I’d always wanted to be a writer and I had a really bad night, the kind of long dark night of the soul, one of those nights you only get once or twice in a lifetime and I got one when I was about 20. I remember being unable to sleep and about four in the morning I keep thinking “I keep thinking I’m a writer. I like to think I could write stuff just as good as anybody else out there but I’m not really doing anything about it.” And that’s not the bad thing. What’s the bad thing is that in 50 or 60 years time I could be on my deathbed and I would say to myself, “I could’ve been a writer,” and I wouldn’t know if I was lying or not. It was the long dark night of the soul that genuinely changes everything. So I said “Okay, I’m gonna try and be a writer because even if I’m not, at least I’ll know that I’m not.” So I started writing. I wrote a children’s book, I wrote a bunch of short stories, and a lot of other stuff and sent them out to people . . .and the stories came back. Then I thought, “I’m doing this wrong. Either I’m not a very good writer (which I choose not to believe), or I’m doing this wrong. I want to understand how publishing and all that works. So I got up the next morning and said, “All right, I’m now a journalist. I’m a freelance journalist.” So I got on the phone to editors and pitched them story ideas about things I wanted to write and by the end of the day—by dint of lying cheerfully about previous experience—I now had several commissions and then had to turn them in.
FWOMP: And how did that go?
Neil Gaiman: It actually went fine although I must say as long as I had a typewriter, which was probably the next couple of years, there was a piece of paper taped to it that said, “Don’t let your mouth write no check that your tail can’t cash.” I think that’s a quote from Muddy Waters. And every now and then it would make me think, “I just got myself into a book contract. How the fuck did that happen? What do I do? I’ve never written a book and now I have a book contract.” So I’d write books. But it was good. There’s nothing for getting you good fast like having to be good fast, if that makes any sense.