Six Tips Every Writer Should Know Thanks to Neil Gaiman

Freelance life like message in a bottleBelow is one of the most inspirational videos I’ve seen of late. I hope you’ll take time to watch all 19:55 minutes of it as you’ll be mesmerized listening to the eloquent words of author Neil Gaiman.

In this commencement speech to the graduates of the University of the Arts, Neil outlines six tips he wishes he’d known before starting out as a writer including the “secret freelancer knowledge” that he learned in the world of comics.

Plus, he shares the best piece of advice he ever received from colleague Stephen King, but completely failed to follow.

Whether you’re a writer, designer, photographer, dancer – any creative being in the world of the arts – here are the six tips Neil reveals:

1. When you start out in a career in the arts, you have no idea what you’re doing. This is great! People who don’t know what they’re doing, don’t know what’s impossible so it’s easier to do.
2. If you have an idea of what you were put here to do, then, just go and do that. It’s much harder than it sounds, but, in the end, much easier than you imagined.
3. When you start out, you have to deal with the problems of failure. A freelance life, a life in the arts, is like putting messages in bottles, hoping someone will find one of your bottles, open and read it and put something back in it showing appreciation (i.e. commission, money, or love) that will wash its way back to you. You’ll have to accept that you’ll put hundreds of things in bottles before one comes back to you.
4. I hope you’ll make mistakes because if you do it means you’re out there doing something. Mistakes themselves can be very useful.
5. Make YOUR art. Do the stuff only you can do. One thing you have that no one else has is YOU – your voice, your mind, your story, your vision.
6. SECRET FREELANCER KNOWLEDGE – People get hired because somehow they get hired. You get work, however you get work, but you’ll KEEP getting work in a freelance world (and more & more of today’s world is freelance), because of these 3 things:
a. Your work is good.
b. You’re easy to get along with.
c. You deliver your work on time.
NOTE FROM NEIL: You don’t even need all three. Two out of three is fine. Watch the video for Neil’s humorous explanation of this.

To learn the best piece of advice that Neil received from Stephen King, but failed to follow, click on the video below. Then, please share your thoughts in the comment section of this blog. I’d love to read how Neil’s words touched and inspired you. Thanks!

“Make interesting mistakes. Make amazing mistakes. Make glorious & fantastic mistakes. Break rules and leave the world more interesting for you’re being here. Make good art.” – Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman is an English author now living in Minneapolis. The creator of Sandman comics, he is credited with being one of the creators of modern comics. He is listed in the Dictionary of Literary Biography as one of the top 10 living post-modern writers.

Debra Jason

Marketing & writing with heart, not hype at at The Write Direction
A recipient of the “Creative Person of the Year” award, Debra educates and empowers creative solopreneurs and enthusiastic business owners to create a lifestyle business that provides them with the flexibility, fun and freedom to do what they love. She also inspires you to communicate your marketing message in a way that captivates and converts your prospects into loyal, raving fans - even if you have been struggling with how to transform your ideas into words in the past.


  1. All six points are really wonderful. Number one is sooo true! Thanks for posting this!
    Toni Nelson recently posted…Exciting News For Women Owned Businesses!My Profile

    • You’re so welcome @Toni. I thought this video was one not to be missed. Neil’s advice to this class of college grads was heartwarming and sincere.
      While I value all his tips, I liked “one thing you have that no one else has is YOU – your voice, your mind, your story, your vision.
      Thanks! ~Debra

  2. Thanks for posting this. It’s full of great advice, whether you’re starting out — or starting over.

  3. This is the most helpful blog post I’ve read in a long, long time! Thank you so much, Debra. I love it!
    Amy recently posted…Frozen gooseberries, homemade moonshine, and punctuation gaffesMy Profile

  4. This is a great post! This post made me much more confident. Thanks so much for sharing this with us.

    Wyneatte recently posted…My Contribution to the WorldMy Profile

    • So happy I made your day a bit brighter @Wyneatte.
      @Peggy, as an artist yourself I figured you’d love his anthem of “make good art.”
      Thanks to both of you for reading the blog, watching the video & sharing your thoughts.

  5. No matter what, make good art. Thank you for sharing this. Inspirational!
    Peggy Kemp recently posted…Improvisational Bead Embroidery Workshop with Robin Atkins, March 30-April 1, 2013My Profile

  6. That little bit of inspiration & humor just when I needed it!
    Thanks, Debra

  7. I read and re-read the post and kept hearing a voice say, the secret sauce is be yourself, you are one of a kind!

    Being a freelancer sounds glamorous but it is a lot of hard work and staying driven and inspired is important.

    Thanks Debra, you rock!

  8. I watched this video when you shared it on your FB page, and I had to share it then. It’s brilliant and inspiring on so many levels.

    Just let go and enjoy the ride 🙂
    Jan recently posted…How To Add A Pay With A Tweet Button To Your Posts [Video]My Profile

    • You can say that again @Jan. I’ve watched it more than once and as you saw, it inspired me to write this blog post and spread the word beyond my Facebook page. Hope you’re enjoying your ride today! Thanks. ~Debra

  9. To be honest, when you suggested watching a nearly 20 minute video clip, I thought ‘no way’. However, I read your article and I was inspired to learn more. Thank you. Both are brilliant.

    And, just what I needed to hear and read today.

    Thank you!
    Jacqueline Fairbrass recently posted…Good Enough is Perfect for Me So I Choose HappyMy Profile

    • @Jacqueline, I know exactly what you mean. When a friend first sent me the link to this video and I saw the length, I thought “no way.”
      Now that you’ve watched it, you understand that Neil quickly captures and engages his audience. As I wrote on the blog, I was mesmerized by his poignant comments.
      I’ve watched it several times now. I’m pleased to know it was just what you needed to hear & read today. Thanks! ~Debra

  10. Debra, I LOVE this! Thank you for introducing me to my new crush ;)!! Such amazing advice that really brings it all back to the beautiful basics–make. good. art. And “if you are afraid you can’t do something, pretend you’re someone who can.” YES YES YES!!! YAY! Feeling giddy…merci beaucoup!
    eyenie recently posted…Three Magic Steps to Inner Vibrance, Guest Post by Elise McDowellMy Profile

  11. I love Neil Gaiman, Good Omens written with Terry Pratchett is one of the best books I have ever read – and so much fun!
    Thanks for sharing this video Debra 🙂
    Emmanuelle recently posted…About Passion + PurposeMy Profile

  12. Love King’s advice… Enjoy the ride. I’ll never forget early in my entrepreneur career I was complaining about the computer and printing. My son who was about 22yrs at the time said to me, “Really? You get to stay home and not deal with kids and teaching and do what you love and you’re complaining about the computer?!?” It was like being hit over the head with a frying pan and I realized he was right. ?
    Julie Geigle recently posted…Increase Vitality with New Energetic FrequenciesMy Profile

    • Your son sounds wise @Julie. Next time I’m yelling at my computer (I talk to it a lot), I’ll have to remind myself of your son’s wisdom along with Stephen King’s advice.
      Thanks. ~Debra

  13. Thanks for sharing these awesome tips. Failure is great (#3 on the list). I don’t know where I would be with out it. I have learned so much from the failures and road blocks I have faced. If we want our end goal enough, we will face the failure, learn from it and move past it with greater knowledge. When I was younger, I thought I wasn’t supposed to fail, or people would not respect me. Now, I know better. Some of my failures have gotten me where I am today. Thanks again,
    ~ Jodene
    Jodene recently posted…Genke Youtube Comment Plugin for WordPress BlogsMy Profile

    • You’re welcome @Jodene. It does seem that we’re taught that failure is a bad thing. However, as Neil said “make mistakes, make glorious mistakes.” They may look like failures, but they’re really life lessons. Doesn’t always seem that way when it happens, but it’s good to have the reminder. ~Debra

  14. Love this! It reminds me of a favorite quote: “Let’s make better mistakes tomorrow.” They’re inevitable and they keep coming, but you can do them better!
    Jessica recently posted…Look behind the door with the great big “X” at The SweatboxMy Profile

    • Hi Jessica, I don’t know about doing mistakes better, but I think we can perhaps handle them better. Instead of beating one’s self up about making the mistake, do out best to learn from it.
      Thanks, glad you loved the blog. ~Debra

  15. Thanks Debra for sharing this, I like all 6 steps, especially N3 a-message-in-a-bottle approach. Loved the video, I like how you’ve created a great article combining with the video.
    Inga Deksne recently posted…Collect evidences of your successMy Profile

    • @Inga, as you can see by the image I posted along with the blog, the “message in a bottle” concept resonated with me. I’m glad you appreciated the written summary in addition to the posting of the video. I thought it best to let viewers get an idea of what to expect when they clicked on the video. So glad you enjoyed it – it appears everyone has so far, but then again “what’s not to like about it?” Neil is superb in his delivery of the message. Thanks. ~Debra

  16. Debra, What a message… not only for writers, yes? Great video. My favorite quote:

    ” A freelance life, a life in the arts, is like putting messages in bottles, hoping someone will find one of your bottles, open and read it and put something back in it showing appreciation (i.e. commission, money, or love) that will wash its way back to you.”

    But that would apply to anything any one of us would create…

    Thanks for sharing Debra 😉
    Kelly recently posted…wasted day…My Profile

  17. I’m always looking for writing inspiration. Love learning how other writers have made their way in the world and seeing that there’s no formula other than doing it! “Do the stuff only you can do. One thing you have that no one else has is YOU – your voice, your mind, your story, your vision.” Thanks for sharing!
    Christie Halmick recently posted…Women Branching Out: Bianca FiloteoMy Profile

    • You’re welcome @Christie. I appreciate you sharing your comments. I liked when Neil made that proclamation as well and it’s one I’ve heard before. I think we all need reminders now & again.
      Have a great day. Thanks~ ~Debra

  18. I love Neil Gaiman. He rocks.

    This is a great list. I like 4 and 5 the best. I think being Ok with making mistakes is a good skill for everyone to have and the Make YOUR art….can carry over to every individual because we all have something unique to offer.
    Leah Shapiro recently posted…Can Being Awesome Make You Sick?My Profile

  19. Ooh I love it – just what I needed to hear today! That will keep me motivated for a good while yet. Thank you for sharing this. I love the message in a bottle analogy!

    • I think we can all hear this everyday @Helen. Don’t you? I’m happy it motivated you and hope your day turned out to be a stellar one because of it! Here’s hoping someone comes across your message in a bottle and acknowledges their appreciation for you. Thanks. ~Debra

  20. Hi Debra-One of my favorite take-away is how he did what felt like an adventure and stop when if felt like work. I’ve been practicing this over the past few years.

    So many golden nuggets:-)

    Thanks for introducing me to Neil.
    Dana recently posted…I am the lightMy Profile

    • Thrilled to make the introduction @Dana. It touched a nerve when he said, “Nothing I did, where the only reason for doing it was money, was ever ever worth it except as a bitter experience. Things that I did that excited me, never let me down.” As you said, a golden nugget. Thanks. ~Debra

  21. Debra,
    I’m such a newbie (business two months) and was feeling so very discouraged because I REALLY DON’T know what I’m doing! just trying to do it as best I can and it’s such hard work. I’m glad you posted Neil’s commencement address. I know this sounds strange but listening to the commencement address made me like I was in the graduating class with them…and even though I don’t have a CLUE, it’s all right; and I’m going to be all right too. Thanks for the post.

    • Michele, so glad you watched the video. Don’t feel discouraged. If this is your dream, then go for it. People want what you have to offer so I know you make a difference. It sounds like you’d benefit from having a support team around you – colleagues, mentors and friends who can remind you of your brilliance when you feel deflated. When I started my business (almost 25 years ago), it meant a lot to me to have these peeps to turn to.
      Thanks for being authentic and sharing your thoughts here.
      Here’s to your sweet success,

  22. This is the third time I’ve watched this video. Each time, I’ve learned something new. Great talk. Thanks for sharing!

  23. This video is really worth watching. They are so true. Thanks for sharing!
    Tamar recently posted…Learn How to Transfer Patterns For Embroidery!My Profile


  1. […] 6. Search online resources. You’ll find great ideas online. Search your topic on YouTube, Google, or Ezine Articles and share the ideas that resonate with you and your audience. When I found an inspirational commencement video of writer Neil Gaiman, I created a post around it titled, “6 Tips Every Writer Should Know Thanks to Nail Gaiman.” […]

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