Career in the Arts – Neil Gaiman’s commencement address

The things I’ve done the best, were the things I was less certain about. – Neil Gaiman

Best career advice I was given, came from Stephen King. “You should enjoy it”. When he saw the long lines queuing (for Neil’s autograph after the success of “Sandman”.)

A long time ago, I entertained the thought of writing children’s books. L introduced me to Neil Gaiman’s “The Day I swapped my dad for two goldfishes”.    It was hilarious. I went on to read “Coraline”.

Im so pleased to chance upon his commencement speech at the University of Philadelphia.  A summary of the speech can be found on Gus Lubin’s write-up at the Business Insider (re-printed here):

First of all: When you start out on a career in the arts you have no idea what you are doing.

Secondly, If you have an idea of what you want to make, what you were put here to do, then just go and do that.

Thirdly, When you start off, you have to deal with the problems of failure. You need to be thickskinned, to learn that not every project will survive. A freelance life, a life in the arts, is sometimes like putting messages in bottles, on a desert island, and hoping that someone will find one of your bottles and open it and read it, and put something in a bottle that will wash its way back to you: appreciation, or a commission, or money, or love. And you have to accept that you may put out a hundred things for every bottle that winds up coming back.

Fourthly, I hope you’ll make mistakes. If you’re making mistakes, it means you’re out there doing something. And the mistakes in themselves can be useful. I once misspelled Caroline, in a letter, transposing the A and the O, and I thought, “Coraline looks like a real name…”

And Fifthly, while you are at it, make your art. Do the stuff that only you can do.

Sixthly. I will pass on some secret freelancer knowledge. Secret knowledge is always good. And it is useful for anyone who ever plans to create art for other people, to enter a freelance world of any kind. I learned it in comics, but it applies to other fields too.”

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Other Commencement speeches:

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