On my desk, right next to my coffee cup, lies Neil Gaiman’s booklet Make Good Art. I’m sure you’ve heard of it. It was his 2012 commencement speech at Philadelphia’s University of Arts. It’s been all over the internet, tweeted a million times, shared and posted on Facebook, and it contained such brilliant lines as “Legs crushed and then eaten by a mutant boa constrictor? Make good art!”
Of course it’s easy for someone like Neil Gaiman to say something like this. He’s a pop star icon of American literature. But how does this advice work for the rest of us? You know, authors like us who aren’t feted at book readings as if we were the reunited Beatles?
This is the last stop in the blog hop to celebrate the release of my book Song of the Storm, the final installment in the Stone Trilogy (The Distant Shore,Book I; Under the Same Sun, Book II). The trilogy tells the story of rock star Jon Stone, and his writer wife, Naomi Carlsson. They are both creative, both successful, but they took very different paths to get there. While Jon follows his dream with dedicated single-mindedness, Naomi feels guilty about her writing and doesn’t believe in her own talent until her husband virtually pushes her into writing.
This is where Neil Gaiman comes in. How does a person’s upbringing, a person’s character influence how successful they are at creating art? Is talent something that’s simply there or is it something that grows in you? Will it always make it to the surface?
Jon knows he has talent. He has a clear concept of what he can do and how to present it, and he easily sees what he needs to do to improve his music and singing. He’s a tireless creator of his public persona and is careful to keep up the perfect image. In a way, Jon is his own piece of art who only lets his guard down in private and only with carefully selected people.
He nearly throws a fit when his manager, Sal, meets him for lunch and brings along a strange girl, his date, without telling Jon first. In the same way, when Naomi wants to throw a Christmas party, he has a long argument with her about who gets invited, saying among other things that he doesn’t want strangers to see what brand of toilet paper the Stones use in their house.
Don’t get me wrong—Jon is a very nice man. He’s very much in love with his wife, generous and caring with those close to him, and he is a wonderful composer. But he wants the world to see him in a particular light.
Naomi, on the other hand, is as insecure about her creativity as a one-legged, blind man walking on a tightrope. Her urge to write was squelched early in her life by her father who wanted her to take over the family business some day. He doesn’t believe in creating art even though he’s quite the connoisseur when it comes to collecting it.
Marrying Jon is a moment of liberation for Naomi: her husband is an artist, too. He understands, and recognizes her enormous talent. He sets her free to accept her writing as something precious, worthwhile. It’s almost as if Naomi needs this permission to put her talent to work. No one ever said to her, “Make good art, regardless of what else is going on in your life.” No one said it to me, either.
I remember well how when I was writing The Distant Shore, I kept apologizing to my family for spending so much time bent over my laptop, headphones on my ears. My writing was taking me away from household chores, from spending time with my husband and sons. They were very good about it and kept telling me not to worry and to just write, much the way Jon keeps telling Naomi.
It still felt like stolen time.
But I was making art. Maybe even good art, the book was snatched up by my publisher Buddhapuss Ink right away, and went on to win the Bronze IPPY Medal.
So what’s the lesson here?
I can’t say it any better than Neil Gaiman: Make good art.
Leg crushed and then eaten by a mutated boa constrictor? Make good art.
Fish fingers burnt and accidentally served with custard? Write.
A new episode of Once Upon A Time on TV? Finish that chapter. Write that book. Don’t feel guilty about it. It’s who you are.
Thank you, Elizabeth, for inviting me to be here for the conclusion of the Song of the Storm Blog Hop. I’ve had a blast!
I hope all the readers out there have had some fun over the course of the last two weeks, learned something new about me, and maybe, just maybe, were inspired to check out my books. I adore you all, and I’m honored to share my stories with you.
Huge thanks to Mariam for her post this week and I wish her the very best of luck with Song of the Storm. I rarely feature guest posts but Mariam has proved a valuable writing companion & friend on twitter/Facebook and so I was delighted to host her final blog hop post. Especially seeing as it happens to reflect my own attitude towards writing & include one of my literary heroes 🙂