Neil Gaiman — The Interview I’ve Waited 20 Years To Do (#366)

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“The biggest problem we run into is going, ‘This is who I am, this is what I’m like, this is how I function’ while failing to notice that you don’t do that anymore.”
— Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman (@neilhimself) is the bestselling author and creator of books, graphic novels, short stories, film and television for all ages, including Neverwhere, Coraline, The Graveyard Book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, The View from the Cheap Seats and the Sandman series of graphic novels. His fiction has received Newbery and Carnegie Medals, and Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy, Bram Stoker, and Will Eisner Awards, among many other awards and honors.

His novelistic retelling of Norse myths, Norse Mythology, has been a phenomenon, and an international bestseller, and won Gaiman his ninth Audie Award (for Best Narration by the Author).

Recently Gaiman wrote all six episodes of, and has been the full-time showrunner, for the forthcoming BBC/Amazon Prime mini-series adaptation of Good Omens, based on the beloved 1990 book he co-wrote with Terry Pratchett.

Many of Gaiman’s books and comics have been adapted for film and television including Stardust (starring Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer), Coraline (an Academy Award nominee and the BAFTA winner for Best Animated Film), and How to Talk to Girls at Parties, a movie based on Gaiman’s short story. The television series Lucifer is based on characters created by Gaiman in Sandman. His 2001 novel, American Gods, is a critically acclaimed, Emmy-nominated TV series, now entering its second season.

In 2017, Neil Gaiman became a Goodwill Ambassador for UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. Originally from England, he lives in the United States, where he is Professor in the Arts at Bard College.

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Overcast, Castbox, or on your favorite podcast platform.

You can find the transcript of this episode here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

#366: Neil Gaiman — The Interview I've Waited 20 Years To Do
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Want to hear an episode with another world-building dreamer? — Listen to my conversation with filmmaker Darren Aronofsky in which we discuss nomadic writing, how to navigate tough conversations over creativity and control, dealing with critics, and much more. Stream below or right-click here to download.

#263: Filmmaker Darren Aronofsky — Exploring Creativity, Ignoring Critics, and Making Art
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This episode of the Tim Ferriss Show is also brought to you by Hello Monday, a new podcast from LinkedIn’s Editorial Team filled with the kind of advice that stays with you — the kind you can actually use.

Each week, host Jessi Hempel sits down with featured guests, such as Seth Meyers, host of Late Night with Seth Meyers, and Elizabeth Gilbert, bestselling author of Eat, Pray, Love, to uncover lessons you can apply to your career.

For example, Elizabeth Gilbert talks about relieving creative pressure to get more done: As Liz was approaching her follow-up to Eat, Pray, Love, she tried to write for six million people and felt overwhelmed. Instead, she focused on writing for her 10 closest friends. She didn’t know how to please millions of strangers, but did know how to reach those 10 friends.

Find Elizabeth Gilbert’s episode and other episodes from Hello Monday on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen to podcasts.


QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.

Scroll below for links and show notes…

SELECTED LINKS FROM THE EPISODE

  • Connect with Neil Gaiman:

Website | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook

SHOW NOTES

  • How long has this interview been in the making? [09:37]
  • An early interview failure that Neil resolved to never repeat. [10:47]
  • On separating home life from work life and the writing habits of Maya Angelou and Ian Fleming. [15:55]
  • Neil’s biggest rule for writing. [20:16]
  • Neil’s process for writing first drafts. [23:35]
  • What Neil aims to accomplish with his second drafts. [25:49]
  • Something Neil noticed when he first started writing and editing with the use of computers. [26:28]
  • What notebooks does Neil prefer for writing first drafts? [29:13]
  • Fountain pens Neil has known and loved. [35:21]
  • How many book signings does it take to get to the bottom of a Pilot 823’s structural capacity? How about Neil’s signing hand? How many such pens given in sacrifice by Neil’s three-year-old will appease his house gods? [39:39]
  • Neil’s journey from manual typewriter to electric typewriter to computer to notebook, and the power of trivializing weighty endeavors — whether they’re writing novels or going for gold medals. [41:49]
  • How Coraline went from being an unpublishable labor of love for Neil’s children to an award-winning novella. [47:48]
  • Does Neil tend to work on multiple projects at once? [53:22]
  • Why does Neil take particular delight in writing introductions to other people’s work? [55:24]
  • At what time of day does Neil prefer to work, and has this changed over the years? [56:50]
  • Advice to aspiring novelists about finding a routine: The more you can be like Phil Connors in Groundhog Day, the better. [59:35]
  • The importance of understanding that just because we do something one way today doesn’t mean we’ll be doing it that way tomorrow. [1:01:28]
  • How a touching post on Neil’s blog (which I recommend everyone read) inspired me to adopt my own dog, Molly. [1:03:16]
  • What’s the genesis story of The Graveyard Book? [1:04:10]
  • Neil makes the case for giving the ensemble version of The Graveyard Book a listen. [1:15:29]
  • Who was Terry Pratchett, and how did he and Neil strike up a friendship? [1:16:24]
  • On working with Douglas Adams and the germ of the idea that became Neil and Terry’s collaboration, Good Omens. [1:20:12]
  • Neil shares his preposterous writing schedule from simultaneously working on Good Omens, Sandman, and The Books of Magic — something only someone very insane (or very young) could possibly handle. [1:23:08]
  • Why, after so many misfires trying to get Good Omens on the screen, we’ll finally see an uncompromising television adaptation soon. [1:24:30]
  • Where to find out more about Good Omens — the book and the series. [1:30:58]
  • What does Neil feel he learned most from his “apprenticeship” with Terry? [1:32:40]
  • How did Terry approach his own mortality when he learned he had Alzheimer’s disease? [1:34:45]
  • Before he passed away, Terry opened up a controversial dialogue around the right to die for people with terminal diseases like Alzheimer’s. What is Neil’s view? [1:38:14]
  • What would Terry think of the Good Omens series and its related fanfare? How might things have gone differently if he’d been directly involved in production? [1:39:50]
  • Time flies when you’re interviewing Neil Gaiman. (For the record, I hope to fly again sooner than later.) [1:45:09]
  • Parting thoughts. [1:46:03]

PEOPLE MENTIONED

Posted on: March 28, 2019.

Please check out Tribe of Mentors, my newest book, which shares short, tactical life advice from 100+ world-class performers. Many of the world's most famous entrepreneurs, athletes, investors, poker players, and artists are part of the book. The tips and strategies in Tribe of Mentors have already changed my life, and I hope the same for you. Click here for a sample chapter and full details. Roughly 90% of the guests have never appeared on my podcast.

Who was interviewed? Here's a very partial list: tech icons (founders of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Craigslist, Pinterest, Spotify, Salesforce, Dropbox, and more), Jimmy Fallon, Arianna Huffington, Brandon Stanton (Humans of New York), Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Ben Stiller, Maurice Ashley (first African-American Grandmaster of chess), Brené Brown (researcher and bestselling author), Rick Rubin (legendary music producer), Temple Grandin (animal behavior expert and autism activist), Franklin Leonard (The Black List), Dara Torres (12-time Olympic medalist in swimming), David Lynch (director), Kelly Slater (surfing legend), Bozoma Saint John (Beats/Apple/Uber), Lewis Cantley (famed cancer researcher), Maria Sharapova, Chris Anderson (curator of TED), Terry Crews, Greg Norman (golf icon), Vitalik Buterin (creator of Ethereum), and nearly 100 more. Check it all out by clicking here.

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44 comments on “Neil Gaiman — The Interview I’ve Waited 20 Years To Do (#366)

  1. I want to first say I’m not one to leave comments ever, but I felt compelled to do so because I’m a big fan of yours and a huge fan of Neil’s, and when I saw this episode of the podcast this morning as I was getting ready to walk my dog, I was so excited! The episode was incredible. I’m such a notebook and pen nerd so I loved that part of the interview (and will likely be perusing fountain pens shortly instead of being productive). Although I read Good Omens years ago, after listening to this I just bought it again on Audible and am looking forward to the new series coming out. Listening to Neil talk about his relationship with Terry was so inspiring and I honestly had that odd combination of huge smile and a bit of tearing up in my eyes when the interview ended. So, so good. I just wanted to say thank you for the interview and congrats on checking off that bucket list interview. Cheers.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Two of my favorite people for 90 minutes? Wow.

    Anyone who is familiar with Neil Gaiman will love this podcast. As a newbie podcaster, I don’t feel as neurotic anymore. LOL! Neil’s openness in sharing his writing advice and process inspired me in many ways, but his relationship with Terry Pratchett touched my soul. I really enjoyed this interview!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve waited so long to hear your interview him. You introduced me to his work and it pushed me in the right direction when starting my fiction writing career. Incredible questions, even better answers. Will have to visit the Fountain Pen Hospital next time I’m in NYC. (Fellow Strong G’Islander).

    Thanks Tim!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Another great show. Thanks Tim Ferriss and Neil Gaiman for your comments, insight and just good conversation. Every time I take a listen, I get to learn, think and explore some nook and cranny in my creative mind.

    Like

  5. I really like how Neil Gaiman emphasizes the quality of the creative experience with his talk about fountain pens and paper quality, etc. I think too often it’s tempting to “rough it,” and we really cheat ourselves when we do that.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I enjoyed every bit of this interview, and am so glad you were able to interview him. The entire interview was excellent. I’ve been a fan of Neil’s since the Sandman comics too. I just love his voice and his gentle demeanor. I really appreciate the excellent advice he gave for writers. Thanks, Tim!

    Like

  7. I know this is probably a FAQ but do you do transcripts of these interviews? I realise I’d really like to read this on a page.

    Like

  8. Really enjoyed the Episode and the last 365 episodes before that. 🙂

    I would ike to suggest a new potential guest for an episode, I dont know if this is the right place to do that but I’ll do it anyway.
    The guest is: Keanu Reeves

    I have just seen how extensively he prepares for his roles (specially John Wick) and think that it might be interesting to hear about his tactics in this.

    Anyway, in the case you read this Tim, keep up the good work!!
    The podcast and books are great!!

    Like

  9. oh and I knew Terry P a little bit and that’s a REALLY good impression of him that Neil does. Brought a little tear to my eye. 🙂 x

    Like

  10. Hi Tim, I know that maybe this is not the place to ask this, but isn’t the 4 hour chef available in Kindle format anymore? I am trying to buy it on Amazon, but they have available only the physical versions.

    Like

  11. This was my treat for the day. I tackled all the don’t-want-to-do-stuff with the promise that listening to this interview would be my reward for getting all that done. And indeed it was. THANK YOU, Tim. You are interviewer extraordinaire. I’ve always loved how you go deep for the details with your guests and don’t just keep moving through questions for the sake of ticking off the boxes. What an absolute pleasure it was watching the youtube version of this interview, listening to Neil’s thoughtful and beautifully articulated answers to your questions, and seeing just how he thinks and creates his magic on the page. And yes.. (!) I am going to ask for a lovely fountain pen for my birthday this June. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  12. “I was living in a very tall house.” Holy molly, amazing words.
    Tim, if you try a fountain pen, here is the secret. Don’t press so hard on the pen to paper. Just brush it over the paper until the ink flows smoothly. We Americans are used to ball point pens than have to be ground into the page.
    I use one for morning pages. Because you don’t push hard, your hand won’t tire out even after hundreds of words.

    Like

  13. Tim this was an outstanding, insightful, humorous and also touching interview. Neil Gaiman is an outstanding author and the way you two went back and forth about his writing process was pure gold. Can’t wait to explore the show notes and read more of his work. Cheers 🥂

    Like

  14. Not Leichturm but Leuchturm which is a lighthouse in German (literally light tower). Interestingly, Neil started out saying Leuchturm then switched to Leichturm – the power of suggestion! Had to check it out then.
    Thanks for the fascinating interview.

    Like

  15. THANK YOU, TIM.

    Confessions: I’ve listened to almost every podcast, and I’ve never said thank you to you. I think it all the time, but that’s not loud enough and I’m sorry. I knew this one was going to be special. I started listening on a beautiful walk around a bay, but I had to finish in my bathroom because I needed to color my hair. I got the medium brown in, but then your 90 minutes were up. I teared up. It wasn’t the chemicals. It was the conversation.

    My favorite parts/takeaways: when Neil’s daughter Maddy asked him, “what happens next?” (making Graveyard Book story), and when he talked about allowing for accidents and randomness and what happens when things grow (Good Omens).

    My hair is now pitch black, but it’s worth it. Thank you for architecting and gardening, Tim and Neil.

    Tim, thank you x 366 x extra for the episodes I’ve listened to more than once + 5 big books worth of thanks + interest on the overdue thanks, and since I’m getting it all out before I wash my hair, thank you to Derek Sivers for his generosity and guidance and for recommending the 4-Hour Workweek in the first place. Without Derek’s introduction, my hair would not be going goth right now and the mind it covers would not have been opened to a world of great conversation and learning.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Far be it from me to contradict Neil Gaiman, especially when it comes to notebook and pen recommendations, but if you are new to fountain pens the very best way to start (IMO, obviously) is with the medium-nib Pilot Metropolitan pen, which writes beautifully on the Rhodia Webnotebook. It’s a beautiful pen and the Rhodia paper is a tactile joy to write on with it. The paper quality is on par with Leuchturm1917 (superior, imo), and the Moroccan leather-bound cover is soft to the touch. [Moderator: links removed.]

    Enjoy!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Tim,
    Check out David Goggins and his book “Can’t Hurt Me”, Navy Seal, Ultramarathoner, 24 Hour Pull-Up record Holder. Excellent read, I had to search “Tools of Titans” in Kindle to see if you already interviewed him.

    Like

  18. The Graveyard Book (audio) is one of my favourites as well. I remember going for a camping trip with Mum and convincing her to listen to it with me (I knew she would love it!). The tents would be set up, dinner cooked, and to the sounds of wild life and a running creek, we would lay down on a picnic rug and listen to the next couple of chapters. ❤
    I really enjoyed this interview, it was inspiring and soul touching, so much variety covered, so much to explore and delve into, so many things learned and advice to take on board. The parts I especially loved:
    *making a decision is work – don't just write and write and fill up your words with gas.
    *choose to do nothing, or write.
    *Terry's willingness to go forward, not knowing what happens next.
    Thank you both =)

    Liked by 1 person

    • This is a wonderful way to listen to audiobooks! Loved the imagery. Think this will be Hannah and my Easter plans! Thanks for the idea!

      Like

  19. Sorry to ask but where is the item list that Neil mentioned; fountain pens, types of notebooks, etc. I’ve looked and cant locate.

    Sorry newbie

    Like

  20. I was a very long time fan of Neil Gaiman… way back in the Sandman comic days and then growing up into the novels. Somewhere along the way, I discovered Tim Ferriss and became a fan of his as well… funny how people like similar things and admire the same people.

    Like

  21. Hey Tim I just watched the Free Solo movie. I think Alex Honnolds risk system would be a great interview. Cheers!

    Like

  22. Hey Tim- Trying to reply to your 5-Bullet Friday and it brought me hear. Just watched your video on the three drinks your were enjoying (2016). 1) Where can I find the Hitorimusume Sake? And 2) Can I get an update on what drinks you are enjoying right now?! Thanks!

    Like

  23. Neil Gaiman, wow! I got sooo much out of this. So interesting to hear his journey and all the twists along the way. ~ H

    Like

  24. Hannah and I loved this interview as we’re both HUGE Neil Gaiman fans! First time I ever came across him was the ensemble BBC Audio version of his Neverwhere book and been hooked ever since!

    Can’t wait for the Good Omens series! The parts he shared about Terry Pratchett were really special.

    Thanks Tim for your epic interviews and this super cool website. [Moderator: additional text removed (but with appreciation for the content).]

    Like

  25. “If you’ve got a computer, adding stuff [words] is not work, CHOOSING is work”.
    I loved every second of this interview. So many writing advice gems plus extensive talk about fountain pens. What more could you want in life?

    Like

  26. A favorite of all time, the measure and thoughtfulness in Neil’s answers and articulation. I am still a fountain pen user, we’re out there! And, now the Fountain Pen hospital is on my New York list!

    Like

  27. I really enjoyed this conversation. Neil has a voice and pacing that is so easy to listen to. I read Coraline to my kids after this podcast and had to edit some scary parts down for them. But I did find myself trying to channel Neil while I read outloud.

    I also love his writing strategy, you are allowed to sit and do nothing or you can write. I will apply that to my work. You can sit and do nothing or you can design.

    Like

  28. Fantastic conversation with Mr Gaiman. I listened to this while digging up my backyard to build a patio (a very systematic endeavor with just a spade shovel) and somehow it was the perfect combination of things.

    “I go to a place and I can write or I can do nothing.”

    What a simple yet ingenious rule to inspire one to write. Some days it is just hard to pick up the pen. I recently did something similar, locking myself away in a barn loft without WiFi or cell service and went full FBR on a text. It truly works – writing is better than nothing!

    Like

  29. would i, one day, bod-like, meet the good neil, at the hospital? i’m a small graveyard kinda guy. but i believe in resurrection. and i wish the best ‘o days to ya.

    Like