Monday, May 19, 2003

Dreams of Neil

The other night I dreamed about Neil Gaiman. (Not the first dream I've had of him; he's clearly entered my unconscious as a Symbol, poor guy, and is trapped there along with all the houses and landscapes, stones and monsters, that clutter my mind.)

Though in the dream we were friends, I still felt the nervous desire to impress a celebrity. He got angry, and we argued. (Me thinking: "Our first argument! We must really be friends!") He was annoyed because my admiration limited him. "I'm just an ordinary guy. I need to be a real person with you."

"I know. I'm sorry. I need to separate the writer and the work."

Nothing earth-shattering, really. I know that just meeting a Writer (nor befriending one, nor even being loved by one) doesn't endow anyone with magical validation. I've been preaching that particular gospel for a long time, and I've been embarrassed on the occasions when I met someone whose admiration for my work crossed the line into hero-worship. I *know* that meeting Writers can't give me anything I don't already have. They're just people — skilled with words, willing to keep writing and keep sending things out. That's it.

But when I woke from this dream, I saw the corollary for the first time.

Since Writers are just ordinary people, I can be one. I don't have to wait until my life is in order, until I have conquered all my demons. I don't have to cross that invisible line into magic. I just need to write, I just need to submit books, and I can get there.

Into my definition of success, that is. I've been using Writer with a capital W to signify a combination of skill, depth, popular acclaim, critical recognition, and financial success. I'm trying to avoid the word greatness, even though that's what I really mean. I feel presumptuous saying right out that that's what I want.

I want to be a great writer. I'm already more successful than most people who dream of writing: I have published a number of books, all but one of them are still in print, and my publisher owes me a lot of money. (It seems like a lot to me, anyway.) None of that's enough. I want *greatness*. I want to write novels that will be remembered. Hell, just novels I respect.

I don't worry about getting published. That's never been a problem with me. I know damned well that I am already a good writer. Somewhere in the past 15 years or so (since my first book was published in 1987), I grew confident of the writing. Not always of myself, but I have more of that than I used to.

So what has held me back? Fear of exposing myself, distraction by life events (the past few years have been full of incident), defiance, laziness, the sacrament of procrastination, the fear of success, the five-year writer's block that came close to killing me. More recently, too little time to write.

But I can do it. Or, rather, I can keep working on it, doing my best, writing. I can finish the book of essays and the current novel. I can send some chapters in to literary journals. I'll even have a bit of time soon, since I'll be unemployed within a couple of weeks.

So why Neil Gaiman as muse?

He's my age, more or less — a year and a few months younger. His blog makes him accessible; it's easy to see how human he is, since he so readily shows his delight in words, ideas, giant mutant pumpkins, and his family. He's been rewarded for his work (and he works incredibly hard) with great critical and popular acclaim. And I can see his work grow and change, as he explores his medium. He just keeps getting better.

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