This fabulous lecture by Neil Gaiman to the Reading Agency in the UK has so many quotable lines I am tweeting it endlessly today. Libraries, reading aloud to your children, the value of fiction in opening doors, the value of escapist fiction in particular which is often denigrated, the future of physical books, and imagination.
Below he talks about writers, what we must do for our readers, engage them, tickle their imaginations, get them to read on, especially if we write for children. Do not bore your readers, number one. If you ever hear a librarian or a teacher or a parent trying to get a child to read something more “educational” or “literary” break into that conversation: Everything a child reads has value. That comic book or ghost story is a gateway drug to a lifetime of reading, of self-educating, of seeking out truths.
He reminded me about my first job. I was a broadcasting major and my first gig wasn’t at a TV station but at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, in the then-new field of Biomedical Communications. I wrote and produced such spine-tinglers as the twelve-part video series on the making of a denture for dental students. I loved that job. I had the freedom to do everything, from writing to producing to setting up lights in the studio, to directing and editing.
My desk however was in the same small office as my boss and he looked over his desk at me as I worked. It was on that job I learned to drink coffee at 8 a.m. 🙂 One day I was thinking about some project and staring at the wall in front of me. It might have appeared I was zoned out, doing nothing, but I was thinking about the slide show or whatever it was. Behind me the Vice President for Health Sciences, my boss’s boss’s boss, stuck his head in the door and said: “If only everyone spent time in thought” or possibly “We all should daydream like that.” At any rate it was positive. A compliment for daydreaming that I’ve never forgotten.
When I daydream ideas percolate up. When I am busy busy all the time I don’t have the quiet time required for daydreaming. Every writer should make time to daydream. Then dream big.
We writers – and especially writers for children, but all writers – have an obligation to our readers: it’s the obligation to write true things, especially important when we are creating tales of people who do not exist in places that never were – to understand that truth is not in what happens but what it tells us about who we are. Fiction is the lie that tells the truth, after all. We have an obligation not to bore our readers, but to make them need to turn the pages. One of the best cures for a reluctant reader, after all, is a tale they cannot stop themselves from reading. And while we must tell our readers true things and give them weapons and give them armour and pass on whatever wisdom we have gleaned from our short stay on this green world, we have an obligation not to preach, not to lecture, not to force predigested morals and messages down our readers’ throats like adult birds feeding their babies pre-masticated maggots; and we have an obligation never, ever, under any circumstances, to write anything for children that we would not want to read ourselves.
We have an obligation to understand and to acknowledge that as writers for children we are doing important work, because if we mess it up and write dull books that turn children away from reading and from books, we ‘ve lessened our own future and diminished theirs.
We all – adults and children, writers and readers – have an obligation to daydream. We have an obligation to imagine. It is easy to pretend that nobody can change anything, that we are in a world in which society is huge and the individual is less than nothing: an atom in a wall, a grain of rice in a rice field. But the truth is, individuals change their world over and over, individuals make the future, and they do it by imagining that things can be different.
Read the entire Neil Gaiman lecture here