Neil Gaiman’s A Writer’s Prayer dates right back to 2008 but things in the world move swiftly, especially in today’s internet of constant churn. I hadn’t listened to the poem (or read it) in a long while and was reminded of it today. I was reminded that if you write and have not read the poem then you should do so.
A Writer’s Prayer
Oh Lord, let me not be one of those who writes too much;
who spreads himself too thinly with his words,
diluting all the things he has to say,
like butter spread too thinly over toast,
or watered milk in some worn-out hotel;
but let me write the things I have to say,
and then be silent, ’til I need to speak.
Oh Lord, let me not be one of those who writes too little;
a decade-man between each tale, or more,
where every word accrues significance
and dread replaces joy upon the page.
Perfectionists like chasing the horizon;
You kept perfection, gave the rest to us,
so let me earn the wisdom to move on.
But over and above those two mad spectres of parsimony and profligacy,
Lord, let me be brave, and let me, while I craft my tales, be wise:
let me say true things in a voice that is true,
and, with the truth in mind, let me write lies.
I get the quote about butter spread over too much bread (from The Lord of The Rings), though I’ve never been able to nail down the quote about watered milk in some worn-out hotel. Maybe someone else can enlighten me? The only watered milk I remember from the woods of storyland is from Great Expectations and I don’t think they were in a hotel at the time.
There is a free download of the audio available via Last.fm here.
And while we are on the topic of the wisdom of Neil, hereinafter follow a few quotes. Perhaps his words will one day make the basis of a book of philosophical insights. Perhaps after some great calamity of the future, someone will find a half-burnt book of Gaiman quotes and use those quotes to build a better, more enlightened, kinder and more at ease with itself world. Perhaps the book will be known by some poetical name. Broken Words of the Unknown Writer. The Shades of Wisdom. The Bones of Thoughts of the Unremembered.
Alright, so that last one is rather laboured. Here are some actual wisdoms to get you through the day:
The world always seems brighter when you’ve just made something that wasn’t there before. (2004)
Behind every Chesterton sentence there was someone painting with words, and it seemed to me that at the end of any particularly good sentence or any perfectly-put paradox, you could hear the author, somewhere behind the scenes, giggling with delight. (2004)
I wish I had an origin story for you. When I was four, I was bitten by a radioactive myth. (2006)
The best thing about writing fiction is that moment where the story catches fire and comes to life on the page, and suddenly it all makes sense and you know what it’s about and why you’re doing it and what these people are saying and doing, and you get to feel like both the creator and the audience. Everything is suddenly both obvious and surprising (“but of course that’s why he was doing that, and that means that…”) and it’s magic and wonderful and strange. (2007)
Honestly, if you’re given the choice between Armageddon or tea, you don’t say “what kind of tea?” (2009)
We have an obligation to make things beautiful. Not to leave the world uglier than we found it, not to empty the oceans, not to leave our problems for the next generation. We have an obligation to clean up after ourselves, and not leave our children with a world we’ve shortsightedly messed up, shortchanged, and crippled. (2013)
Now of course I’m also reminded that I’ve been meaning to go back and reread some G.K. Chesterton. I have a big omnibus edition lying around somewhere… now where is it…
(all quotes via wikiquote)