Neil Gaiman's SXSW advice to writers: 'Learn to finish'
Neil Gaiman, beloved fantasy writer and perhaps the most crushed-on Englishman since Paul McCartney, is having a transmedia moment.
In May, the Amazon TV series he's showrunning, "Good Omens" will fulfill the promise he made to the late novel co-writer Terry Pratchett to make a screen adaptation happen. The second season of another show based on Gaiman's books, "American Gods," starts its second season on Starz this week. (Both have had activations at South by Southwest.)
It's a lot, and it's kept Gaiman busy in addition to his work in comics and a forthcoming children's book, "Pirate Stew."
But really, he'd like to go back to writing novels, in particular one he abandoned two years ago at Chapter 4.
"It's a novel I need to come back to," he said at a SXSW interview on Saturday with "Criminal Minds" actress and writer Kirsten Vangsness.
Gaiman was reflective about his writing, which he says is often attempting to answer questions in his life about mortality, culture in America and the power of mythology. He shared the story of how "Omens" originated: In 1989, he wrote a 5,000-word start and sent it to friends including Pratchett, who offered to continue the story with the young writer.
"It was like Michelangelo saying, 'Want to paint a ceiling with me?' " Gaiman said.
The TV version seems particularly personal since Pratchett's death in 2015. Gaiman says that he's making decisions on the adaptation that he might not make if it was his own work alone, insisting that elements of the book stay in the picture as his co-writer would have wanted.
"'Good Omens' was the one thing I've written over the years that I could read with pleasure. Because I only wrote half of it," Gaiman said. He said it's been so long, he can't remember which parts he wrote and which Pratchett took on.
The story of an angel and a demon trying to stop Armageddon debuts on May 31. Gaiman showed a dialogue-heavy, never-before-seen clip from the first episode that he asked audience members not to share online a day after a full-length trailer appeared online.
Aside from a clip from that show and a trailer for the new "American Gods" season, the audience was also treated to a song from a group of costumed nuns from the "Chattering Order of St. Beryl" in "Good Omens," who interrupted the panel and came next to the stage about midway through.
Gaiman also took questions from the audience, including one about how to generate ideas.
"The place you get your idea from is writing other things," he said.
To that end, he advised not getting too distracted by new ideas. "Finish the thing you're on. Jot down enough of the idea. Then go back to the thing you're on and finish it... You have to learn to finish... You can't fix something you haven't even begun."