What Neil Gaiman said about The Mountain (and implied about artistic integrity)

LAST WEEK I WAS HAVING LUNCH IN A LUSH, hilly valley. Next table was this older couple, from the Netherlands, who had four daughters and five grandchildren. They were on holiday, walking in the air, getting inspired by landscapes, like me. We struck up conversation.

“Daughters are special,” I said.

“Yes, but if I had had four sons,” the woman said, “I’d think sons are special, too.”

This hung in the air, and with its shadow a lifetime of her wonderings about sons and not daughters, the number four suddenly clearer in the weight of that sharing.

Like a sailor at his tiller, skillfully changing the subject, the man asked, politely, “What do you do in Cambodia?”

Been wondering that myself. “I’m writing.”

“You’re a writer?” Impressed.

“Yes.”

The woman [unimpressed]: “Have you published anything?”

“Yes.”

How to tell them it’s not about the publishing, but about the quality of the concept that’s what’s important? Too much to get into. So I don’t.

She spoke again. “How do you get to be a writer, then?”

“Well,” I said, being totally honest. “You have to be good.”

They nodded.

“And you have to be serious.” The way I said it, and the way they received this response, made you think if you were listening in that it was me who was 20 years older.

In all seriousness

BUT I AM COMPLETELY BEING HONEST HERE. It’s all about being serious. And this other thing. The mountain.

The mountain! Yes.

That’s all there is. You do the things that move you towards the mountain, and you drop anything that doesn’t. This is what I learned from this video, a commencement speech from 2012 by Neil Gaiman. Click this image to get to it. (Hat tip: SKF.)

Neil Gaiman: 'If you know what you were born to do, just go and do that."
Neil Gaiman: ‘If you know what you were born to do, just go and do that.”

This speech is about goals. But more than that, it’s about integrity.

As you get better and build more quality relationships with the people who are able to commission you, you are able to be more choosy, of course, in what you take on and reject what doesn’t propel you towards your goal.

I think clarity of concept is hugely important, for that exact reason. You can’t move towards five thousand and forty two mountains all at the same time. You have to pick ONE.

So, that leaves me to ask: Where is your mountain? What does it look like? Is what you’re doing today getting you closer to it?

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