Neil Gaiman: ‘If You Don’t Know It’s Impossible, It’s Easier To Do’

Neil Gaiman: ‘If You Don’t Know It’s Impossible, It’s Easier To Do’
Image: DC Comics

You have no idea what you’re doing. This is great, says author Neil Gaiman in a commencement speech at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia. Being unfamiliar with established rules and limits is a plus when you’re trying to be creative and make things: “If you don’t know it’s impossible, it’s easier to do.”

“And because nobody’s ever done it before, they haven’t made up rules to stop anyone from doing that particular thing again.”

You can watch the full speech below. Scrub to about the 1:50 mark for this nugget of advice, which is part of a 20-minute speech on all the things he wishes he had known when he started out as a writer.

Two others worth remembering if you’re a freelancer or artist:

  • Enjoy the ride, don’t fret the whole way (the most important advice Gaiman ever got but never listened to, from Stephen King)
  • You get freelance work if your work is good, you’re easy to get along with and you’re on deadline. Actually, you just need two out of those three to get paid as a freelancer.

Neil Gaiman Gives Graduates 10 Essential Tips for Working in the Arts [Open Culture]


  • This advice reminds me of something the late Sir Terry Pratchett wrote in his book “The Last Hero”.
    The Discworld version of Leonardo DaVinci was tasked with building a flying machine and he requested the help of students and apprentices. He didn’t want trained craftsmen because: “I have no use for people who have learned the limits of the possible”

  • I really agree with this. I’m a film maker and so many times I’ve been told by crew what can’t be done. Or that it’s too hard.

    And then I do it anyway. I’m not interested in what they think is impossible, I’m only interested in what I CAN do. And if I don’t know how hard it will be then I’m just going to jump in.

    There’s nothing worse than being surrounded by people who all know what ‘can’t be done’ and yet are doing nothing at all.

Show more comments

Log in to comment on this story!