Writing with Neil Gaiman: exercise one


To practice honesty in your writing, choose one of the following moments and write a few paragraphs in your journal about it. As you write, pay attention to your inner register about what you’re writing, noting the particular things that make you uneasy. Try to be a little “more honest than you’re comfortable with.” Remember that being brave doesn’t mean you’re not scared; it means you do it anyway.

  • A time when you were deeply embarrassed.
  • When you regret something you did.
  • The saddest moment of your life.
  • A secret you are afraid to talk about.

Take the work you wrote above and either read it aloud to someone you trust, or read it alone and pretend that you have an audience. Listen to the way you sound and pay attention to the sensations in your body as you’re reading the difficult moment. Consider what you’re afraid of being judged for, or afraid of saying out loud.

Write those things down.

You’ve got to laugh, don’t you. I’ve been blogging for almost a decade now. The notion of “more honest than you’re comfortable with” seems almost impossible without resorting to crude photography. Still, the exercise is there and it has to be done, so let’s dig deep and find what worms we can.

There is a regret. It is a regret that crawled under my skin like a worm and has nibbled, little by little, never annoying enough to remove, until it rested close to my heart.

When I was –

Now you see, what good will it do to cut myself open? It’s only going to be painful, and the worm is only small, and sometimes in the dead of night the warmth is comforting. It was odd to start with, but now I am accustomed to his writhing.

When I was not as old as I am now, someone perfect was in love with me. I was in love too, but with someone else: me. It was an awkward love triangle because as far as she knew I was in love with her. She was really something. Time has probably smoothed the blemishes, but I remember in my bones that she was brilliant. Thick dark curls and eyes that held no fear. I didn’t know I was autistic then, but I knew it was rare to find someone who’d hold my gaze. She did. She was so clever, and inquisitive, and had a core of absolute steel. She knew who she was, exactly who she was, all the time. There’s a special kind of grace that comes with that knowledge, I think, as if knowing yourself helps you fit more perfectly in your body.

I’m digressing. Of course I am. I don’t want to talk about this.

We were at university, except I was at university somewhere very far away from where she was at university. Or she was at university very far away from where I was at university. It was a while ago. The details aren’t important. What’s important is that we spoke every night. She loved me, and I very much loved being in love with. It is intoxicating. I’m not meaning to make excuses, of course, but when you’re intoxicated –

Anyway. Once she came to visit. It was the last time she came to visit. We embraced with all the passion and vigour of being young and in love and continuously, non-stop horny –

the detail of the next hour or so is redacted for the sake of the faint of heart and my mother –

and then I said, frankly and apparently entirely unembarrassed, that I though she should go home. The thing is, being loved entirely on your own terms is a lot more appealing than discovering that the object of your affection shits which, in a one-bedroom flat, I’d have been forced to discover. Never mind that she was a living creature and that it was something that I did every day: I would have had to face up to the fact that she was a human being and not, in fact, a toy for me to play with when I wanted and discard when I was bored. And at that point I said that she should go home. Because I was not interested, really, in discovering who she really was.

Writing this down has made me distracted and irritated all evening. My skin feels prickly and my armpits are damp. I’m not enjoying it at all. And it’s because there’s no way for me to come out of this sympathetically. This is just a story about a horrible thing that I did. I can’t spin this to make myself look good, and I don’t like having narrative control and not presenting myself as the hero.

Who doesn’t want to be the hero of their own story?

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