Things to Do

Neil Gaiman Talks Creative Block and the Cheesecake Factory Ahead of His Wolf Trap Show Sunday

Photograph by Beowulf Sheehan.

Neil Gaiman, Renaissance Man of the nerd world, has a fan base so exuberant that it’s willing to try to raise half a million dollars to listen to him read the menu from the Cheesecake Factory—a real-life wager he shook on in May, with the money going to a refugee charity. Besides reciting the names of absurdly caloric dishes, the prolific writer has penned acclaimed comic books, films, and novels—one of which, American Gods, recently became an acclaimed Starz series, too. He took a break to discuss his upcoming appearance at Wolf Trap ($25 to $65;, his creative process, and that menu reading.

What advice would you give to young writers?

My biggest advice is to write. Chuck Jones—the wonderful creator of Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner—said something like, “You have a million bad drawings inside your pencil, and your job is to get them out so the good ones can come.” I think it’s like that for young writers. You have a lot of bad stories, a lot of bad words, and you need to write that so the really good stuff can come.

Do you ever get creative block? If so, how do you deal with it?

I’m not convinced that creative block exists. I think writer’s block is a clever thing made up by writers—because we’re really clever—where what we’re actually talking about is getting stuck. But I don’t believe there are Gods of Writing that go, “For the next five mornings, he shall be blocked.” The thing I use to combat writer’s block is to have more than one thing that I’m writing. If I really get myself stuck on something I’m writing, I can just do something else.

Is there anything you’d like readers to know about your show at Wolf Trap?

What I decide to do at these shows tends to change because I’m easily bored. I’m probably never going to do anything resembling the same show twice, but in recent years what’s become more and more important are the cards. People put their questions on cards, and I’ve been using them to guide the entire shape of the show. Sometimes people will put in requests for stories and poems and things, and I’ll do what I can to come through. It’s personal, and I hope funny and very honest.

How about this Cheesecake Factory menu reading?

I don’t think I’ve been to a Cheesecake Factory in possibly 20 years—and the last time I was at one, I don’t remember the menu being unreasonably long. So now people go, “You promised you’re going to read that?” Now I wonder what I’ve gotten myself into.

Julie Strupp is an editorial fellow. Before Washingtonian, she did francophone video, radio, and photography projects addressing gender-based violence in Togo, West Africa with Peace Corps. She worked at the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and AllAfrica and has contributed to Mic, Center for Public Integrity, DCist, and more. Now a proud Petworth-dweller, she’s also a University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate who loves judo, biking, art, and keeping the powerful accountable.