The Graveyard Book was 20 years in the making, according to Neil Gaiman in his 2009 Newbery acceptance speech. He first got the idea for the book when he watched his son, Michael, ride his tricycle in the cemetery of his old Sussex neighborhood. Michael is now taller than his father. He is 25; the same age Gaiman was when he started The Graveyard Book.
What a terrific example to share with young people about how to slow down and not rush things. From the time we are children in school, we are often driven by deadlines. We have due dates for written reports and oral presentations, we attend practices to prepare for football or basketball games, track or swim meets, recitals and plays. Once we enter the working world, there, too, we have due dates for reports, projects, and presentations to bosses, colleagues, and clients.
It’s easy to get caught up in the goal and lose sight of the process. It wasn’t always just about the trophy, was it? At first, wasn’t it the pure pleasure of running under the trees, or swimming out to the sandbar, or giving voice to a song? We start as amateurs, in its original sense of cultivating something for the love of it. Maybe we return to it because it gives us joy, and the more we run or swim or sing, the better we get. We run sprints and swim laps and practice scales, and we learn more about how far we can go. And if we're lucky, and if we stay with it, one day it all comes together.
In those intervening 20 years, Neil Gaiman did not stop writing. He wrote his Sandman series, American Gods and Coraline, to name a few. But he did eventually return to The Graveyard Book. Gaiman said that when he wrote the last two lines of his Newbery Medal-winning novel, he realized, “I had set out to write a book about a childhood . . . I was now writing about being a parent. The fundamental most comical tragedy of parenthood: If you do your job properly . . . they won't need you anymore. If you did it properly, they go away.” He continued, “I knew I'd written a book that was better than the one I had set out to write.”