One of the biggest names in the literary world, Neil Gaiman is an award-winning writer with a penchant for fantasy, which he wonderfully weaves through his stories. Gaiman is also looked up to when it comes to advise on the art of writing. Here are 10 lessons from him.

Neil Gaiman

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Formerly a journalist, now a writer for children as well as adult novels, a graphic novelist, a poet, screenwriter, a director… there’s nothing that Neil Gaiman hasn’t done. With a career spanning nearly four decades, Gaiman has established himself as a force to reckon with in the literary world. Winner of numerous awards, Gaiman has been very public about his craft. His commencement speech titled ‘Make Good Art’ to the University of the Arts Class of 2012 has been widely reiterated for its invaluable advice. Here are ten nuggets of advice on writing by the celebrated author… 

1. The Only Rule that Matters in Writing
“The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.”

2. Fiction is About Lies that Deliver Truths
“Fiction stories are one of the most interesting phenomena that human beings have…Stories are part of us, and we convey truth with stories, which is fundamentally the most gloriously giant contradiction that you can ever imagine. What we’re saying is, we are using lies, we’re using memorable lies, we are taking people who do not exist and things that did not happen to those people in places that aren’t, and we are using those things to communicate true things to kids and to each other.”

3. Your Words Shouldn’t Dictate How Your Readers Should Feel
“I would much rather not tell you how to feel about something. I would rather you just felt it. I will tell you what happens, and if I leave you crying because I just killed a unicorn, I’m not gonna tell you how sad the death of the unicorn was. I’m gonna kill that unicorn, and I’m gonna break your heart.”

4. Don’t Write Only When You are Inspired
“If you’re only going to write when you’re inspired, you may be a fairly decent poet, but you will never be a novelist—because you’re going to have to make your word count today, and those words aren’t going to wait for you, whether you’re inspired or not.”

5. Recognising the Advice that Matters
“You always have to remember when people tell you that something doesn’t work for them, that they’re right. It doesn’t work for them, and that is incredibly important information. You also have to remember that when people tell you what they think is wrong and how you should fix it, that they’re almost always wrong. If you try and fix things their way, you’ll be writing their story, and you have to write yours.”

6. Don’t Be Consumed By Your First Draft
“For me, it’s always been a process of trying to convince myself that what I’m doing in a first draft isn’t important. One way you get through the wall is by convincing yourself that it doesn’t matter. No one is ever going to see your first draft. Nobody cares about your first draft. And that’s the thing that you may be agonising over, but honestly, whatever you’re doing can be fixed… For now, just get the words out. Get the story down however you can get it down, then fix it.”

7. Be Yourself, Tell Your Story
“Don’t try to tell the stories that other people can tell. Because (as a) starting writer, you always start out with other people’s voices—you’ve been reading other people for years… But, as quickly as you can, start telling the stories that only you can tell—because there will always be better writers than you, there will always be smarter writers than you… but you are the only you.”

8. Start Your Very Own Compost Heap
“I think it’s really important for a writer to have a compost heap. Everything you read, things that you write, things that you listen to, people you encounter—they can all go on the compost heap, and they will rot down, and out of them grow beautiful stories.”

9. Don’t Be Afraid of Making Mistakes
“Any perfectionists in the room? The lure of playing it safe and the fear of falling short make a powerful and paralysing cocktail.”

10. Be Compassionate and Gentle with Yourself
“Writing is a skill and learning to write well doesn’t happen overnight, yet we beat ourselves up when our writing isn’t of the same calibre as our favorite authors. We forget our heroes weren’t always writing bestsellers.”

Published On: July 15th, 2021 / Categories: Blogs, Creators' Dialogue /