Writing

15 Neil Gaiman Quotes on Writing

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Nov 23, 2019 • 4 min read

“I make things up and write them down” is the way Neil Gaiman describes his art. As one of the most celebrated writers of our time, his popular and critically acclaimed works bend genres, from fairy tales to fantasy, and styles, from children’s books to comic books and short stories to novels, while reaching audiences of all ages and winning awards of all kinds.

His novel The Graveyard Book is the only work ever to win both the Newbery (US) and Carnegie (UK) Medals, and two of Neil’s other bestselling novels, American Gods and Coraline, won Hugo, Nebula, Bram Stoker, and Locus Awards. In graphic novels, Neil’s groundbreaking work The Sandman, which was awarded nine Eisner Awards, was the first comic book to receive literary recognition when given the World Fantasy Award for Best Short Story.

Neil has spent his life honing the craft of writing—here are some writing quotes from him, all straight from his MasterClass.

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Neil Gaiman Teaches the Art of StorytellingNeil Gaiman Teaches the Art of Storytelling

In his first-ever online class, Neil Gaiman teaches you how he conjures up new ideas, convincing characters, and vivid fictional worlds.

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Neil Gaiman Quotes on Writing

“Rule one, you have to write. If you don’t write, nothing will happen.”

“‘And then what happened?’ Those words, I think, are the most important words there are for a storyteller. Anything you can do to keep people turning the pages is legitimate.”

“Know safely what the rules are, and then break them with joy.”

“You learn more from finishing a failure than you do from writing a success.”

Neil Gaiman on Writing Characters

“Everything is driven by characters wanting different things, and by those different things colliding. Every moment that one character wants something, and another character wants something mutually exclusive, and they collide—every time that happens, you have a story.”

“You may need to write about types of people who you do not know. And for them, my advice to anybody starting out is just go find them, go talk to them. Talk to people.”

Read our tips for developing strong characters here.

Neil Gaiman on Worldbuilding

“I think that the joy of world building in fiction is honestly the joy of getting to play God. Because as an author, you get to build the world.”

“A lot of what you do in world building is you do your homework. You do your research. Go on walks. See things. All of that—and then take notes.”

Learn more about worldbuilding in our guide here.

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Neil Gaiman on Dialogue

“Dialogue is character. The way that somebody talks, what they say, how they say it is character. And dialogue has to show character. It also has to show plot. And maybe it can be funny along the way.”

Learn more about writing dialogue in our guide here.

Neil Gaiman on Writer’s Block

“If you get stuck, you can ask yourself what your characters want—and that is like a flashlight.
It shines a light on the road ahead and lets you move forward. It’s the only question that opens the door to ‘What do you do next?’”

“Every now and again, the mists will clear, and you’ll get a wonderful view of the valley on the other side or the town that you’re heading towards. You know what’s happening. And then the mists will come back in again, and once more you’re creeping along. But that’s how you write a novel.”

Learn helpful tools for overcoming writer’s block in our guide here.

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Neil Gaiman on Revision

“You can fix dialogue that isn’t quite there. You can fix the beginning of something. But you cannot fix nothingness, so you have to be brave. You have to just start.”

“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.”

Neil Gaiman on Submitting Your Work

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In his first-ever online class, Neil Gaiman teaches you how he conjures up new ideas, convincing characters, and vivid fictional worlds.

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“People ask me, ‘How do you cope with rejection?’ … And there are only two ways to do it—one of which is you go down. You get sad. You put the thing away. You stop writing. You go and get a real job, go and do something else. And the other is a kind of crazed attitude that actually the most important thing now is to write something so brilliant, so powerful, so good nobody could ever reject it.”

Neil Gaiman on Reading

“Stories you read when you’re the right age never quite leave you. You may forget who wrote them or what the story was called. Sometimes you’ll forget precisely what happened. But if a story touches you, it will stay with you, haunting the places in your mind that you rarely ever visit.”

Recommended Reading: Neil’s Work

A great way to improve your writing is to read. Here are some writing pieces from Neil to get you started!

  • The Sandman Vol. 1: Preludes and Nocturnes (1988)
  • Good Omens (1990; written as a collaboration with Terry Pratchett)
  • The Sandman: Dream Country (1991)
  • Neverwhere (1996)
  • Stardust (1999)
  • American Gods (2001)
  • Coraline (2002)
  • Anansi Boys (2005)
  • The Graveyard Book (2008)
  • The Ocean at the End of the Lane (2013)
  • Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances (2015)
  • Norse Mythology (2017)

Want to Learn More About Writing?

Editors Pick

Whether you’re creating a story as an artistic exercise or trying to get the attention of publishing houses, making comics is an iterative and collaborative process. Award-winning author of The Sandman series Neil Gaiman has spent decades honing his comic book-writing craft. In Neil Gaiman’s MasterClass on the art of storytelling, he shares all he’s learned on how to make a comic book, including finding inspiration, drawing panels, and collaborating with other creatives.

Want to become a better writer? The MasterClass All-Access Pass provides exclusive video lessons on plot, character development, creating suspense, and more, all taught by literary masters, including Neil Gaiman, Dan Brown, Margaret Atwood, David Baldacci, and more.

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