From Neil Gaiman's MasterClass

Dealing With Writer’s Block

Every writer faces times when they’re stuck. Neil talks about some of the difficulties of the writing life and gives ideas about how to get through them.

Topics include: Retrace Your Step · Be Willing to Recalibrate · Give Yourself a Deadline · Write the Next Thing You Know

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Every writer faces times when they’re stuck. Neil talks about some of the difficulties of the writing life and gives ideas about how to get through them.

Topics include: Retrace Your Step · Be Willing to Recalibrate · Give Yourself a Deadline · Write the Next Thing You Know

Neil Gaiman

Teaches the Art of Storytelling

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When you're staring at a blank page or a blank screen, the biggest thing that you can do is just give in to despair, give into blankness. People love to talk about writer's block. And they love to talk about writer's block, because it sounds fancy. It sounds like a real thing. It also sounds like something that you can do nothing about. I have writer's block. I cannot write. And it is the will of the gods. Now, I must alphabetize my spice rack. Whatever, you can't do anything about it. And that, of course, isn't true. [MUSIC PLAYING] I have received long emails from people with writer's block. And I'm going, well, if you had real writer's block, how can you be writing me a long email? But what they're actually saying is, "I'm stuck on the thing. I don't know what's happening. It's dead on the page." And so what you do is 1, start one step away. First thing to do if you're actually stuck, don't just sit there staring at the page, staring at the screen, staring at your keyboard being angry. Go do something else. Chop wood. Go for a walk. Go for a run. Go for a swim. Go garden. Go play with small children. Go explore kittens. Go feed the chickens. Go do whatever it is that you can do. 2, come back pretending you have never read it before-- the old pretend you've never read it before technique. Start at the beginning, and read it through. Very, very often, once you do that, where the story should be becomes obvious. Where you went off the rails becomes obvious. And you did go off the rails. The problem is always earlier. Problem's always earlier than the place where the car goes off the road. And now, you're stuck there. You actually took a wrong turning a couple of streets back or a town or two back. But that's something that you can see. Normally, if you just come to it, and go from the beginning and come through, you'll suddenly go, "oh, well, hang on. Why are we with him anyway? She was much more interesting. And we should be with her, here. It doesn't matter what happens to him." And so I abandon half a chapter that had led me down a dead end and go back. And you can do that. Nobody but you ever gets to read your first draft. Nobody but you ever needs to know that you got stuck. [MUSIC PLAYING] I think the biggest things when you are stuck that you can do, and there's a whole bunch of things-- the biggest thing of all is remembering that you are stuck. Sometimes, it's just you're being shallow. Sometimes, you actually need to be a bit better than you are. Go a bit deeper. Get a bit more honest. Okay, why have I stopped writing this? I've stopped writing this because, if I have to go into it, it's a deeper, darker place. Maybe you've stopped because, if you wrote that scene, you would be writing a scene you don't want to write. Why don't you want to write it? Why is it painful for you? What happens if you do write it? I remember with "Anansi Boys," I was about a tiny bit, about halfway through, maybe a litt...

Unleash your imagination

Award-winning author Neil Gaiman has spent more than a quarter of a century crafting vivid, absorbing fiction. Now, the author of Stardust, Coraline, and The Sandman teaches his approach to imaginative storytelling in his online writing class. Learn how to find your unique voice, develop original ideas, and breathe life into your characters. Discover Neil’s philosophy on what drives a story—and open new windows to the stories inside you.

Reviews

4.7
Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

I have done may of the Masterclasses, all worthwhile, but this one is absolutely outstanding. This will make a difference. Brilliant.

This has been one of the most important pushes I've needed to continue writing. Neil had taught me some great lessons which I will apply in my art. Thanks Masterclass and Neil Gaiman himself for all this.

I love Neil's point of view. I also appreciated his techniques for dealing with rejection, writers block and the rules for writers. Thank you!

i have a few novel ideas, needed tips from a master writer

Comments

Christa A.

"They say hanging concentrates the mind." This line made me laugh out loud. When I have writers block (or any artistic block really), I have a #realtalk session with myself because to be honest, I built every wall that’s ever blocked me. The wall is the symptom, not the cause. Am I afraid? Do I not want to do the project? Do I need to be more inspired? Those are the real problems to solve so I roll up my sleeves and solve them. Also, I remind myself what little time we have. Our lives are so short. What will I really regret if I don’t do it now? That ticking clock usually lights the fire that I need. Time is the most precious resource we have. Let’s use it wisely.

Michele H.

Love the image from E.L Doctorow about creeping along through the fog with one headlight. I know where I want to go, but boy sometimes when I am trying to get there it just doesn't seem quite so easy. A lot of roadkill on the side of the highway.

Camillo C.

Can't download the pdf. I'm using Chrome. I get this error message: This XML file does not appear to have any style information associated with it. The document tree is shown below. <Error> <Code>AccessDenied</Code> <Message>Request has expired</Message> <X-Amz-Expires>3600</X-Amz-Expires> <Expires>2019-05-09T14:29:55Z</Expires> <ServerTime>2019-05-09T17:27:18Z</ServerTime> <RequestId>EEA74E9984BB3DA2</RequestId> <HostId> zsl6APBAzqFd1OBap9MgXGXVy9Jr8xqRfz6XZPVZXvmVQkD6d/QFl6mEOM3U2hmUbvagONNHFLM= </HostId> </Error>

Myriam B.

I don't believe in writer's block so I was afraid this was going to be a 'mechanical' treatment of the issue, but as with all the other lessons, Neil deals with more fundamental truths and bits of advice, which is so much more useful as it's a higher level that can be adapted to any kind of writing. The fog clearing and then coming back and clearing and coming back was a great analogy. Forward motion and going from what you know to what you know - that's all I needed to know.

Patricia B.

I remember someone saying that what you need for your next step is in what you have just written. So considering all aspects of what you have written can lead to a next step...creeping along in the fog with one headlight. Great lesson!~

Marcus M.

Anyone has the urge to write about a novelist with writers block who has urgent need to lift it doing increasingly odd rituals. day 1: Feeding the chickens day 2: Walk around the house 3 times in reverse touching only the red tiles day 3: Sacrificing goldfish to the gods , American or otherwise.....

Jenna G.

So inspiring. I went for a period while I was working on my WIP when I just couldn't write. It wasn't REALLY writer's block, but it felt like it. My creative ocean was drained, I was feeling insecure about the work as a whole, so taking a break and working on something else was so helpful.

Brett S.

These are great points. Next time I have trouble writing something, the idea to step away is a good one, but also having a deadline will force me not to step away for TOO long.

Caleb S.

Neil couldn't have explained this section any better. I deeply feel the words he his speaking and can completely relate to the processes . It's so refreshing to hear a master share his struggles and hangups in further definition to his story creations. It makes me feel more human and lends me confidence to know the struggles I face in story crafting are shared by the very best in the business. Most of all Neil lends reassurance by guiding us through the darkness we face when the page goes blank. Thank you Mr. Gaiman for sharing those invaluable experiences.

Chris S.

At 4.50 you see Neil make a mental note, "Write short story where Jeeves murders Bertie......"