To submit requests for assistance, or provide feedback regarding accessibility, please contact support@masterclass.com.

Arts & Entertainment

Dealing With Writer’s Block

Neil Gaiman

Lesson time 13:34 min

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.

Play
Neil 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.
Get Started

Preview

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'm not a writer I'm an illustrator, but I like to broaden my knowledge and look ln the sides a little bit. Neil is absolutely fantastic as a teacher (I've never read a lot of books so I don't know much about his work of art). His eloquence, experience, benevolence and authenticity made this class extremely enjoyable and helpful. Thank you Mr Gaiman for sharing!

Neil Gaiman's class was very inspiring and helpful. He is like a kind and imaginative big brother who invites you to join him in creating fantastic stories. It's not that he makes it seem easy, but that he makes it seem possible.

The class was produced well and full of practical advice, but more importantly it was full of inspiration. In order to follow the most practical advice which is to just write, you need a morale support, an acceptance, from yourself. Thank you Neil.

I hadn't a structure, a process to write: this MasterClass by Neil taught me what it means to tell a story and why it's important to know (and eventually break) the rules. Moreover, it's been so inspiring and hopeful; i finished it but I think I'll watch it again!


Comments

Dale U.

This was spot on. I am currently stalled on my manuscript and am writing bits and pieces on other subjects and the words are pouring out. Neil is correct when he says to read your story as if it were the first time. I also need to impose a deadline. If you have all the time in the world to do something you will take all the time in the world. If you have two weeks you will take two weeks. It is June here in Florida, the beginning of hurricane season. I have given myself until November, the end of hurricane season to finish my project. Neil's lesson has truly inspired me.

Priyanka

I appreciated this section and was particularly excited to hear Neil's strategies here. Interestingly enough, I was writing a passage for my travel book about the fog (colloquially known as Carl) that envelops San Francisco in its mist each evening. Your analogy about the fog resonated or rather provided an opportunity for 'confluence' as you've so eloquently outlined in a previous lesson. One thing that helps me is actually switching to another story and its been eye-opening to see how easily and quickly other stories come to me than ones where I get writer's block. So in my effort to keep going, I may actually pivot to something else and if that takes off, I have my answer that my heart is in that particular story instead. My one area to strengthen is to finish these story threads once I start them. Some finish while others remain loose threads blowing in the wind...but like the car in the mist, there will eventually be a clearing where I'll see the magnificence of the valley amidst the craggy mountains

Clara S.

I agree with Neil when he talks about writer’s block. From my experience I can say my problem is I tend to lose sight of the chapter, my characters, to the point I can’t move past until I leave it for a while—I walk away from the story for a day or even a month (meantime I write something entirely different) I feel it gives me enough time to come back, read the chapter again and pick up where I left off. If I can’t pick it up again, I just put it on a file and move on to the next story.

Arjun I.

This one made me cry (and I've cried during other lessons too). However, unlike the ones where I cried because the subject matter touched my heart, I cried here because this is perhaps my biggest weakness. And I know that it isn't a 'block' so much as it is lethargy and the inability to manage my time. And during the course of this video, I went from "Great, maybe I can learn something to deal with my issues" to "I'm never going to amount to anything, I should just drop this silliness and disappear". But then the analogy about the fog and the car made me think, "Well, if it's about never stopping then...well I'm in Neil Gaiman's Masterclass now aren't I? So...just keep going."

Khan M.

Love the music in these videos. Awesome lesson, this is something i've had issues with for a long while.

Rich G.

Working on a project I arrive at blank spots wondering "what happens next?" I walk, pace, look at the books on my shelf and eventually "that's what happens next." comes into view.

JL N.

Watched this twice - and kicked myself up the arse and instead of giving into blankness... but i don't believe in writer's block anymore. I'm able to reignite the fire... THANK YOU

Sasha

I loved this lesson. Thank you. There was a tonne of practical skill-building information, and it also gave me Sandman #19 in a new way. A penny dropped, and I saw it as something my Shakespeare obsessed eleven-year-old needs now, not later, as another way in to plays she is already thinking about. We homeschool, so I can fish my copy off the shelf this week, and give it to her. Time passes in family life, and suddenly it's the right moment for something you thought might come later.

Giselda J.

Neil, I could listen to you for hours and hours and then some more....BTW I just burnt the Thanksgiving pumpkin pies because I was so lost into listening to this class....totally worth it!

Rhiannon B.

Just amazing - thank you, knowing that you’ve just taken a wrong turn, and that the trick is read from the beginning to find out where, is so liberating - and it works! I’ve picked up a few clues I’d apparently left myself along the way too 😊