From Neil Gaiman's MasterClass

Editing

Neil gives advice about the editing process, including why it’s important to take time away from a project and to get feedback from a trusted reader.

Topics include: Pretend You’ve Never Read It Before · Ask Yourself “What Was This About?” · Take Feedback Wisely · Don’t Obsess Over Perfection

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Neil gives advice about the editing process, including why it’s important to take time away from a project and to get feedback from a trusted reader.

Topics include: Pretend You’ve Never Read It Before · Ask Yourself “What Was This About?” · Take Feedback Wisely · Don’t Obsess Over Perfection

Neil Gaiman

Teaches the Art of Storytelling

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To be an artist and particularly to be a writer, what you are doing is a twofold process. And to put it very simply, it's a process of creating. And then it's a process of fixing or of editing. The first thing you do as a writer is you explode. You explode like a bomb explodes. You explode onto the page. The story is an explosion. And you get to the end of it. And once it's done, then you get to walk around it. And you get to look at the shrapnel and the damage it did. And you get to see who died. And you get to see how it worked. And that's the point where you get to think about it. You get to think about what works and what doesn't work. [MUSIC PLAYING] For me, once I finished writing something, whether it's a short story, or a novel, or a script, what I do, if I can, is I leave it. Walk away. Do something else. And then maybe a week later, maybe 10 days later, print it out. Come back to it and try and pretend. And pretend like a method actor. Pretend like this is the most important thing in the world to me. Pretend that I've never read it before, and I know nothing about it. And then I read it. And it's very easy. It gets easier the longer it goes, I think. For me, just to pretend that I never-- I don't know anything about this thing. I'm reading it as best I can as a reader. And I do it, print it out, because I have a pen or a pencil with me. And I am not vicious, not cruel, but I'm a reader. And I will make notes in the margin of anything that doesn't work for me as a reader. Some of the time, it's things that I thought I could get away with as a writer. There's that point where you're a writer, and you go, "well, I don't need to write the whole battle, do I? I can just sort of-- I can imply that it's happening." And you go, "yeah, nobody's going to mind." And then you're sitting there as a reader going, "but I was expecting that battle. You've led everything up to this battle. And you don't even-- oh. Oh." And then it's like, oh. So you write the note saying, "needs a battle." And then you try and pretend that you as a writer and you as a reader are two different people. Because you're going to look at your notes at the end. And that's what is going to really guide you. That is going to be the primary engine through a second draft, through an edit, through a fix. [MUSIC PLAYING] When you get to the end of your first draft of whatever it is, whether it's a short story, whether it's a novel, then you read it. And you read it pretending you've never read it before. You read it with new eyes. And one of the questions that you ask yourself when you get to the end is, "okay, what was that about?" And that's the most important question that you can ask yourself. Because the difference between what you're going to do in the first draft and the second draft can often be tiny, but it's the most important draft. It's getting to that second draft. And the question, "what is this about" is what gets you from the f...

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 loved the class and intend to go through it twice more as I like to do things in threes. It sticks better like that.

Nice introduction into the craft of story writing, full of vivid anecdotes and useful advice.

I now know a lot more than I did before. Now, I will write.

His humility and love for what he does shows even in pre-recorded lectures.

Comments

Alexandria S.

I have a bit of a tendency in trying to make the story perfect, but in the end, I just want the story to be original and for the readers to know that it was inspired off the said films.

Leigh G.

This is exactly what I needed to hear - I’ll be playing this one more than once. I’m fighting with my third novel and I’m gun-shy, hesitant because I’m afraid it’ll be terrible. I see now I just need to get it written - I’ll get it right afterward.

Diane M.

I love the idea of how to approach your second draft: cut anything that isn't what the story is about, and strengthen the parts that ARE what the story is about. (It reminds me of the possibly apocryphal story of how Michaelango described the process of carving David--that he started with a block of marble and carved away everything that wasn't David.) I also greatly appreciate the insights on perfectionism. I struggle terribly with it (which has manifested as totally paralyzing writer's block for years now). That story about the colorist Steve Whittaker, who had the gig, but never could send in his work, struck me very hard, knowing that he is no longer living, and to think what he could have done before he died if he had been able to overcome that perfectionism. And it also specifically resonated because I have squandered a similar opportunity; got a first novel published and had a contract for the second, but never delivered because of fear of failing to make it brilliant. Something also realllly resonated for me about how Neil expressed the fact that some stories will be better than others, but you can't know whether the current one will be one of the good ones, perhaps even great ones, except by accepting that it may not be. I'm getting so much out of this course, but especially this lesson. I am so hoping to pull it together and deliver that second novel...

Ellary E.

‘The process of writing a second draft is making it look like you knew what you were doing all along.’ Fantastic!

Lou Nell G.

I really needed this lesson. My approach to second draft tried too hard for perfection and lacked the focus on “What’s this about?” Coming from a software background, where we relied heavily on usability studies, you’d think I’d be applying some of the same principles to reader feedback, but somehow I needed the reminder from Neil...how important it is to pay attention when someone says “This doesn’t work for me.”

A fellow student

The logline for my novel: After divorcing her husband of twenty five years and leaving the upper echelon of the art world, a gallery owner settles in a small town to connect with her old lover, the father of her daughter.

Christa A.

The story about Steve Whitaker's perfectionism was so painful. I'm sure it was also painful to share that story. But thank you for doing so. What a powerful reminder for all of us about the dangers of perfectionism.

Valentina

Everytime, I listen to Neil I love him even more. He's so honest when it comes to his craft. So intuitive. Thank you. I'm feeling so humble right now.

Alison M.

Hi Neil and All, I have not been praying because I've been off writing. Thank you for the inspiration and education. This had been my longest string of writing every day that I have had in years. I'll keep working through the exercises and also on my current project. Thanks for the reminder that it will never be perfect. I'll finish it anyway.

Theophilus W.

Many times in my writing journey I have underestimated the process, or didn't properly plan for the process, or allowed voices to interfere with the process. Like On-Writing, this class is great for enjoying and respecting the journey. I've experienced writer's block. I've also experienced what I call " writer's enigma " - a system where you can't stop writing and can't really understand why. In the former I believe all blocks can be removed or are figures of our imagination. Unless we try to ignore the feeling of it and just plow along with the words and it feels like we are dragging the block behind us. Great lesson.