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Writing

Editing

Neil Gaiman

Lesson time 11:25 min

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.

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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.



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

Hugely valuable. I'm so grateful for having been gifted this wonderful class.

I like the simple, practical advice - and how the facilitator ties writing to life experience.

This was my first Master Class, and any that follow have very large shoes to fill. Thank you, Neil Gaiman, for a beautiful series about storytelling.

This Masterclass by Neil Gaiman was informative and insightful. It strikes a great balance between detail and breadth which equips writers with the tools they need to write a story. I really enjoyed it.


Comments

Dale U.

An extremely valuable lesson. Now I have to find a reader I trust to provide the feedback.

Karen G.

Great insight: its your story, not that of those who offer feedback. More importantly: to accept that a work will need to be adjusted/edited. that's just part of the territory. Nicely explained!

Aha A.

Loved this lesson. "Perfect does not happen in this universe." "You cannot fix nothingness." Deadlines. We can all have many excuses to not get it done but to get it done is the trick. I needed to hear this. Thank you!!

Dina W.

Loved the insight and encouragement to write and produce. It is my job to simply produce to learn what will be and is possible, brilliant, a disappointment, or an inspiration o the other side of completion.

A fellow student

One way I look at perfection is by recognizing the beauty of flaws. A good example of what I am talking about is the band This Will Destroy You. I fell in love with them after hearing two of their songs "The Mighty Rio Grande" and "Quiet." Those were studio songs with sound men making corrections here and there to make something sound perfect. I love those songs, but they weren't perfect. For me, the songs "Quiet" and "The Mighty Rio Grande" were perfect when they were done live. There were no sound men working the controls feverishly to make things sound perfect. If you listen close, like you would with any band that does a song live, you can hear the imperfections and I should be disgusted by that but I'm not because it makes the song more beautiful. However, what I've explained is subjective, but the overall theory of imperfections making something perfect has merit. Now I'm not suggesting we should throw in a ton of errors on purpose no, but if you feel that something isn't right with your story but people love it anyway then consider leaving in that imperfection. Margaret Atwood said in her own masterclass on this site that no matter how hard you try to fight against it readers will always find a way to make the story theirs. Just food for thought.

Christian W.

Another incredible masterclass of depth and professionalism gained from a lifetime of experience, a pleasure to watch, and learn.

Clara S.

Editing, I understand is to compress, clean up, tighten, tie ends, go back and read again, yes, print and pretend like Neil says pretend I’m a reader, I’m a writer, two different individuals—this part is something quite new to me, an eye-opener. All the books I read and courses I’ve taken, Neil has opened my eyes to new things I’m looking forward to applying them to my writing. Enjoyed his lectures, so inexpensive considering how much you’ll pay to see him giving a workshop in person (not sure he does them.)

Kerry S

I could listen to NG talk all day. He's like that one magical teacher you had in elementary school who made you feel that `maybe everything was going to be wonderful someday.

Arjun I.

"You cannot fix nothingness" - In the words of Forrest Gump, "And that's all I have to say about that."

Jesper B.

''As long as your characters get what they need in the end, it's fine'' Another great lesson I shall take to the grave.