Writing

Editing

Neil Gaiman

Lesson time 11:28 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
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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.

neil is so full of himself. and his self is so beautiful.

Neil was an absolute wonderful instructor. Full of passion and meaningful lectures.

Wonderful. Like a wizard Hogwart's teaching The Art and Practice of Writing the Eldritch Grimoire.. Something like that.

This class is so inspiring and reminded me why stories are important. Thank you.


Comments

Anastacia S.

This lesson was wonderful because of its heartfelt encouragement and the humble way in which Mr. Gaiman explains how important it is to have the courage to try.

Ian C.

"... the process of doing your second draft is a process of making it look like you knew what you were doing all along." - love it! Oh so true. I've found that as i go along i work out what it's all about - the second draft makes the pieces fit together much tidier and much tighter.

Catherine

Excellent. NG is the best of the Master Classes on writing, in my opinion.

Catherine

Does anyone else have the problem of rereading your own writing so often that it seems to lose its pith? I can't tell if the parts where I feel like it is so familiar I can't really bear to read it anymore are the boring parts that need to go (definitely a category) or if I just have read each word in the same order too many times.

Geoffrey S.

I'm currently editing one of my novel and I find it far more difficult than the writing process. If anything, it is where I have "writer's block".

A fellow student

I'm currently on the editing process and it is so much more difficult than the writing process.

Sam

This was really good for me. I'm in the process of editing my novel and so far it's been the hardest thing about writing it. Striving for perfection, battling with doubt, and worrying what others think will matter...all of these are challenges I'm facing. But it doesn't need to be perfect--it just needs to be my best. And, like Neil says, we're writing our story, not someone else's.

A fellow student

Remember I am a reader as well as a writer. One must serve as a prerequisite for the other.

Ekin Ö.

"Perfect does not happen in this universe." If I'd take one sentence out of this lesson for my benefit, it's this one. Aim the perfect, but know when to stop.

Kathleen B.

The perfection thoughts really hit home. My writing is getting slower and slower, obsessed with second-guessing, doubts and trying for the perfect phrase. I needed the reminder about all of this, grateful.