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.



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

This course helped me a lot. I wrote my first short story because of it, and now i finally can make writing a daily habit.

Remarkable! A very intimate class letting you into the mind of a creative genius.

I have never finished anything I started before I took this class. The most important thing I learned is how to finish a story. Priceless.

Neil is a fantastic writing Mentor and has left me very inspired and to make sure I finish things!


Comments

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.

C L.

The story about not obsessing over trying to be perfect is spot on, not just for writing, but for all things. So true and very encouraging.

Elke N.

LOVED it! So inspiring and helpful. Very encouraging and one wonderful quote after the other.

Karey B.

Writing this down: 'You cannot fix a blank piece of paper...' Post-it note...adhered to base of monitor.

Mary B.

Listening to this part more than once, as I find it more important than all the other lessons! I needed to hear this!!

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...