Writing

Finding Your Voice

Neil Gaiman

Lesson time 14:57 min

Your writer’s voice is what makes it possible for someone to pick up a page of text and recognize that you wrote it. Learn how to develop your voice and how to overcome the fear of making mistakes.

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 All-Access

Preview

When you're a writer, starting out, the idea of your voice, of your style is huge. You want to know what your voice is. You don't really know. I once, years ago, ran into a quote from Jerry Garcia where he said, "style is the stuff that you get wrong. If you were actually playing the guitar perfectly-- if you were making music perfectly, there would be no style." And I thought this was such a great quote and remembered it, and years later, went to find it on the internet. And the only place I could ever find it was me saying it in interviews. So maybe he never said it at all. But I do think that a writer's voice, which is huge, which is important, which is actually the thing that the reader responds to more than anything else-- the end of the day, is a result of getting to the point where you discover this is what you sound like. And the problem, I think, that a lot of young writers have is they don't sound like anybody yet. I know when I was a young writer, I didn't really sound like anybody. What I did was sounded like everybody else. And it's what you do when you're starting out. You imitate. You find voices that you like. You go, "this person is doing something great." I would look at writers like Ari Lafferty or Harlan Ellison, Roger Zelazny, Ursula Le Guin. I go, "I love this thing that they do. I'll try and do that." It was very strange. I wrote a children's book when I was, what, 22? It was the first thing I ever wrote. It exists only in my attic and in manuscript. And it's not very good. But after "Coraline" came out, I thought, "hang on. I have that children's book in my attic. I wonder if it's any good?" And I went off. I found it. I read it to my daughter, Maddie, who at that point was six or seven. And at the end of the day, I sent it back up to the attic where it resides and will reside until the crack of doom. What really fascinated me about it was there was about a page and a half somewhere toward the end that read like me. It read like-- the rest of it, it read like Noel Langley and Roald Dahl. It read like every children's author I'd ever read. And it's all coming back out again. There's nothing really original. I haven't figured out how to do anything. And that's great. And that's absolutely fine, because you don't have to get it right at the beginning. You start out by making mistakes. You start out by getting it wrong. The most important thing you do is just write. But there was just a page. And I looked at it. I thought, "that's me. That actually reads like me." And seeing that felt wonderful, because it was the idea that, yeah, 22-year-old Neil-- actually, the voice was there. I just had to do a whole lot more writing. [MUSIC PLAYING] I think mistakes may be the most important thing for a writer. The question of how do you find your mistakes is very easy. You do stuff. The process of living, the process of trying to create, the process of getting out there and doing something is always a ...


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.

So far, this has been my favorite Master Class. Neil Gaiman shines a light on the dark places, he shows us what makes a story work, and he encourages us to act.

This class is wonderful, whether you're a beginner or not. Beginners can learn so much about writing and how to find inspiration everywhere. Those already with experience will find even more inspiration as well as numerous tips, tricks, and reminders to improve and keep themselves going as a writer. Loved it!

Gaiman's course instructions are inspirational and I would recommend this course to others seeking to grow in their craft.

I learned that I should write something so great that someone will feel honored to publish it.


Comments

Maura

I have in the past imitated Edna O’Brian particularly from her trilogy The Country Girls. It is an intriguing sparse voice but I was so familiar with the ambiance. To write from your perspective as a young woman but use—what would it be grammatically.... Second ? So ‘you walked down the path, your father met you at the door...’ etc I find fascinating as it is subjective yet objective all at once—similar to a young girls dilemma in society.

Samantha M.

This lesson was intriguing but it was mostly things i already knew. Neil has this thing that when he talks its like he is saying things you've never heard before and its just amazing.

Jane

Great lesson. Like Lorraine Agnew, I wish he'd stop referring to 'young writers' though - it makes it sound as if you can't begin to write if you're past the first flush of youth.

Lorraine A.

Loved it. Just wished he'd refer to his students as "new" writers, not "young" writers. I'm almost 70 and still learning.

Jo

I wish that schools taught children that making mistakes was an inevitable, and important, part of learning. We seem to be programmed to believe that unless we have some kind of inbuilt and mythical talent we should just give up and get a proper job.

cynic S.

Dear Sir, When you were growing as a writer, did you verbally abuse your wife out of emotional distress due to writing? I ask as a wife to a writer.

A fellow student

It's fantastic. I can't stop listening and after many (really many!) years of doubting, I could ever write fiction, I am about to believe that, with the right and inspiring support like from Neil, it is possible. Thank you so much. Britta (Germany)

A fellow student

I'm enjoying the lessons. I like the idea of looking at the familiar and flipping it. I'm going to start doing that.

A fellow student

I find that Stephen King is who I have copied quite a bit in my writing style...

A fellow student

I got Stephen king almost every time. Then I tried to sound like Jane Austen and put it in and got Stephen king as well. Then tried to do it again and got Tolstoy lol well it was interesting !!! Her voice is easily recognizable but hard for me to do apparently haha!!!😝