From Neil Gaiman's MasterClass

Finding Your Voice

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.

Topics include: Start With Imitation · Get the Bad Words Out · Finish Things · Finding the Voice of a Story

Play

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.

Topics include: Start With Imitation · Get the Bad Words Out · Finish Things · Finding the Voice of a Story

Neil Gaiman

Teaches the Art of Storytelling

Learn More

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.

I am a young writer, thank you Neil! Wants and Needs of a Character, so obvious and hidden and plain sight! Completely had cleared my perspective :D

I appreciate Neil Gaiman taking the time to impart bits of wisdom from his career. In some ways, he gave me confidence in the path I’ve chosen. But one very, very important thing he said that I know but haven’t done enough is ‘end with the funny.’ A priceless bit of advice I needed to hear.

i have a few novel ideas, needed tips from a master writer

Keep going. Write. Finish things. Do it again.

Comments

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!!!😝

Maribel V.

To make a stab at it is a bit of a nerve-wracking experience, but you make me want to dive in straight away, after so many years going around in circles and making excuses and etc etc. That's how powerful your voice is and why you are the perfect person to be listening to about this.

Adreina M.

This was MUCH needed. As a new writer, I often get writer's block b/c I'm afraid to write something bad.

A fellow student

I'm really enjoying these lessons, but one thing keeps winding me up - not all new writers are young writers, Neil!

Alexandria S.

I actually do have like 4 novels that I’ve been developing since around 2016-2017, the characters and stories were based off of four of my favorite films and it wasn’t until 2018 or this year when they started to sound a little like me. What he said about the bad stories is good too, just let all of them out and there will be some keepers in the midst of all the bad stories.

Rachel M.

You have no idea how perfect this lesson is for me right now. I'm trying to write a play based on Shakespeare for a contest and it's been so slow-going and the deadline's fast approaching. I wanted to write it in Shakespeare's language and half the time I'm going "Would Shakespeare have written something like that?" This lesson helped me realize that even though I'm imitating Shakespeare's style, it's still my voice. I mean obviously stuff like iambic pentameter and old English is Shakespeare, but the comedic style, and my interpretation of the characters, is all me. And it's also my choice when to use verse and prose or formal and informal speech. And the advice of finishing things helped too. Maybe I won't win the contest, but I won't know unless I finish. And if I don't win, I can always go back and fix it.

Ann

At first, I struggled with the lesson assignment. I had to read it many times. It was a lot of thinking just to understand what the assignment was asking me to do. Once I got it, then came the next struggle; trying to put my finger on everyone's "voice." I enjoyed randomly reading chapters of each author I selected from the Library shelf....but I really like my own voice. I'm my own cheerleader! I did write a very short reflection on "make-believe" when I was a kid and some willing subjects gave me their 3 adjectives for it. I also plugged some on my writing into the link that was provided to analyze my writing style. Very good lesson. It was work, but I ended moving past the struggle and enjoying it.

Daniel H.

Making the exercise of writing based on an author style was a great practice! Somehow it start shaping a natural voice and helps a lot in this challenging work!

STEVEN B.

I love how Neil talks about being a young writer. As one myself I find it is an area that has little discussion about and it is good to finally find some advice and insight.

Sarah C.

Voice is something I've never quite been able to pin down. I know I have one though, because a few years ago I found a document on my laptop that I didn't remember writing but reading it I know for sure, 100% that I had written it because it sounded like me. My main concern with voice is editing, I'm afraid that I edit my voice away, and I'm not sure how to fix that.