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.

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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.
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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 have learnt lots of things about writing. All the chapters from the course have been enormously helpful and have inspired me to continue creating stuff and also think of new projects.

For those who write, Neil Gaiman is just a joy to listen to. For example, "the improvement in writing is quantum when you finish things."

Mr Gaiman is such an incredible storyteller. He tells everything straight from the heart. In the chapter there he speaks about rejection and writers block you feel it'd very personal and straight from the heart. Like his works. He inspires you to trust in yourself and your imagination. Go get that star!

While i do not write stories currently i like to bring creativity to my work. Knowing the importance of story telling and the process will help me to be more creative and better at expressing it.


Comments

Jake T.

My "voice" is almost more of a feeling than an objective thing. I can read something I wrote and tell whether or not I wrote in my own voice and, similarly, I can usually tell in the middle of writing when my voice is starting to leave me. I've been a professional writer for a few years now (journalism and advertising mostly), so maybe that's something I've developed with time? Does anyone else have this experience?

May B.

I like the idea of Start with Imitation because that's how I learn a new skill. I watch what people do, imitation them, see what works and what doesn't work for me, then I eventually be able to do it my own way. Like Stephen King says "read a lot (so you can find the voices you like), write a lot (so you can find your voice.)

Jennifer M.

I feel as though I do good starting to write in my voice, yet I struggle with continuing writing in my voice a few paragraphs in. I think my struggle is I start to overthink the words I'm using and start thinking "people don't want to read this" and then I bore myself out of wanting to write anything at all. So I stop. This will be good practice (and reminders) to keep moving forward in my voice and knock out the internal critics.

Sze-Ming W.

Thank you so much, I am really touched by your words. And just do it, keep doing it.

TheAms

I have found a gem of insight in each video so far, but found the associated exercise for this lesson extremely unhelpful: "just write a story". For those of us who struggle to finish stuff, what helps get it done? Some advice would be appreciated.

A fellow student

After my lifetime of writing, I appreciated his line about writing 10,000, 50,000, a million words to discover your voice. It makes me feel confident that I've found my voice and - in some of the different perspective approaches he shares, I feel confident that my own voice won't be lost in new methods and learning. Neil shares that our voice is the thing that we can't help but do and I find comfort in that. I also *LOVED* his admission that some things go back in the attic . . . including finished things. SO many stories, as I enter my own next chapter of my writing career, are "in the attic" and I've been pressured (self-inflicted!) to try to figure out how to put those stories back out in the world. I feel like, in his "attic" teachings, I finally have permission to just leave some of those there in the attic. It's something I've taught my own students many times, but to get my own permission for the same brings great peace.

Rich G.

My voice is a combination of Raymond Chandler (simple language) + Steven Wright (standup comedian tells surreal jokes) + "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" (crazy, ridiculous) = me.

Marcus

Lol! I write like Isaac Asimov, but also like Jane Austen. I was expecting Robert Howard. I bet they don't have him in their database.

Marcus

I am so excited about discovering my voice! Also, thanks for the Yagoda reference, and also for the word 'cicerone'.

Blythe R.

I think forcing myself to finish writing something I started is the biggest takeaway I got from this. Especially when, in the middle of writing, you realize it's total crap! Which means, I need to write more short stories! I also noticed when editing a blog post, that I have a real issue with writing in passive voice. When I corrected that, something of my real voice came through.