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Writing

Rules for Writers

Neil Gaiman

Lesson time 12:48 min

In his rules for writers, Neil talks about striking the right balance between humility and confidence, as well as the need to stay organized and devoted to daily work.

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Neil Gaiman
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I remember reading an essay by Harlan Ellison in which he pointed to an essay by Robert Heinlein. And they suggested rules for writers. And the rules were how to get published. And I read them, and I believed them, and I have applied them, and they have worked for me. Rule one. You have to write. If you don't write, nothing will happen. Rule two, you have to finish what you write. If you start it and abandon it, or if you start it and never let it go. You know, I know people who just really want to make something perfect, something never finished. They never let it go. You have to finish. Rule three, having finished it, you have to send it out into the world to somebody who could publish it. These days of internet that actually broadens your scope, there are so many websites that actually want fiction, want things. But there are also publishers out there. There are agents. You send it out. And that bit is important. I was talking earlier with Caroline about bravery. There are a lot of things that people know are brave. You know, standing up to an armed robber, definitely brave. Wild dog attack, dealing with it, absolute act of bravery. People don't normally list sending a story out into the world as one of those acts of bravery up there with standing up to armed robbers or wild dog attacks, but really, they really are. Next rule, Heinlein's was refrain from rewriting except to editorial request. Having sent it out, don't just start it again. Don't keep writing that book, that story, over and over again. Harlan Ellison added a little note on that. He said, unless you feel what the editor has requested would compromise the integrity of your story, in which case, don't touch it, defend it. Also perfectly valid. The next rule is when it comes back-- because it will probably come back-- you have to send it out again. You can't go, I sent it out to this editor, to this publisher, to this agent, it has come back. My heart is broken. I will never write it again. I will put it away. Instead, you have to send it out. Somewhere out there, there is somebody so drunk, so desperate, so confused, that they will buy it, and they will publish it. And so you're trying to reach that person. Or perhaps somebody with good enough taste and somebody smart enough. Whoever it is, keep going. Keep sending it out until you reach that person. And the other rule, which is mine, it wasn't Heinlein's and it wasn't Harlan's, is and then start the next thing. Through this all, start the next thing. When you finish that first thing, and you start the process of sending it out, begin writing the next thing. Because that's the important thing is apart from anything else, when that publisher comes to you and says, we love this novel, but we'd love-- what's the sequel like, you can say, yes. Here is the sequel. I finished that too. And get them even more excited. You need to be writing the next thing. You don't just write something and send it out and ...


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.

Wonderful presentation and advice. Very inspiring delivery. Thank you

I will be going back to this one. It's a gem.

Many things were said during this Master Class that I needed to hear. Wish me luck!

This class taught me to trust the things that I already quietly knew. To trust the characters that I am working to bring to life, to carry the torch through the trudging blind parts - for that is where the story has the most shine. Sometimes the story hides a little. I am writing with more vigor, with Neil Gaiman as a guide. It's wonderful! Thank you, Mr. Gaiman


Comments

A fellow student

Favorite quote: "Somewhere out there, there's somebody so drunk, so desperate, so confused, that they will buy it!"

Dale U.

Amazing class. Amazing instructor. Will absolutely return to these lessons.

A fellow student

This lesson is my favorite from this class. It is inspiring and what new writers need to feel motivated.

Kim O.

Best class I've ever taken! I've published five non-fiction books and yearn to write fiction. This class has filled the gaps in my understanding. Neil is so inspiring. I laughed. I cried. His words are just what I needed. I wish I could thank him in person. He is proof that guardian angels come in human form!

patricia B.

I found this truly inspiring. Listening to Neil and hearing his mindset while I wrote allowed me to stay focused. I will definitely be looking back into these lessons to keep me going. Thank you Neil

A fellow student

There was a story about HP Lovecraft I always found amusing. He would write a story, send it to Weird Tales, and sometimes it would get sent back by the publisher who would say - I want to publish it but I have a problem with these points, but I'll publish it if you can make these changes. Lovecraft would sit on the story for about two weeks without making any changes to it and then send it back, and the publisher would print the story saying - thanks for making those changes.

Barbara B.

Loved it. It said the things that needed saying : write it, send it, write something else, send it , repeat.

Will B.

The Storyteller The storyteller reached into the inside pocket, of a jacket so black that it went unnoticed, to retrieve reading glasses that weren’t needed, as the fables were like his swaddled children. That split-second unremarked, so almost lost, but it glimpsed the tools that honed his trade, carried and nestled close to an oozing heart, four pens like sentries guarding his kingdoms. Two were as refined as a swordsman’s trusty blade, as sturdy as a backpack for the lone traveller, a watchmaker’s awls that could craft a Demon’s shackles and would not run dry with fright as ghosts passed by. One incongruous red Biro, cheap and ruddy, to slash and burn and sack those minor characters, replacing embellished strokes with a sharpened bullet, to wind so many hours back from wasteful thoughts. And then finally, the elegant Countess rested. Sleeved in slim silver, dressed for the denouement ball, waiting until we were safe in the last dance, fatefully thinking we knew what would happen next.

A fellow student

Approximately 8:40 onwards on Rules for Writer's; love itt!! What is that? Is that a semi colon made to look like a wink! No...perhaps it just as well be a semi colon. The honey seller atop of the mountain may never kn...

A fellow student

Amazing Masterclass! ... all the course, the advice, the teachings ... I am writing again thanks to Neil