Writing, Arts & Entertainment
Rules for Writers
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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Topics include: Struggling Is Part of the Process · Dealing With Rejection
Teaches the Art of Storytelling
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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 ...
About the Instructor
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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In his first-ever online class, Neil Gaiman teaches you how he conjures up new ideas, convincing characters, and vivid fictional worlds.Explore the Class