Rules for Writers

Neil Gaiman

Lesson time 12:51 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.

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.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

This was by far the best writing Masterclass that I've watched so far! You can tell that Neil is a teacher, because each little chapter is very cohesive and he uses concrete examples.

Very thought provoking and inspiring. Have filled a notepad with scribbles and starts of ideas whilst watching this. Neil Gaiman describes and explains in such a way that you cant help but see what he's teaching, not only do you see it but he pushes you in for good measure.

It's the 'putting yourself out there' that i needed to hear. I can write. I can edit. I can get people to like my work. I've been rejected, but it slows me down… sometimes to an army crawl. It's time to stop crawling.

I have learned to have more confidence in my writing and this universe isn't perfect. That is an ideal. I need to start writing, and finish. Thank you Neil!



Neil, my first rule of writing is that you have to have a purpose for writing the book. No purpose, and you will go crazy. And, you have to have a purpose in life. The bad days are easy to get through once you have experienced that with enough rewriting, you can make it better. Further, it is important to have a good grasp on grammar and the grammar tricks like absolutes, because you can't make chicken salad from chicken shit. Keep on Writing. Best William Taliesin St Clair

Heather H.

He's just terrific but this lesson is especially inspirational and timeless.


This helped make the idea of publishing a lot more manageable. I had a lot of smiles through this lesson. Thank you :)

A fellow student

Humility before honor. When the Bible and Neil agree I know I need to keep on writing.

Ken P.

Neil, thank you for every one of these lessons. Your guidance is inspirational and makes me excited to write.

Yelyzaveta P.

Thank you, Mr. Gaiman for the most inspiring classes! They’ve taken me out from aa deep stop. Thank you for sharing your world! Thank you for the white snow honey!

Trina B.

This is true. The hardest part is starting and then finishing. I've had a lot of stories I never finished because I always felt I did not possess the abilities to execute whatever I had in mind. It's important to just continue and just see what works and what doesn't but never stop writing.

Karey B.

Sending my novel out into the world felt akin to showing up at school--minus my pants.

Alexandria S.

I haven’t published any of my books yet, mainly because I’m still a student in high school and I’m getting close to college. But when I do publish my novels, I will make sure to take rejection as a way of trying to fix whatever must be fixed in my stories.

A fellow student

Neil’s words about keeping writing and facing rejection are important and encouraging. I’ve written seven books, six that I’ve sent out and was rejected by every agent I queried. Some of them did want to see more which was cool. I’ve just finished the first draft of an autobiographical comic about my four trips to China with my last on ended with an emergency medical evacuation because of a mental breakdown I had.