From Neil Gaiman's MasterClass

Sources of Inspiration

Neil believes that even old stories can be approached from new angles. Learn how to create your own “compost heap” of inspiration and how to draw from your experiences to make a story uniquely your own.

Topics include: Subvert the Familiar · Imagine Stories About People Around You · Ideas Come From Confluence


Neil believes that even old stories can be approached from new angles. Learn how to create your own “compost heap” of inspiration and how to draw from your experiences to make a story uniquely your own.

Topics include: Subvert the Familiar · Imagine Stories About People Around You · Ideas Come From Confluence

Neil Gaiman

Teaches the Art of Storytelling

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You know, for all writers, you kind of have a compost heap. And if any of you are not gardeners, kitchen people, the compost heap is where you throw all of the garden and the kitchen rubbish, the food scraps-- you throw it all on the compost heap. And then it rots down. And a year or so later, you look around. And you just have this lovely brown stuff that you can put on the garden, out of which flowers and vegetables will grow. And I think it's really important for a writer to have a compost heap. Everything you read, things that you write, the things that you listen to, people you encounter-- they can all go on the compost heap. And they will rot down. And out of them grow beautiful stories. I think the thing that you don't understand, especially as a young writer, when people talk about your influences is the tendency is simply to go and look at the things like the thing that you do and point to them. So it's easier for me probably to point to Tolkien and Dunsany and James Branch Cabell, to Ursula Guin or PL Travers and say, well, I do stuff like this. And I can point to those people. And what you don't necessarily point to is the stuff that does what you do but is in a different kind of field or a different kind of area entirely. My wife writes songs. She makes music. She performs. And what's important to her is emotional honesty, is truth. And she was probably in her late 30s before she realized that in all of the lists of influences that she would give-- when people would say, well, what are your influences? And she'd talk about The Cure or Leonard Cohen. She'd talk about punk bands. She'd talk about all of these things that she loved. She'd never talk about Judy Blume because Judy Blume was an author who she read when she was 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 and an author who changed her and went in really deep and talked about honesty and gave Amanda the things that she wanted. For me, I never talk about Lou Reed. And Lou was huge for me. And one of the reasons he was huge for me is he would write these songs that were like three-minute novels. There was a story in there even if you weren't quite sure what it was. And it was compressed. And it was very, very heightened because anything that happens with music is always incredibly heightened. And the choice of words in a song is so important because you don't have very many. So watching how Lou wouldn't tell you what to feel, wouldn't tell you how he felt, that the emotion would actually be almost pulled out of the song, but it will be there for you to interpret yourself was probably huge. It's something that I still love doing when I write-- is I would much rather not tell you how to feel about something. I would rather you just felt it. I will tell you what happens. And if I leave you crying because I just killed a unicorn, I'm not going to tell you how sad the death of the unicorn was. I'm going to kill that unicorn. And I'm going to break your heart. That was something I ...

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.

I will be retaking this course over and over again. Thank you Neil.

I absolutely loved this class experience. I was so excited to see Mr. Gaiman as the teacher and he did not disappoint. I will be going back through the lessons again, as I'm sure I missed some things. I've been inspired to pick back up morning pages again after 3 years. Thank you for the wonderful lessons!

I have finished watching the wonderful videos but have yet to finish reading all the resources and doing the exercises. Finishing things. To be continued...

I pay strict attention to the way I end each scene - thanks to Mr. Gaiman. I will especially remember his advice: Keep writing and FINISH what you start. Excellent class; excellent instructor!



Was anyone else amazed by the outcome of the writing exercise?? I found it espectacular, didn't know I had that kind of stuff in me. Superb lesson.

Jason R.

I like the idea of using those small, or large, embellished lies to transfer personnel truths in such a clear way to a reader. I don't have to tell the story in my head as it sits, but rather a truth and use every paint brush in the bucket to share it.

Daria V.

What a great lesson! Placing well-known characters in a totally new situation, new story or looking at some old stories from new angles. I've never thought about that. It's such a great piece of advice. I really liked the written exercises. Write a newspaper article describing a fairy tale that everybody knows was so much fun! I wrote about missing girl named Alice who was absent the whole day and then told her parents and the police that she had followed the white rabbit. Her parents and policemen were questioning the girl's sanity.

Anoo P.

For some reason when Neil mentioned "compost heap" the book Secret Garden by Frances H Burnett came to mind.

A fellow student

You have to open yourself to being judged. This resonated with me. I haven dabbling in writing for 45 years, and just now in the moment I heard this I understood why my stories were not whole. Not living stories.

Violet M.

I feel very inspired. I really think my fanfic is improving in depth and richness of story. I am going to go write a bit more now actually.


I love that Neil talked about the importance of confluence. Ideas are often like puzzles.

Veronika B.

Love the compost heap for writers... subverting expectations... great exercise! (love your version of Snowwhite and Sleeping Beauty btw.)

A fellow student

The analogy of the compost heap had an impact on me along with the invitation to people watch. As a child when we visited the beach or went on a holiday, my brother and I played games pretending to know what a particular person would do for a living, if they had a family, where they were from. It was fun and our imaginations would always without fail take over.

Agnieszka Z.

For me this lesson is just a reminder, some concepts that I already know explained in beautiful words. For many years I have played paper&pencil role playing games, also as the game master. I have learned to use many sources of inspiration, combining them together and twisting to entertain my players. Now I think that ideas are really cheap. I can have as many of them as I want. I can just mix a random illustration from internet (or Dixit card) with an event of my week and come up with idea for a story in few minutes. But to actually sit down and write the story, that's hard part. Like i was afraid of a blank page. My last story is about 2700 words long and it took me two months to write it down. I hope I will find exercises in this course which will help with this problem. Also find the assignment in this chapter enjoyable.