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

Learn More


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 adore these writing Master Classes. I am between novels and need to refresh, seek inspiration, and relook at my craft - all of which recharges me for my next writing project.

More than the tips on story craft, I found the lessons on strategies and habits much more useful. Combined with the writing exercises, I have made progress on current work and found inspiration for new ideas.

I don't know yet - But I'll let you know when I've tried

There is good information and advice throughout this course, but then Neil will occasionally say something that will so totally resonate that it make me completely reconsider my approaches and work.



read in a couple places that what Neil calls confluence is the formation of abstract connections between concepts taken from a person's knowledge base & life experiences. i've found most of my friends and i come up with adaptations. several ideas forming a composite, rather than pure "creation from nothing." i've a feeling that's why polymaths were so good at so many things -- hard work + vested interest in multiple fields would bring more opportunities for unique or unconventional connections. hence the compost heap, haha.

A fellow student

This immediately reminded me of "Nicholas Was, " by Neil Gaiman. I see where he's coming from :D

A fellow student

i am having truble with the player, its freezing all the time. but my internet is just fine....

A fellow student

I constantly write down little parts of conversation, fabulous lines from podcasts and mannerisms of people all the time on my phone. I’ve never considered this as a “compost heap”.

Loretta S.

This material could move quicker. I only have my lunch time to listen and I need to move through the material rather quickly.

Maribel V.

The Chairwolf build up at the end had me very literally open mouthed, totally into the situation. And probably that's why he's there doing this Masterclass, is just comes so naturally off him. Off to do some play around with ideas and old stories.

Madeline F.

This is such a cool lesson! The chairwolf part made me laugh aloud, Neil is really an amazing teacher. I was particularly fond of the fairytale part and it even made me realize that a novel I've been working on could be a retelling of Alice in Wonderland. These exercises are definitely going to keep me busy and I already feel so inspired. I'm definitely going to take the time to experiment and try everything I can!

A fellow student

I was on a bus to the cinema yesterday and I did the thought experiment he suggested. I looked around, studied the other passengers and really thought about what their journeys were, where they had been, what they were doing here. Very, very fun indeed.

A fellow student

Before I go and look at a folktale from a different angle, I wanted to share a story where I tried to do just that some years ago. If anyone would care to take a look, I will always appreciate feedback.

Alexandria S.

Amazing writer and teacher. I’ll take his advice on seeing world owned folktales in a different perspective and making ideas almost out of everything. Confluence is another piece of information I will definitely take to heart in my creative writing.