Neil Gaiman’s Rules for Writing

Neil Gaiman, Award Winning and Best-Selling Author.

These rules were extrapolated from a Tim Ferris interview which published about four years ago. Neil Gaiman is a prolific writer of graphic novels and fantasy including his Hugo Award winning novel American Gods (2001), The Graveyard Book and many more. Though many of these rules are familiar, there are a couple of fresh ones.

  • Use the external environment as a support. Establish a place for writing and keep it free of distractions. Many writers check into a hotel to get away from family, chores or the phone. Ian Fleming, who wrote the James Bond books, chose uncomfortable hotels in uninteresting towns (to stop sight-seeing) and gave himself two weeks to write a book.
  • You can sit and write or you can sit and do nothing but you can’t do anything else. No phone calls, no reading, no crossword puzzles, no playing with the kids. Eventually doing the work of writing is preferable to just sitting around doing nothing.
  • Write the first draft with pen and paper. Allow yourself to go off the rails. Write long. Gaiman uses fountain pens because he likes the weight and feel of them. He also changes ink colors so he can see, at a glance, how many words/pages he wrote in a day. Fountain pens also have a mechanical magic about them because the ink dries out when you stop writing.
  • Remember that anything you do can be fixed. So go ahead and put it down into words. You really can’t fail.
  • Typing the handwritten draft becomes the second draft. You edit and find better ways of saying what you mean as you transfer mediums from paper to digital form.
  • Find your own rhythm. Some people like to write first thing in the morning. Others write late into the night. Also notice when your rhythm changes and allow yourself to become a different person.
  • Play the “What if” game to come up with new ideas and plot twists. What if I woke up with wings? What if my dream came true? What if a train ride to town took you to another dimension?
  • Sometimes a creative project doesn’t conform to the deadline you impose upon it. In those cases allow the idea to percolate. Write in fits and starts or long batches. Allow the work to accumulate.

In this interview, of course, Neil Gaiman shared many small stories about how he came to discover these rules for writing. His fondness for fountain pens also included a story about the New York Fountain Pen Hospital where you can find an amazing variety of pens and also have your favorites repaired.

A One of a Kind Shop for Writers.

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