Neil Gaiman’s Eight Rules of Writing… and my responses

 1. Write

You can’t get anywhere unless you write. First basic principle of getting things done. You won’t write a poem or a story or a grocery list unless you pick up your computer, pen, whatever, and start writing.

2. Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.

Who ever heard of a one-word story? That’s called a title. But, if you wait for the “right word” you may never find it. This is where I disagree with Mr. Gaiman. Just write. One word after another

3. Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.

How many pieces of unfinished short stories do you have? I have tons; well, I used to. I made a goal this year of finishing three things and word-by-word, I’m working towards that. It doesn’t matter if you are working on a “shitty first draft” (thanks, Anne Lamott), just finish the damn thing.

4. Put it aside. Read it pretending you’ve never read it before. Show it to friends whose opinion you respect and who like the kind of thing that this is.

This is what you do with the SFD: put it aside. For a day, week, month. Finish writing something else in the meantime. Then take it out. Re-read it. Ask your most honest friends to read through it. Take their advice, which will most likely be to edit.

5. Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.

This one is hard. Accepting advice. I’m in two writing groups right now and while I may not like their comments, they usually have a point about something not working. I don’t always accept their comments but they certainly make me think about what I’ve written, how it’s written, and, gee, sometimes they have a point.

My favourite creative writing prof and mentor, Alistair MacLeod, used to tell me “it sounds too “enny” or, he’d wave his hand over a specific line or word of the writing and say, “make better.” I got it. I had to go back and make it better. Something wasn’t working.

6. Fix it. Remember that, sooner or later, before it ever reaches perfection, you will have to let it go and move on and start to write the next thing. Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.

So, re-write. Make it better. I like to save my drafts just so I can see how I’ve progressed. And, I usually have. Perfection is elusive; just keep writing.

7. Laugh at your own jokes.

If you can’t laugh at your own jokes, maybe no one else will. If you don’t get it, no one else will. I’ve found that while I can laugh in my head, when I read it out loud, it doesn’t sound as funny. You might want to re-write that, too. If you have to explain the joke to your listener/reader or say “you had to be there,” it’s not working.

8. The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it ­honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.

What Mr. Gaiman said.

Original Gaiman post:

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