Few professions are as solitary – indeed, as secretive – as writing. Yet perhaps a strange quirk in the attitudes of authors is the willingness and desire of writers to share what they know with other students of the craft.
But of course, writing, to put it bluntly, is kind of a strange gig. There is a plethora of advice out there available to writers – aspiring or established – which they can choose to heed or ignore as they see fit. Some might term these pieces of advice as “rules” and, for want of a better term, we might follow them, especially when they come from some of the great masters of writing.
In 2010, inspired by Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing, The Guardian asked authors for their personal lists of dos and don’ts. We’ve gone through the full list, previously bringing you the writing rules of the brilliant Zadie Smith. We’re on the case again, and here bring you some timeless counsel from one of the great writers of the 20th and 21st centuries: Neil Gaiman.
Some of Gaiman’s rules sound deceptively simple, enjoy:
- Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.
- Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Laugh at your own jokes.
- 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.
For more excellent wisdom on writing, consider the writing tips from author and creative writing lecturer Julia Bell; and complement that with some priceless advice from Kurt Vonnegut, alongside our compendium of writing advice from some of the greatest authors.
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