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Neil Gaiman’s Rules for Writing Fiction— or TV in my case.

June 29, 2010

My wife forwarded me these rules some time ago.

Neil Gaiman, Author (American Gods, The Graveyard Book, Stardust), Graphic Novelist (The SandMan, Marvel/Miracleman), and Screenwriter (Coraline, Mirrormask, and Beowulf), and Oscar Nominee for Coraline offered his 10 (really 8 ) rules for writing fiction to the Guardian some time ago.

I’m in the midst of a difficult 2nd draft of a teleplay.  Additionally,  I face a horrible distraction on a daily basis, which I call my “Day Job.”   When faced with distraction, it is important to retain a semblance of forward momentum.  Sometimes I look for structure.  Other times I’ll look for anarchy.  It really depends on my mood.  Today it was structure, and what better example of that is there than a list provided by the writer of one of my favorite fantasy films to hit the theaters in years?  I found myself thinking about this list this morning and sought it out. It is really applicable to most artistic endeavours and I decided to share it here:

Neil Gaiman’s Rules for Writing Fiction

1 Write.

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

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

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.

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.

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.

7 Laugh at your own jokes.

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.

As an added treat, here is a video of a poem that I’ve had the pleasure of hearing twice in person at Neil Gaiman readings in New York.  It is called “Instructions” and is about what you should do if you ever find yourself trapped in a fairy tale.

When I re-read the list, I happily realized I already apply his rules to my scribbles.  That realization alone was pretty awesome, so all I need to do now, is stop writing this, and get to work—

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