Neil Gaiman born in 1960. He’s an English author of short fiction, novels, comic books, graphic novels, audio theater and films. His notable works include the comic book series “The Sandman” and novels “Stardust”, “American Gods”, “Coraline” and “The Graveyard Book”. He has won numerous awards, including the Hugo, Nebula and Bram Stoker awards, as well as the Newbery and Carnegie medals. The “Ocean at the End of the Lane” was voted Book of the Year in the British National Book Awards.
Neil Gaiman’s family is of Polish-Jewish and other Eastern European-Jewish origins. After living for a period in the nearby town of Portchester, Hampshire, where Neil was born, the Gaimans moved to the West Sussex town of East Grinstead.
Gaiman was able to read at the age of four. He said «I was a reader. I loved reading. Reading things gave me pleasure. I was very good at most subjects in school, not because I had any particular aptitude in them, but because normally on the first day of school they’d hand out schoolbooks and I’d read them – which would mean that I’d know what was coming up, because I’d read it!» One work that made a particular impression on him was J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” from his school library, although it only had the first 2 volumes of the novel. He consistently took them out and read them. He would later win the school English prize and the school reading prize, enabling him to finally acquire the 3rd volume.
For his 7th birthday, Gaiman received C.S. Lewis’s “The Chronicles of Narnia Series”. He later recalled that «I admired his use of parenthetical statements to the reader, where he would just talk to you… I’d think: Oh, my gosh, that is so cool! I want to do that! When I become an author, I want to be able to do things in parentheses. I liked the power of putting things in brackets!» Narnia also introduced him to literary awards, specifically the Carnegie Medal 1956. When Gaiman won the Carnegie Medal 2010 himself, the press reported him recalling «It had to be the most important literary award there ever was!» and observing «If you can make yourself aged seven happy, you’re really doing well – it’s like writing a letter to yourself aged seven!»
Only few writers of Fantasy can claim to be as successful as Neil Gaiman, who has long been a kind of literary rock star. His novel “American Gods” picked up several awards in 2001, his novel “Stardust” was made into an acclaimed movie in 2007 and his “The Sandman (Comic Series)” and its various spin-offs have swept up dozens of awards. Norman Mailer described the series as “a comic strip for intellectuals” and he wasn’t an easy man to impress.
Luckily, for all of us, Gaiman is very vocal regarding his success. He maintains a Blog and an online journal, regularly takes interviews and frequently speaks at conventions and festivals. He’s not selfish with his wisdom and there are dozens of articles and videos out there sharing Gaiman’s writing and publishing tips.
So, for anyone who admires him and he wants to learn more about his writing rules and about his writing style, here are some of his most famous advice for aspiring authors:
1. Be yourself. «Tell your story. Don’t try and tell the stories that other people can tell. Because, as a starting writer, you always start out with other people’s voices – you’ve been reading other people for years… but, as quickly as you can, start telling the stories that only you can tell – because there will always be better writers than you, there will always be smarter writers than you… but you are the only you!»
2. Don’t wait for inspiration. «How do you do it? You do it. You write. You finish what you write! If you want to write, do it and finish it. Don’t sit around waiting for an excuse to get going. If you’re only going to write when you’re inspired, you may be a fairly decent poet but you’ll never be a novelist – because you’re going to have to make your words count today, and those words aren’t going to wait for you, whether you’re inspired or not. So, you have to write when you’re not “inspired”! And the weird thing is that 6 months later, or a year later, you’re going to look back and you’re not going to remember which scenes you wrote when you were inspired and which scenes you wrote because they had to be written!»
3. Be kind to yourself. «The trick is to not let failure put you off. It’s fine to dislike something you’ve written. But don’t dislike yourself for having made it!»
4. Don’t edit immediately. «One thing that can stop a writer from ever getting anything done is a tendency to immediately edit what they’ve only just written. Whether you’re going over every new page or tearing apart each fresh chapter, overeager editing can disrupt your flow, crush your confidence, and do more harm than good!»
5. Seek feedback. «Show your story to friends whose opinion you respect and who like the kind of thing that it is. Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they’re almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong!»
6. Be clear. «Don’t obsess over grammar. If you have to obsess, obsess over clarity. Write as clearly as you can. When it works, there’s a magic in writing: you can get an idea out of your head and into someone else. That’s your goal!»
7. Edit, but know when to stop. «Fix it. Remember that, sooner or later, before it ever reaches perfection, you’ll have to let it go and move on and start to write the next thing. Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving!»
8. Experiment. «Try things out. Enjoy yourself. If you find a writer you like, write like them. And then sound like something else. Write anything! Don’t worry about it being good or read by other people. Just play and play a lot! The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it honestly and tell it as best you can!»
9. Set yourself up for success. Writing is obviously the best thing you can do to become a writer, but there are other things you can do to refine your craft, like finding and talking to Editors, attending conventions (particularly for writers of Comics, Sci-fi and Fantasy) and considering writing groups.
«On the whole, anything that gets you writing and keeps you writing is a good thing. Anything that stops you writing is a bad thing. If you find your writers group stopping you from writing, then drop it!»
10. Read. «Read everything you can lay your hands on. Read the “classics”, in whatever areas of writing you want to work in, so you know what the high points are. Read outside your areas of comfort, so you know what else is out there. Read!»
11. Get outside your comfort zone. «If you like Fantasy and you want to be the next Tolkien, don’t read big Tolkienesque fantasies! Tolkien didn’t read big Tolkienesque fantasies. He read books on Finnish Philology. Go and read outside of your comfort zone, go and learn stuff! So, if you’re a die-hard Sci-fi writer, give crime a go. If you’re used to writing Romance, try writing a Fantasy short. Never read poetry? Do it. The possibilities are endless!»
12. Let yourself get bored. It’s difficult to get bored these days. Long gone are those rainy Sundays where bored children stare out windows – nowadays you can fill any idle moment with Social Media, online gaming, etc. There’s been a lot of debate about whether the total noise of our technological lives crushes creativity and Gaiman seems to empathize with the doomsayers.
«Ideas come from daydreaming. They come from drifting!»
13. Live as much as you can. Some writers don’t need to leave their rooms, let alone their hometowns or their countries. The most famous literary shut-in was Emily Dickinson, who crafted some of America’s finest poems from the comfort of her desk. But these writers are in a minority. Most of us need to get out there and live a little, before putting pen to paper. Think of writers like: Jack Kerouac, Ernest Hemingway and, perhaps surprisingly, Gaiman himself.
«The more things you see, the more places you go, the more lives you touch, the more you will be able to write truthfully. And the more memories you will have to make your imaginings real!»
14. Finish your novel. «You have to finish things! That’s what you learn from, you learn by finishing things!»
15. Don’t be afraid of being rejected. «First, I got really grumpy! And then got very determined to write things that were so good that not even the stupidest, most irritating gatekeeper alive could reject them!»