7. Neil Gaiman’s 8 Rules of Writing

From what I understand, if you read comics, you’ve probably read Neil Gaiman. I haven’t, although he married Amanda Palmer, so I already value his opinion. Earlier today I saw a blog post over at Moreknown.com about Gaiman’s 8 rules of writing:

  • Write
  • 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.

This is all good stuff and it applies to whatever you’re writing. But the bolded point stood out to me. In writing, especially creative writing, you need to put some trust in others before you can have confidence in yourself. You have to share your stories and let the words on your pages fly around in someone else’s head for a while. Let them off the chain of your creative conscious. But when it comes to the point where that person gives you advice, things get a bit complicated.

Gaiman is right on with this point. When you’re getting feedback on something as personal as writing, it’s easy to be offended. Don’t. You’re not a perfect writer, you don’t know exactly what people are looking for, and you never will. But if someone doesn’t like something about your work, ask yourself: why? Your feedback should be coming from a reader, someone who enjoys the topic you’ve written about. And their feedback is important. Until they tell you how they would have written it by critiquing in detail. At that moment, you need to realize that you’re not them, and they’re not you. Your style is independent. It’s unique. So if there’s a problem with your writing, a plot hole or a shallow character, fix it. But fix it your way. Never adopt the style of some asshole who is convinced they’re a better writer than you are.

Write on, people.

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