I’m a Neil Gaiman groupie, so I was delighted to find his 8 rules for writing fiction in a recent Gotham Writers Workshop newsletter, reprinted from an article in The Guardian.
Here’s how Gotham ran it:
Neil Gaiman: 8 Good Writing Practices
Neil Gaiman has become so popular he is often considered the “rock star” of the literary world. He trades mostly in science fiction and fantasy in a variety of forms—novels, children’s books, graphic novels, comic books, and film. Among his trend-setting works: Coraline, The Graveyard Book and The Sandman series. He takes readers, of all ages, to the very edge of imagination.
8 Good Writing Practices
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.
I was particularly struck by item 5, since it relates to good critiquing practices. At first, I thought Mr. Gaiman was spot on: If you tell a writer exactly how to fix something, you’re imposing your vision on his or her story. Not good.
But after rereading the item, I wasn’t so sure I agreed with him. I mean, if you’re a seasoned critiquer, who knows a WIP well, and has a perfectly brilliant solution for a completely stuck writer, whom you may also know well, why not offer it up? It’s up to the writer to decide whether or not to run with it and make it his or her own. He or she might even hug you in gratitude. Or better yet, buy you a margarita.
Fellow critiquers (and writers), what do you think? Oh, and if there’s another item that struck you, which one was it and why?
p.s. To see the complete article from The Guardian, which includes wonderful rules for writing from a dozen or so famous writers, click on the link above.