18 (give or take) Rules for writers

This year, I’ve been working my way through the Writing classes on Masterclass. Neil Gaiman has a lesson on the “18” rules for writers (who want to publish). I have eighteen in inverted commas because I lost count to be honest. It’s a great class and it really doesn’t matter how many lessons or rules there are; just start at the beginning and do what he says. Neil should know. If the proof of the pudding is in the tasting, he’s got the whole dessert smorgasbord to offer up.

Of course, the ‘rules’ can be adapted to anyone who wants to create a thriving creative business.

  1. You have to write. If you don’t write, nothing will happen. Same goes for painting, sewing, sculpting… If you don’t get your butt into the seat/studio/kitchen you won’t make anything. Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.
  2. You have to finish. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it. If you start it and abandon it, or if you start it and never let it go no one will ever see it. Which is fine… but these rules are for those who want to “publish.” To me, “finishing” = editing, proofreading, and editing some more. Make your art the best you can produce.
  3. Put it aside. For at least a few days. A month if you can. Then 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.
  4. Having finished it, you have to send it out into the world to somebody who could publish it. Yes, you have to show people your stuff.
  5. Once you’ve sent out that particular thing, refrain from rewriting/reworking except to editorial request. Having sent it out, don’t just start it again. Don’t keep writing that book, that story, over and over again.
  6. …when it comes back– because it will probably come back– you have to send it out again. You can’t say, “I sent it out to this editor, to this publisher, to this agent, it has come back. My heart is broken. I will never write it again. I will put it away.” No, Neil implores us, don’t wither on the vine!
  7. Then start the next thing. For those wanting to pursue a path through traditional publishing, you will need more than one piece. If the agent or publisher happens to love your submission, they’re invariably going to ask you what else you are working on. You do not want to be a bunny in the headlights when they ask this.
  8. This is my favourite of Neil’s rules. He says, “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.” I’ve only been writing seriously for nearly four years but I’ve already found this to be true unless you’re getting advice from a very experienced writer, agent, or publisher.
  9. Listen to advice. Fix your work. 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.
  10. Laugh at your own jokes. Robert Frost once said, “No tears for the writer, no tears for the reader
  11. 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.) Listen to this great interview with Quentin Tarantino for some facts to back this up.

See… I told you I lost count, although I do think there are more on the Masterclass lesson.

Neil leaves us with these words and I can’t help but read them in his very distinctive voice.

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.

Neil Gaiman – Masterclass

One rule for writers who just want to write

  1. Write

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