Help from the Masters: Writing Tips from Neil Gaiman & Stephen King


Neil Gaiman
It is with some amount of embarrassment that I sheepishly admit to having not-yet read anything by Neil Gaiman. However, I am, at this moment, listening to him read Stardust via audiobook, and enjoying it very much. I am not usually in the habit of forgoing books for audiobooks, but his voice is soothing and inspiring me greatly. But his books are not the reason for this post. What is more important here, is his seemingly unfailing willingness to help/acknowledge/promote fellow writers, which astonishes me. It is so rare, particularly in this day and age, for a celebrity of Neil's status to spend his precious time assisting us un-knowns, eager to set a tentative foot inside the writer's world.

The following is a prime example of what I mean. This caught my attention the other day, prompting me to act upon the curious desire to find out more about Neil, his writing and his life. It comes directly from his blog, and as you can see, reblogged here with kind permission:

                       Reposted as something that can be reblogged. ON WRITER’S BLOCK.

I’ve seem to be hitting writer’s block far too often now. My grade in my creative writing class is suffering because i don’t turn in anything because i’m never really satisfied with anything i do. all my good ideas seem to turn into bad ones once i write it down. How do you get pass writers block?

whimsyrachy


You turn off your inner critic. You do not listen to your inner police force. You ignore the little voices that tell you that it’s all stupid, and you keep going.

Your grade isn’t suffering because your writing is bad, it’s suffering because you aren’t finishing things and handing them in.

So, finish them and hand them in. Even if a story’s lousy, you’ll learn something from it that will be useful as a writer, even if it’s just “don’t do that again”.

You’re always going to be dissatisfied with what you write. That’s part of being human. In our heads, stories are perfect, flawless, glittering, magical. Then we start to put them down on paper, one unsatisfactory word at a time. And each time our inner critics tell us that it’s a rotten idea and we should abandon it.

If you’re going to write, ignore your inner critic, while you’re writing. Do whatever you can to finish. Know that anything can be fixed later.

Remember: you don’t have to be brilliant when you start out. You just have to write. Every story you finish puts you closer to being a writer, and makes you a better writer.

Blaming “Writer’s Block” is wonderful. It removes any responsibility from the person with the “block”. It gives you something to blame, and it sounds fancy.

But it’s probably more honest to think of it as a combination of laziness, perfectionism and Getting Stuck. If you’re being lazy, don’t be. If you’re being a perfectionist, don’t be. And if you’re stuck, figure out where the story went off the rails, or what you got wrong, or where you need to go deeper, or what you need to add to make it work, and then start writing.

                                                                  *****


This gives an uninitiated writer hope and courage to muck through the sticky bits of writer's block, self doubt, fear and whatever else we allow to stand in our way of our craft. I suppose even respected writers feel these things from time to time, but perhaps need fewer reminders than the rest of us.

Stephen King
Like Neil, Stephen King is another highly celebrated writer who gives of his time and expertise generously as evidenced in his book, 'On Writing'. I highly recommend picking this up, because the first half of the book is autobiographical (although he says it isn't), and the second half is all about the craft of writing itself.

Stephen is a former teacher, which, I believe, is not just an occupation one takes while waiting to make it big as a writer. To this day, both Neil and Stephen continue to teach us in their own unique way, and I'd like to believe both of them love their craft so much, they still feel compelled to teach.

Both of these brilliant writers comfort me in times when I allow the darkness of my own mind to get the better of me, and keep me from 'just writing'. They inspire me to continue on this writing path; trusty lantern in one hand, journal in the other, to wherever I wish it to go. Care to join me?

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