13 Writing Truths from Neil Gaiman on His Birthday

Posted by Alex Grover

(Photo credit from @neilhimself)

Neil Gaiman has always given the world much to think about: Do dogs understand when we’re trying to write and decide to impede us anyway? Is it all right to go next door for a pad of paper and a writing utensil upon being locked out? Armageddon…or tea? These are the important questions.

Though he’s surely the next Nostradamus, Gaiman is probably better known as a writer than as a Doomsday-Darjeeling soothsayer. To celebrate this sir on his birthday, and in light of NaNoWriMo, we scoured Gaiman’s tweet backlog for ages (and by ages we mean hours looking through Twitter’s advanced search function) finding the best tidbits on writing that this jovial tea-sipping nerd king has to offer.

On preconceptions of the writing life:

I am sitting in an Indianapolis Starbucks writing a speech in a moleskine notebook. I feel like a lazy writer's idea of what a writer does.


On getting back into the hang of things:

I'm writing. I'm on page 4. This is so cool. They sound like themselves. i DO remember how to do it. HAH. (okay back to writing now)


On writing in solitude:

Enforced writer solitude: no phones work,  not even the landline, & the internet is  almost too slow to use.  On the downside, no hot water.


On how to know when a story is done:

[Y]ou know it's done when there aren't any more words; and you're sad because you've been writing it for 6 years and now it's done.


On settings:

[I]f you are an author writing about somewhere distant, you worry that a local will see the things you got wrong.


On organizing your computer screen:

Never, never NEVER have two drafts of the thing you're writing open at the same time. Which one did I just do what to? ARGH!


On writing priorities:

Whether one thing gets published or not isn't important. The work is.


On journalism:

Um, journalism IS writing. Or it was back when I did it.


On the reaping the feeling of accomplishment:

A GREAT DAY'S WRITING. And on the good days, nothing else matters.


On writing in solitude II:

If I am writing in a coffee shop I am about as keen to be disturbed as a leprechaun and, if approached, as unlikely to be there next time.


On your writing to-do:

Write. Finish things. Go for walks. Read a lot & outside your comfort zone. Stay interested. Daydream. Write.


On tentacular pseudopods:

In the thing I am writing I just used the phrase "tentacular pseudopods". I am 51 years old and have never written that before.


On empathy for characters:

Back to writing the story. These nice people aren't going to murder themselves…


On being Neil Gaiman:

I'm not the best writer in the world. But I'm the best writer who's me.


On Piracy vs Obscurity:

I think obscurity is much worse for a writer than piracy.


On the difficulty of writing II:

I think I'm for discouragement. If you can be discouraged, you shouldn't be writing. The writers will do it anyway.


On litotes:

I'm a writer: I know what litotes is & whether it's a figure of speech based on understatement or the kind of fish that gives you a pedicure


Also on boosting self-esteem:

I'm not the best writer in the world. But I'm the best writer who's me.

Alex Grover

Alex Grover

Alex Grover currently modifies ebooks at Penguin Random House. He’s a VR enthusiast, a pseudo Godzilla scholar, a haphazard SF poet, and an overall nice chap. Read his infrequent thoughts @AlexPGrover.