Neil Gaiman on Writing: From The Nerdist Podcast

Neil Gaiman chats with the nerds about American Gods, describes scenes that were cut from his Doctor Who episode, The Doctor’s Wife and doles out phenomenal advice for aspiring writers.

If you’re interested in listening to the entire interview:

Nerdist Podcast: Neil Gaiman

Sally forth and be writeful.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

This is Who You Are

“When asked by my creative writing professor… what I planned to do after graduation, I replied that I was considering social work. ‘You can do that if you want,’…handing back my writing, ‘but this is who you are.’  After nearly ten years of writing, rewriting, abandoning, and reclaiming, I sent the newly revised novel…sold it in two days. Like my character April, I consider myself a late bloomer.”

— Tess Callahan, author of the novel, “April and Oliver”

“They never pay the slaves enough so they can get free” – A Letter From Charles Bukowski

Image of Charles Bukowski

Back in nineteen sixty-nine, publisher John Martin offered to pay a then forty-nine-year-old Charles Bukowski one hundred dollars a month for the rest of his life, on the condition that he quit his post office job and dedicate his time to becoming a writer. Bukowski took him up on the offer and completed his first novel, Post Office, in nineteen seventy-one, which was published by Martin’s Black Sparrow Press. Some fifteen years later, Bukowski wrote to Martin about the absolute joy at turning his back on his former full-time job:

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Hello John:

Thanks for the good letter. I don’t think it hurts, sometimes, to remember where you came from. You know the places where I came from. Even the people who try to write about that or make films about it, they don’t get it right. They call it “9 to 5.” It’s never 9 to 5, there’s no free lunch break at those places, in fact, at many of them in order to keep your job you don’t take lunch. Then there’s OVERTIME and the books never seem to get the overtime right and if you complain about that, there’s another sucker to take your place.

You know my old saying, “Slavery was never abolished, it was only extended to include all the colors.”

And what hurts is the steadily diminishing humanity of those fighting to hold jobs they don’t want but fear the alternative worse. People simply empty out. They are bodies with fearful and obedient minds. The color leaves the eye. The voice becomes ugly. And the body. The hair. The fingernails. The shoes. Everything does.

As a young man I could not believe that people could give their lives over to those conditions. As an old man, I still can’t believe it. What do they do it for? Sex? TV? An automobile on monthly payments? Or children? Children who are just going to do the same things that they did?

Early on, when I was quite young and going from job to job I was foolish enough to sometimes speak to my fellow workers: “Hey, the boss can come in here at any moment and lay all of us off, just like that, don’t you realize that?”

They would just look at me. I was posing something that they didn’t want to enter their minds.

Now in industry, there are vast layoffs (steel mills dead, technical changes in other factors of the work place). They are layed off by the hundreds of thousands and their faces are stunned:

“I put in 35 years…”

“It ain’t right…”

“I don’t know what to do…”

They never pay the slaves enough so they can get free, just enough so they can stay alive and come back to work. I could see all this. Why couldn’t they? I figured the park bench was just as good or being a barfly was just as good. Why not get there first before they put me there? Why wait?

I just wrote in disgust against it all, it was a relief to get the shit out of my system. And now that I’m here, a so-called professional writer, after giving the first 50 years away, I’ve found out that there are other disgusts beyond the system.

I remember once, working as a packer in this lighting fixture company, one of the packers suddenly said: “I’ll never be free!”

One of the bosses was walking by (his name was Morrie) and he let out this delicious cackle of a laugh, enjoying the fact that this fellow was trapped for life.

So, the luck I finally had in getting out of those places, no matter how long it took, has given me a kind of joy, the jolly joy of the miracle. I now write from an old mind and an old body, long beyond the time when most men would ever think of continuing such a thing, but since I started so late I owe it to myself to continue, and when the words begin to falter and I must be helped up stairways and I can no longer tell a bluebird from a paperclip, I still feel that something in me is going to remember (no matter how far I’m gone) how I’ve come through the murder and the mess and the moil, to at least a generous way to die.

To not to have entirely wasted one’s life seems to be a worthy accomplishment, if only for myself.

yr boy,

Hank

(Source: Reach for the Sun Vol. 3 by Charles Bukowski)

David Ogilvy’s 10 Writing Tips

1. Read the Roman-Raphaelson book on writing. Read it three times.2. Write the way you talk. Naturally.

3. Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.

4. Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.

5. Never write more than two pages on any subject.

6. Check your quotations.

7. Never send a letter or a memo on the day you write it. Read it aloud the next morning—and then edit it.

8. If it is something important, get a colleague to improve it.

9. Before you send your letter or your memo, make sure it is crystal clear what you want the recipient to do.

10. If you want ACTION, don’t write. Go and tell the guy what you want.

Joyce Carol Oates’ Top 10 Tweet Tips on Writing

1) Write your heart out.

2) The first sentence can be written only after the last sentence has been written. FIRST DRAFTS ARE HELL. FINAL DRAFTS, PARADISE.

3) You are writing for your contemporaries–not for Posterity. If you are lucky, your contemporaries will become Posterity.

4) Keep in mind Oscar Wilde: “A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal.”

5) When in doubt how to end a chapter, bring in a man with a gun. (This is Raymond Chandler’s advice, not mine. I would not try this.)

6) Unless you are experimenting with form–gnarled, snarled & obscure–be alert for possibilities of paragraphing.

7) Be your own editor/ critic. Sympathetic but merciless!

8) Don’t try to anticipate an ideal reader–or any reader. He/ she might exist–but is reading someone else.

9) Read, observe, listen intensely!–as if your life depended upon it.

10) Write your heart out.

Eleven Thoughts on Fiction

1. “Fiction reveals truths that reality obscures.” — Jessamyn West

2. “Truth may be stranger than fiction, but fiction is truer.” — Frederic Raphael

3. “Fiction’s about what it is to be a human being.” — David Foster Wallace

4. “First-rate fiction lays hands on the reader, to heal him or rough him up or, ideally, to do both.” — Ellen Currie

5. “The trouble with fiction is that it makes too much sense, whereas reality never makes sense.” — Aldous Huxley

6. “Details make stories human, and the more human a story can be, the better.” — V.S. Pritchett

7. “Character is the very life of fiction. Setting exists so that the character has someplace to stand. Plot exists so the character can discover what he is really like, forcing the character to choice and action. And theme exists only to make the character stand up and be somebody.” — John Gardner

8. “In writing fiction, the more fantastic the tale, the plainer the prose should be. Don’t ask your readers to admire your words when you want them to believe your story.” — Ben Bova

9. “Basically, fiction is people. You can’t write fiction about ideas.” — Theodore Sturgeon

10. “Structure is the key to narrative. These are the crucial questions any storyteller must answer: Where does it begin? Where does the beginning start to end and the middle begin? Where does the middle start to end and the end begin?” — Nora Ephron

11. “Fiction is a lie, and good fiction is the truth inside the lie.” — Stephen King

The Three Characteristics of Successful Fiction

Three characteristics a work of fiction must possess in order to be successful:

1. It must have a precise and suspenseful plot.

2. The author must feel a passionate urge to write it.

3. He must have the conviction, or at least the illusion, that he is the only one who can handle this particular theme.

— Isaac Bashevis Singer

The Ten (Plus Four) Commandments (of Writing)

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1. “The one great rule of composition is to speak the truth.” — Henry David Thoreau

2. “If you require a practical rule of me, I will present you with this: Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it–wholeheartedly–and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.” — Arthur Quiller-Couch

3. “The best rule for writing–as well as for speaking—is to use always the simplest words that will accurately convey your thought.” — David Lambuth

4. “There are simple maxims . . . which I think might be commended to writers of expository prose. First: never use a long word if a short one will do. Second: if you want to make a statement with a great many qualifications, put some of the qualifications in separate sentences. Third: do not let the beginning of your sentence lead the readers to an expectation which is contradicted by the end.” — Bertrand Russell

5. “I have made three rules of writing for myself that are absolutes: Never take advice. Never show or discuss a work in progress. Never answer a critic.” — Raymond Chandler

6. “There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” — W. Somerset Maugham

7. “Writing has laws of perspective, of light and shade, just as painting does, or music. If you are born knowing them, fine. If not, learn them. Then rearrange the rules to suit yourself.” — Truman Capote

8. “There is probably some long-standing “rule” among writers, journalists, and other word-mongers that says: “When you start stealing from your own work you’re in bad trouble.” And it may be true.” — Hunter S. Thompson

9. “If I were to advise new writers, if I were to advise the new writer in myself, going into the theater of the Absurd, the almost-Absurd, the theater of Ideas, the any-kind-of-theater-at-all, I would advise like this:

  • Tell me no pointless jokes. I will laugh at your refusal to allow me laughter.
  • Build me no tension toward tears and refuse me my lamentations. I will go find me better wailing walls.
  • Do not clench my fists for me and hide the target. I might strike you, instead.
  • Above all, sicken me not unless you show me the way to the ship’s rail.”

Ray Bradbury

10. “Breslin’s Rule: Don’t trust a brilliant idea unless it survives the hangover.” — Jimmy Breslin

11. “One of the great rules of art: Do not linger.” — Andre Gide

12. “Do not pay any attention to the rules other people make…. They make them for their own protection, and to Hell with them.” — William Saroyan

13. “Over the years, I’ve found one rule. It is the only one I give on those occasions when I talk about writing. A simple rule. If you tell yourself you are going to be at your desk tomorrow, you are by that declaration asking your unconscious to prepare the material. You are, in effect, contracting to pick up such valuables at a given time. Count on me, you are saying to a few forces below: I will be there to write.” — Norman Mailer

14. “I’ll give you the sole secret of short-story writing, and here it is: Rule 1. Write stories that please yourself. There is no rule 2. The technical points you can get from Bliss Perry. If you can’t write a story that pleases yourself, you will never please the public. But in writing the story forget the public.” — O. Henry

Of Inspiration and Imagination

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1. “Imagination is the real and eternal world of which this vegetable universe is but a faint shadow.” — William Blake

2. “An idea, like a ghost, must be spoken to a little before it will explain itself.” — Charles Dickens

3. “If writers had to wait until their precious psyches were completely serene there wouldn’t be much writing done.” — William Styron

4. “I sit in the dark and wait for a little flame to appear at the end of my pencil.” — Billy Collins

5. “Use your imagination. Trust me, your lives are not interesting. Don’t write them down.” — W.P. Kinsella

6. “You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we’re doing it.” — Neil Gaiman

7. “You go to the attic of your mind and rummage around and find something.” — Mary Higgins Clark

8. “Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It’s self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can’t try to do things. You simply must do things.” — Ray Bradbury

The Best Judge of Character? Why, 10 Famous Authors, Naturally

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1. “Creation of character is, like much of fiction writing, a mixture of subjective feel and objective control.” — Julian Barnes

2. “Characters are not created by writers. They pre-exist and have to be found.” — Elizabeth Bowen

3. “The characters that I create are parts of myself and I send them on little missions to find out what I don’t know yet.” — Gail Godwin

4. “I don’t have a very clear idea of who the characters are until they start talking.” — Joan Didion

5. “I visualize the characters completely; I have heard their dialogue. I know how they speak, what they want, who they are, nearly everything about them.” — Joyce Carol Oates

6. “When I write, I live with my characters. It’s like going to work. You see the people at the next desk in full regalia all the time, and you know where they came from and where they are going. The point is to define the nuances of everything that’s happening with them and to find the element of their lives that is fascinating enough to record. That takes a lot of doing.” — William Kennedy

7. “Don’t write about a character. Become that character, and then write your story.” — Ethan Canin

8. “The character that lasts is an ordinary guy with some extraordinary qualities.” — Raymond Chandler

9. “It doesn’t matter if your lead character is good or bad. He just has to be interesting, and he has to be good at what he does.” — David Chase

10. “Think of your main characters as dinner guests. Would your friends want to spend ten hours with the characters you’ve created? Your characters can be loveable, or they can be evil, but they’d better be compelling.” — Po Bronson