Posted in Writing

A Dozen Quotes by Neil Gaiman to Help You Write Your Novel

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Neil Gaiman (born in 1960) is the bestselling author of such wonderful novels as American Gods, The Graveyard Book, and Stardust.

Here are a dozen of his quotes to help you write your novel!

1. Rule one, you have to write. If you don’t write, nothing will happen.

This quote should be plastered to the corner of your laptop or computer screen. It should be plastered to every corner of your screen. It should be plastered to every corner of the your writing room, honestly! Because this is one of the big truths about writing. You can talk about it all you want, you can dream about your stories, but nothing will happen until you put your butt in the chair and write. Remember that!

2. Know safely what the rules are, and then break them with joy.

This quote is amazing because, again, it’s absolutely true. It’s critical that you learn the basics of writing. The rules. The genres. The markets. The word counts. All that good stuff. You can’t ignore these things as a writer if you want to be successful, it’s as simple as that. But you’re also never going to get anywhere as a writer if you just constantly play it safe. Yes, at times, it’s important that you break a few rules, especially if doing so serves your story well.

3. Whenever I did something where the only reason for doing it was money, normally something would go terribly wrong. And I normally wouldn’t get the money and then I wouldn’t have anything. Whereas, whenever I did anything where what prompted my doing it was being interested, being excited, caring, thinking this is going to be fun, even if things went wrong and I didn’t get the money, I had something I was proud of.

Whenever you sit down to write something strictly to make a lot of money, you lose sight of why you got into writing in the first place, and you’re probably not going to make the kind of money you want anyway. Yes, money plays a factor in your writing life and it should, but you’ll be better off in the long run if you turn to writing for love of your characters and genre and story and world, not for the desire to make money.

4. Everything is driven by characters wanting different things, and by those different things colliding. Every moment that one character wants something, and another character wants something mutually exclusive, and they collide — every time that happens, you have a story. If you get stuck, ask yourself what your characters want — and that is like a flashlight. It shines a light on the road ahead and lets you move forward. It’s the only question that opens the door to ‘What do you do next?’

No matter what genre you’re writing in, take the time always to think deeply about your characters. Think about who they are, what they want, what’s going to prevent them from getting what they want. I always believe no matter what story I’m telling that it’s character, not the plot, that builds the tension and suspense and excitement. Come up with a group of fascinating, conflicted characters, and there’s no telling how great your writing can be.

5. I think that the joy of world building in fiction is honestly the joy of getting to play God. Because as an author, you get to build the world.

Again, no matter what genre you write in, world building is there. Even if you’re writing a story about only a few characters set in a real city that many people know, you’re building the world around those characters. You’re choosing what part of that city to use and how the setting interacts with your characters. Don’t think world building is only for fantasy and science fiction authors. Whatever story you’re telling, you’re building the world that houses that story, so think deeply about this element before you get started.

6. You learn more from finishing a failure than you do from writing a success.

I haven’t written a major success yet so I guess I’m still waiting to find out if this is true, but the reason it quite simply has to be true is that finishing a failure in your writing life teaches you so much about what to do better and differently the next time. I’ve written twenty novels in ten years, and every single one has taught me so much. Every one has given me a little bit of necessary guidance toward the next one. And I wouldn’t be the strong writer I am today without all those failures!

7. I learned to write by writing. I tended to do anything as long as it felt like an adventure, and to stop when it felt like work, which meant that life did not feel like work.

There are a thousand books you can read that teach you how to write and hundreds of MFA programs around the world you can attend that do the same thing, but at the end of the day, the best way to learn how to write… is to write. Read books, watch films, and write every day. Write in different genres. Write fiction, non-fiction, poetry. Write whatever makes the process feel like an adventure, and stay away from the kind of writing that feels like work. Write a little bit every day if you can, and write for joy, always!

8. ‘And then what happened?’ Those words, I think, are the most important words there are for a storyteller. Anything you can do to keep people turning the pages is legitimate.”

Keeping readers turning pages is always my goal as a storyteller. I learned a lot about writing in two different Masters program, and I’ve definitely improved as a stylist in the last five years and have started paying more attention to literary aspects of writing, but nothing will ever be more important in the story I’m telling than having the reader hopefully ask “And then what happened?” I want the reader to want to keep going and find out what happens next. I want the reader to always be flipping through pages, that’s my goal!

9. Dialogue is character. The way that somebody talks, what they say, how they say it is character. And dialogue has to show character. It also has to show plot. And maybe it can be funny along the way.

Dialogue is so tricky in novel writing because it can’t just be there to fill up space. It can’t just be there because you thought of a funny scene, and so there it is. No, even though you have lots and lots of white space to work with when you write a novel, every scene of dialogue, and every line of dialogue, should be there for a reason. Your dialogue should constantly be showing character at the same time it furthers along the story. If it’s not doing both of these things, often you need to cut the dialogue way down. Every line should serve a purpose, remember that.

10. You always have to remember, when people tell you that something doesn’t work for them, that they’re right. It doesn’t work for them. And that is incredibly important information. You also have to remember that when people tell you what they think is wrong and how you should fix it, that they’re almost always wrong.

This quote is kind of hilarious, but it’s also true. It’s vital to have other people look at your work and give you feedback, and you need to remember that what those people are telling you is absolutely correct… to them. At the same time though, when people not only tell you what’s wrong with your writing but also tell you exactly how you should fix it, it’s in your best interest to take that feedback with a grain of salt. If five people all agree that one specific thing is wrong with your manuscript, listen closely to what they have to say. But one opinion shouldn’t make you completely alter your novel either. Remember that your book is ultimately yours. Don’t change it all around to suit the needs of another person.

11. When writing a novel, that’s pretty much entirely what life turns into: ‘House burned down. Car stolen. Cat exploded. Did 1500 easy words, so all in all it was a pretty good day.

Writing consumes you, it really does. Sometimes when you’re having a super productive writing day, you’re going to forget things. You’ll forget to do the laundry or go to the grocery store. You’ll forget about lunch. You’ll forget about your friend’s birthday. When you’re deep into a story that means the world to you, other aspects of your life are going to fall by the wayside, and you know what? That’s okay! Let the writing consume you as much as possible. Let the writing be as important as everything else.

12. People ask me, ‘How do you cope with rejection?’ And there are only two ways to do it — one of which is you go down. You get sad. You put the thing away. You stop writing. You go and get a real job, go and do something else. And the other is a kind of crazed attitude that actually the most important thing now is to write something so brilliant, so powerful, so good nobody could ever reject it.

Rejection is a necessary evil in our writing lives, and the truth of the matter is that you’ll never get anywhere as a writer if you let rejection swallow you whole. Your work’s going to be rejected often. Your short stories will get a thousand form letters. Many of your novels won’t go anywhere, and the ones that do might get you a literary agent and then still not go anywhere, and you might have a novel published one day that doesn’t break out the way you hope. There’s no guarantee of anything. All you can do, really, is ignore rejection, believe in yourself as much as you can, and keep improving in your craft. Write something so incredible that nobody can reject it. As long as you constantly push forward and never go backward, you absolutely will have what it takes to be a successful and accomplished writer in the years to come!

4 thoughts on “A Dozen Quotes by Neil Gaiman to Help You Write Your Novel

  1. Did you take his Masters Class? I was thinking of paying for it…for craft purposes. The quote about different characters wanting different things, that really stuck out to me. Another awesome post!

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