Writing Rules 1: Neil Gaiman’s 8 writing tips

The writing rules series is a journey through the wise words of our favourite writers. Why not learn from those we wish to mimic. I may miss some of their best quotes, or misinterpret them, so do please add them into the comments.

Neil Gaiman, for those who don’t know him or his work, is phenomenal writer. A man who seems to be able to turn his hand to anything. Be that scripts, stories, novels – graphic or literary, TV, you name it, the chances are that if you can write it, Neil Gaiman has, and it was really very good. Below are his rules for writing.


Some people could argue that tips like this are facetious, but writing like any other activity requires practice. I find setting myself challenges really helps. A friend of mine recently asked me to write 7 stories which were made from only 5 sentences. Things like this really help boil down stories to the core ideas.

“Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.”

I think, contrary to being fatuous, this is again something very key to good writing. Words matter. Their order matter. Their sounds, and relationship to one another are as important as their meaning. Orwell and Hemingway were both masters of this.

“Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.”

 I don’t know about you, but strewn across my phones, laptops, ipad and actual physical note books, are the corpses of many a failed story. I personally think that failed or aborted attempts at writing is fine, but when I commit to something which I’ve worked on for a while, I do try my best to complete it.

“Put it aside. 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.”

I find that I cannot edit myself. I can edit other people, but when my brain has birthed the words, it seems unable to find the glaring flaws. Distance is very important when evaluating your writing, as is getting the opinions of others.

“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 never shied away from criticism. It is absolutely vital to hear the opinions of other to help yourself grow as a writer. However that is not to say you are beholden to them.

“Fix it. 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.”

I don’t know about you, but my writing is definitely going to be the next great novel. Pah! I say to you Gaiman! (That is sarcasm!)

“Laugh at your own jokes.” 

If my awful jokes and gifs that pepper these blogs shows anything, it is that I like my own gags.

“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.) 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.”

Don’t listen to me, listen to an incredibly lauded and wonderful writer. I think this goes back to why we write. Because we love it, and it keeps us going.


Let me know what you think of Neil’s rules. Do you agree with them?

3 replies
  1. Antonia
    Antonia says:

    I love Neil’s rules! I also love his insight and ability to cut to the chase. The exercise of telling five stories using only seven words intrigues me. Thanks for your fresh

    • Clare
      Clare says:

      Thanks for your comments Antonia – great to hear you enjoyed the rules and they gave you a fresh outlook on writing. Good luck and keep us updated with how you get on. Clare :)

  2. Antonia
    Antonia says:

    Ok already I made a gaffe in my comment on writing five stories
    Using only 7 sentences not words egads,what was I thinking? We aren’t discussing haiku here. My chagrin.


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