Words of wisdom, part 2

03 Jan

Further words of wisdom from the depths of Neil Gaiman’s blog. Especially during the Penman Shipwreck, these bits catch my eye, and so I offer them up for whomever wants them.

Hello Neil,

I find myself in a quandary of sorts and wonder if you have any advice or insights you may be able to offer a young-ish, aspiring writer of fiction for the screen. For at least two years now, my working practice has proceeded more or less as follows:

1. Get an idea.
2. Scrutinise the idea with unhealthy intensity for any traces of plagiarism, clich�, deus ex machina, etc.
3. Sit down to write the first draft
4. Write less than a page, delete the whole thing, convince myself the idea is worthless, and abandon it altogether.
5. Repeat.

Something about seeing the ideas in my head committed to paper makes me balk, no matter how I try to force myself to just finish something – anything. Does this sound familiar to you at all, perhaps from your earliest days as an artist? I wonder if it all boils down to something as obvious as the fear of being misunderstood. If so, what can I do to enable myself to Just Get On With It?

Thanks for anything you might be able to throw my way.

– David

Well, you have a couple of options. One of which — the easiest — is simply not to worry about writing and use the time to do something else instead: golf, for example, or macrame, or the breeding of prize gerbils. The other option is to write. What you’re doing currently is Not Writing. If you do want to write, then what you have to do is Not Do That Stuff You’re Talking About in 1-5 above, and write instead.

You might want to try handwriting, or even, if you can find a typewriter anywhere, typing. It’s harder to delete stuff if you’re making marks on paper as you go. And make a rule that you can’t go back and change things or fix things until you’ve finished whatever you’re on. You could try giving yourself a wordcount, too — a thousand or so words a day is probably good to start off with. Finish it, even if it’s crap (especially if it’s crap). Then go onto the next.

Ted Hughes once said words to the effect that the progress of any writer is marked by those moments when he manages to outwit his own inner police system. Bear that in mind. And good luck.


Posted by on January 3, 2008 in Uncategorized


12 responses to “Words of wisdom, part 2

  1. mymidnightmuse

    January 3, 2008 at 6:25 pm

    Breeding prize gerbils sounds like a blast ! So long as it doesn’t interfere with my writing.

    I am finding that, in handwriting, it is more permanent – no delete button, no backspacing. So I take my words more seriously.

  2. Pete Tzinski

    January 3, 2008 at 8:42 pm

    I agree, it DOES feel more permanent and serious, and I consider my words. Which is weird. I don’t normally self-edit or delete or self-doubt when writing on computer anyway. But the change is the same.

    (I really, really wanna try working on a typewriter again…)

  3. mymidnightmuse

    January 3, 2008 at 11:25 pm

    I’d love to find one, but I wonder if they still make the ribbons?

  4. Petrea Burchard

    January 3, 2008 at 11:59 pm

    Hi Pete, hi everyone,

    I like that you told Neil it’s especially important to finish if it’s crap. I used to stop myself from writing because I was afraid my stuff wouldn’t be good enough. Somewhere along the way I finally realized that writing crap is part of the joy of writing. Yeah, it’s absolutely great to write the good stuff. But allowing myself to write crap is so freeing, I think of it as the road to my better work.

    I write so much crap, I’m on my way to being a genius!

  5. Pete Tzinski

    January 4, 2008 at 6:14 am

    Just a quick clarification, to point out that *I* am not telling Neil anything at all. I guess I should have posted a note about that. Mister Gaiman is answering someone else’s question on his journal, back in 2005, and I posted the question and Neil’s answer. I’m afraid there’s input from me on any side, er, which sounds hiatus-y, but it isn’t, because I’m not on hiatus, durnit.

  6. Shadow Ferret

    January 4, 2008 at 8:28 am

    You know, everyone says deus ex machina and until I came to AW, I’d never heard the term before. Now I know it means god out of the machine, and though the meaning is an improbable and unlikely ending, I like the original meaning because in my current WIP, which is the sequel to my subbing MS, I literally have deus ex machina. At one point my character is fighing Ymir and is about to get squashed when Thor comes along and saves him.

    Granted, there’s more to it than that and I hope the actual writing is a little more interesting, but you get the idea. I literally have deus ex machina. Or in my case, Thor isn’t coming out of a machine, he’s coming out of a drunken stupor.

  7. mymidnightmuse

    January 4, 2008 at 9:02 am

    “.. coming out of a drunken stupor.” As Thor is wont to do 😀

    I found, in retrospect, that I had used deus ex machina to an annyoing extent in my Keeper series, which prompted my entire rewrite of the series. It had been a crutch.

  8. Pete Tzinski

    January 4, 2008 at 9:22 am

    That is so typically Thor.

    Sigh. Ed, I have another short story you’d like. It’s called “Trolls Under Bridges, Eating Gods,” and now I have to go dig it up and send it to you.

  9. Pete Tzinski

    January 4, 2008 at 9:23 am

    And that reminds me of a funny joke, from Gaiman’s Sandman, the “Season of Mists” storyline.

    THOR: …and she said, “YOU’RE Thor? I’m tho thor, I can hardly thit! BWAHAHAWHAWHAWHAWHAWHAWWW!”

    And it was terrific.

  10. mymidnightmuse

    January 4, 2008 at 9:27 am

    Where’s Lori with the eyeroll when you need her?


  11. Pete Tzinski

    January 4, 2008 at 9:32 am

    You’ll have to eye-roll in embarassed disgust in place of her, AND my wife. It’s so liberating when no one’s around to properly eye-roll at my horrible jokes and behavior.

  12. Shadow Ferret

    January 4, 2008 at 9:47 am

    *makes a note to delete that joke from his WIP*



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