Neil Gaiman on One Tried and True Method for Writing Anything
Most writers are in constant search for ways to make the creative process easier. Let’s expand our scope and say: most people working a job, creating art, or making anything, are trying to find tricks, tips, or hacks, to be more productive, share our work, and have an impact in the world.
But is our searching in vain?
Nothing wrong with wanting to get more words on the page. Maybe you need to Pomodoro Technique that mug, use a standing desk, dictate, write long hand with pencil and paper, use a computer dedicated to writing only, laptop, desktop, write in the morning, night, afternoon, when the kid’s finally move out, write standing up, or sitting down, with or without clothes, or drink owl tears and say a prayer to the Muse.
Is our searching for a more satisfying writing and creative life found in the latest outlining method? No, let’s wing it, and discover the story as we go.
The day job. Working for the man is holding me back from launching my creative productivity into the stratosphere.
What are we looking for? Is our search for the latest writing hack, trick, or tip, only resistance? A way to sabotage our writing life and make excuses for why our novel is not done.
Hack it up… No problem
Hear this with a caveat. I’m all for writing and creativity hacks and tricks and tips. I write about them, use them, and will continue to be a constant learner, for a more productive and consistent working and writing life.
But when I get honest with myself. I use the constant pursuit of writing hacks to avoid writing. Thinking maybe the next book on craft, online course, and YouTube video on writing 5000 words a second, will unlock the mystery of creativity.
Instead of more words on the page, I’ve opened the door for more resistance, and allowed her to strangle me, punch me in the face, slice my eyelids with razor blades, and pour lemon juice on the wounds. Too much? But you get the point.
Writing comes down to one thing.
Let Neil Gaiman explain what it is:
“You write. That’s the hard bit that nobody sees. You write on the good days and you write on the lousy days. Like a shark, you have to keep moving forward or you die. Writing may or may not be your salvation; it might or might not be your destiny. But that does not matter. What matters right now are the words, one after another. Find the next word. Write it down. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.”
The One Thing
Find the next word. No special elixirs or potions for becoming a prolific writer. No special software or writing utensils. The tried and true method for writing anything is to find the next word.
Next word, repeat, repeat, and repeat.
Gaiman goes on:
“A dry-stone wall is a lovely thing when you see it bordering a field in the middle of nowhere but becomes more impressive when you realise that it was built without mortar, that the builder needed to choose each interlocking stone and fit it in. Writing is like building a wall. It’s a continual search for the word that will fit in the text, in your mind, on the page. Plot and character and metaphor and style, all these become secondary to the words. The wall-builder erects her wall one rock at a time until she reaches the far end of the field. If she doesn’t build it it won’t be there. So she looks down at her pile of rocks, picks the one that looks like it will best suit her purpose, and puts it in.”
Writing doesn’t require the use of brick and mortar. But it requires the tools of the next word. One after the other, no not this one, but that one.
One word leads to a sentence, add a couple of these together and you get a paragraph, keep on adding the bricks of paragraphs, and a chapter emerges.Eventually, if you’re lucky, an entire book, article, story, or project comes to life, for the world to enjoy.
In the grind of writing and creating stuff that matters. We have to die to the things that are sideways energy.
Let’s stop obsessing over whether our current situation allows for the creative work we’d like to pursue. Or whether I’ve nailed down dictation for bringing up my word count. Will people like the thing I’m making?
Amateurs versus Pros
Amateurs believe what’s lacking in their writing life are the right tools and opportunities.
The pros and prolific writers among us know the real secret. The tried and true secrets of the craft. And it has nothing to do with tools, opportunity, hacks, or formulas.
The tried and true method for writing anything is brick by brick, and word by word.
Real writers, write. Plain and simple.
What are you going to build today?