By Kenechi Uzor—
Not all literary gods are dead. Many are—Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Twain, Orwell, Hemingway, Baldwin— but few, like Neil Gaiman, are alive and well, with a good number of dutiful worshippers. One of my favourite sentences is from Neil Gaiman’s American Gods: “There was a girl, and her uncle sold her.” A pause, a respectful silence necessarily follows such a sentence as one considers the mind behind it. For editors, neck-deep in slush piles, a sentence like that is eureka. The sentence, like much of Gaiman’s writings, is at once both simple and fathomless, and it is in this style that Gaiman submits his timeless advice for writers.
- Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.
- Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Laugh at your own jokes.
- 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.
Until the December 15th deadline for the Saraba Manuscript Prize, we would be sharing writing tips from great writers. Read and share our post on Mark Twain’s writing tips and Nietzsche 10 writing rules.
Kenechi Uzor is web editor of Saraba magazine.
Photo: Neil Gaiman by Ken Conley