Put One Word After Another: Neil Gaiman’s Eight Rules of Writing

Neil Gaiman's 8 Rules of Writing

  1. Write
  2. Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.
  3. Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Laugh at your own jokes.
  8. 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.

About Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman is an English author of short fiction, novels, comic books, graphic novels, audio theatre and films.

His notable works include the comic book series The Sandman and novels Stardust, American Gods, Coraline, and The Graveyard Book. Gaiman’s writing has won numerous awards, including the Hugo, Nebula, and Bram Stoker prizes, as well as the 2009 Newbery Medal and 2010 Carnegie Medal in Literature.

He is the first author to win both the Newbery and the Carnegie medals for the same work, and is listed in the Dictionary of Literary Biography as one of the top ten living post-modern writers.

For more writing advice read Joss Whedon’s Top 10 Writing Tips and Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling.



  1. 8 March 2013 / 9:27 am

    I always find it so funny how convinced you can be at the time of writing that what you have flows, and then, on reflection a week later, realise that you have totally missed the point. So important to take some time to forget and come at it with fresh eyes… Nice piece.

  2. 10 March 2013 / 3:26 am

    Love that point about valuing feedback about “what isn’t working” far more than someone telling you what to do to “fix it.”

    I taught writing to middle/high schoolers for a decade, and I wish someone had given me this list in my first year of teaching (instead of having to figure these out along the way). 🙂

    I think #1 is the hardest, honestly. In a busy life, I find it hard to muster the mental energy and quiet space necessary to put words down. But Gaiman is right — you just gotta write!

  3. Frank Green
    16 June 2013 / 5:04 am

    Put one word in front of another is the better way to think of it. Each word must be earned by what came before.

  4. 14 July 2013 / 12:58 am

    Gaiman speaks truth. As an author I can testify to his points, especially about “finishing what you’ve written.”

  5. 17 May 2014 / 4:50 am

    Last night I met a 10-year-old girl who had never heard of Neil Gaiman. She hadn’t even heard of Coraline! My stepdaughter LOVED Coraline around that age, but it was four years ago…I hope his work continues to be introduced to new generations of young readers.

  6. 22 March 2016 / 7:49 am

    So cogent! It seems everyone wants to have a book published, but few want to put in the effort to write it! Many are called, but few are chosen.

  7. 30 March 2016 / 2:27 am

    One of the best lists of rules on writing I’ve ever read. I’ve read a few.

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