Those who frequent this blog know how much value I place on writing advice from other authors. To me, writing advice is like road signs on the way to whatever destination lies waiting for me over that shimmering hill in the distance. It shows me what rules to follow, what rules to ignore, and what rules to keep in mind. It shows me what works, why it works, and why it doesn’t. These road signs keep me on the road. All I have to do is move forward.
It sounds simple enough, but it’s really not. The road is filled with potholes. Big ones. So while I negotiate these tire-bursting crevices, driving around them, sometimes going off-road into shrubs and bushes, and over sharp protruding rocks (which is just as dangerous, but for different reasons), these road signs keep me from venturing off too far, from losing my way. They bring me back to the road so that I can keep on going. So that I can keep on writing.
Most writing advice are the same or similar in nature, but somehow, possibly because of who the writer is, a special hue seems to attach itself to the words. Some advice you understand and makes logical sense, and then you get advice that just resonates on a deeply emotional level.
Neil Gaiman is one of those writers whose advice, always and without fail, resonates deep within me. In my RSS feed this morning I found this entry below where Neil shares some thoughts on writing. The obvious, standout bit of advice is to just keep writing. Always keep writing and finish what you start. But I found something else of equal worth. When Neil was young he used to emulate other writers. Writers he respected and admired.
And it reminded me of an interview I read in the Paris Review. The interview was with Ernest Hemingway. In this interview Hemingway explained how it took him years of following other masters and copying their work to get the feel, the nuances, the style, to understand how they arranged their words. Only after hours and hours of repetition, once he understood them, did he understand how to make the words his own.
I’m sure you will agree Gaiman’s words are uniquely his own. His voice is so distinctive, so typically Gaiman’s, you won’t mistake him for anyone else. And it enhances his stories. Gaiman’s stories cannot be told without his voice. It just won’t be the same. Which brings us back to his thoughts on writing. Yes, he kept on writing, but like Hemingway, as a young writer, he copied the masters to understand them. Not to be them–to understand them. And somehow, during that process, he found his voice.
Read the rest of his thoughts on writing here: Neil Gaiman’s Journal: Princess, and some thoughts on writing.