Writing Routines

Neil Gaiman’s Writing Routine: “You have permission to not write, but you don’t have permission to do anything else.”

Neil Gaiman is an English author, best-known for the comic book series, The Sandman and novels StardustAmerican GodsCoraline, and The Graveyard Book.

I think it’s really just a solid rule for writers. You don’t have to write. You have permission to not write, but you don’t have permission to do anything else.

The Tim Ferriss Show Transcripts: Neil Gaiman (#366) | The Tim Ferriss Show

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Neil Gaiman doesn’t think writer’s block exists, but he absolutely does believe in getting stuck. “The difference,” he believes, “is one is imposed on you by the gods, and one is your own damn fault.” From the famed English author’s perspective, this “block” is simply something writers have come up with in order to shift the blame for being unproductive.

“It sounds like it has nothing to do with you: ‘I would love to write today, but I am blocked. The gods have done it to me,'” he said during a HuffPost Live event. “And it’s not true. Cellists don’t have cellist block. Gardeners don’t have gardener’s block. TV hosts do not have TV host block. But writers have claimed all the blocks, and we think it’s a real thing.”

Gaiman has one simple rule in his routine that has helped him become unstuck for writing. When it comes time for him to work, he’ll head on down to the little gazebo at the bottom of his garden and sit at his desk. While he’s there, Gaiman permits himself to do one of two things: write or do nothing.

“I’m allowed to sit at my desk, I’m allowed to stare out at the world, I’m allowed to do anything I like, as long as it isn’t anything,” he explained. “Not allowed to do a crossword, not allowed to read a book, not allowed to phone a friend, not allowed to make a clay model of something. All I’m allowed to do is absolutely nothing, or write.”

This simple writing rule has helped turn Gaiman into one of the most beloved and prolific authors in the past decades. In addition to publishing countless works and winning numerous literary awards, including the Hugo, Nebula, and Bram Stoker awards, as well as the Newbery and Carnegie medals, many of the author’s books have been adapted for the screen.

What I love about that is I’m giving myself permission to write or not write, but writing is actually more interesting than doing nothing after a while. You sit there and you’ve been staring out the window now for five minutes, and it kind of loses its charm. You’re going, “Well, actually, let’s all write something.”

What Neil Gaiman Does When He Doesn’t Know What To Write | HuffPost

Neil Gaiman’s daily writing routine

In a 2012 interview with Writers & Artists, Gaiman described a typical day in the writing life for him.

If I’m writing a novel, I’ll probably get up in the morning, do email, perhaps blog, deal with emergencies, and then be off novel-writing around 1.00pm and stop around 6.00pm. And I’ll be writing in longhand, a safe distance from my computer. If I’m not writing a novel, there is no schedule, and scripts and introductions and whatnot can find themselves being written at any time and on anything.

Interview with Neil Gaiman | Writers & Artists

If Gaiman is working on his first draft, he’ll start off with writing it in a fountain pen — he started this habit while he was working on his 1999 fantasy novel, Stardust, because he wanted to capture the feeling of the 1920s.

The author’s affinity for the Pilot 823 fountain pen is so well well-known that there have been various articles published online surrounding the topic. Using the fountain pen is also handy for Gaiman to see how much progress he’s made in a writing day.

“If I’m doing anything long, if I’m working on a novel, for example, I will always have two fountain pens on the go, with two different colored inks,” he told Tim Ferriss. “Because that way I can see at a glance, how much work I did that day. I can just look down and go, ‘Look at that! Five pages in brown. How about that? Half a page in black. That was not a good day. Nine pages in blue, cool, what a great day.’”

Once he’s done writing out the first draft with a fountain pen, he’ll then sit down and type it out on the computer, effectively making it the second draft in his overall writing process.

These days, Gaiman is undoubtedly juggling a much more packed schedule than his earlier days, with multiple TV commitments — he served as the executive producer for the Starz adaption of American Gods and is the showrunner for Good Omens. Sundays, however, is the day he can dedicate completely to writing.

I love to write. On Sundays it’s a joy. It’s a gift that nobody else is working. It’s the day I have to really write – the best bit of the job – when most of my time is spent doing admin and emails. We’ve got three TV shows on the go, there’s a lot to do, but right now on Sundays I’m left to make things up, uninterrupted.

Sunday with Neil Gaiman: ‘I’m left to make things up, uninterrupted’ | The Observer

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1 Comment

  • Dylan Ferner-Rose
    February 27, 2023 at 11:01

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