How To Follow Neil Gaiman’s Number One Writing Advice

Photo Courtesy of Markus Skårnes

When asked what his number one advice for writers was, Neil Gaiman had a simple answer: finish things. You need to write a lot, but more importantly, you need to finish what you write.

“Whatever it takes to finish things, finish. You will learn more from a glorious failure than you ever will from something you never finished.” — Neil Gaiman

Why do writers find it hard to finish what they start? There are always excuses: it’s not good enough, I have writer’s block, I want to move on to a new project for the fifteenth time, maybe no one wants to read this.

If you start writing soething, finishing it is usually worth it. You never know its potential until you do, and you become a better writer by finishing things. If you stop writing every time you face writer’s block, you’ll never learn how to get through it. It can be challenging, but here are some tips to help you.

Make progress every day

A daily routine helps a lot with becoming a better writer. Most successful writers will tell you that they sit down to write every single day. If you want to finish your novel, article, or essay, you have to work on it.

Setting a daily goal for the number of words or pages you want to write can help. You could set a goal to write for a certain amount of time, but that doesn’t guarantee you’ll produce any words. I could write for 3 hours without writing anything.

Create a routine that works for you. If you’re too busy to follow the routine you decide on, it’s easier to abandon it altogether. Be realistic with your plans and goals, and then commit to them. The more consistent you are with your routine, the easier it will be to get into writing mode when you sit down to write.

Forget about perfection

Your writing will never be perfect. The sooner you accept this, the more things you’ll be able to finish. Don’t aim for perfect; aim for the best you can do right now. If you find yourself changing the same paragraph for the fifth time, maybe it’s time to accept that it’s as good as it’s going to be.

As you finish more and more texts, your best will become better. Your worst will become better too. Once you finish one piece of writing, it’ll be easier to finish the next one. You’ll be teaching yourself not only to write but to finish things.

If perfectionism prevents you from writing, it might be a good idea to try some free writing without any intention of showing it to anyone. Just write whatever you can think of, quickly and without a filter. Practice letting go of overthinking and the idea of perfect. If you make this a habit, you might find it easier to put words on the page.

Treat each piece of writing as a learning experience

“You don’t wanna be a person who writes a novel. You want to become a novelist who can write novels.” — Brandon Sanderson

If you’re an aspiring writer, you don’t have just one piece of writing in you. Your next piece always has the potential to be better, provided you learn from what you’re currently writing. Try to become a great writer rather than someone who wrote one good thing.

You should finish things and accept that they’re not perfect, but the next step is to figure out where you can improve. Read back through your previous writing and take note of points that don’t work for you. Figure out why and learn how to do better the next time.

Learn about writing through books, videos, and podcasts. Absorb all the knowledge you can about writing. Take note of specific techniques or tips, and focus on applying them in your next piece of writing. Practice skills until they become intuitive, then add new ones. Slowly but surely, you’ll add to your toolbelt of writing skills.

Treat each new text you write not only as a product but as a way to practice everything you’ve learned about writing. Make each text better than the last one. Your writing can never be perfect, but it should constantly be improving.

Whatever you’re writing right now, finish it. If you look back months later and feel like it’s terrible, that means you’ve learned a lot since you wrote it. You can always rewrite something later to make it better. Think about it, would you rather spend years writing one great novel or train yourself to write great novels every year?

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