Neil Gaiman’s Writing Habits

I was curious about Neil Gaiman’s writing habits, and Google found a brief interview by Time Out magazine called Neil Gaiman: How I Write. It’s an old interview (2006), but I’m sharing it here because I hadn’t seen it before. Also, I find solace in the self-reported struggles of other writers.

The biggest way my writing habits have changed over the years is I’m no longer nocturnal. In the old days, I would tend to write when everything else that could be done had been done. I’d start around 8pm and work industriously until around 5am. Then, somewhere in the early ’90s, I gave up smoking and that made a difference. Without cigarettes, if I tried doing that I just fell asleep at the keyboard with nothing to show for my efforts but 500 pages of the letter ‘M’. At that stage, I became more diurnal. I think it was having kids; getting older, too.

But now that I am older, I get to indulge myself in ways of making the world quieter which weren’t available to me when I was a young writer. I can rent a little cabin where there’s no cellphone signal or internet and nothing to do except stare at a nearby lake… or write. When I’m pushed, I will borrow houses from friends, occasionally vanish off to a cheap hotel room for a week or two to get my head down and move into that peculiar universe where you know you have stuff to finish and you do nothing but write. You go to sleep with the story bubbling in your head and when you wake up you reach for a notebook.

For screenplays, I work directly on screen – novels I write in longhand. For novels, I like the whole first and second draft feeling, and the act of making paper dirty, whereas, for screenplays, I value the immediacy of a computer. I’ve often thought, when I’m writing a screenplay where I’m six drafts down the line with loads of notes and inputs, that it’s interesting to read the first draft again. Often you realise it was more alive, so you go back and take stuff out of it.

I try to change my superstitions with each project. Working in fountain pen is good because it slows me down just enough to keep my handwriting legible. Often I use two pens with different coloured ink, so I can tell visually how much I did each day. A good day is defined by anything more than 1,500 words of comfortable, easy writing that I figure I’m probably going to use most of in the end. Occasionally, you have those magical days when you look up and you’ve done 4,000 words, but they’re more than balanced out by those evil days where you manage 150 words you know you’ll be throwing away.

International Tabletop Day 2015

Saturday was International Tabletop Day 2015. I’ll describe what I played below. Please note that I didn’t read the rules to any of these games except Redshirts, so my descriptions of them are limited to my interpretations from a single playing.

Heat. In this game the players are criminals working through different stages of a crime spree, trying to take the most money without earning too much heat from the cops. The cards in your hand represent actions you can take, such as a bank job (earning money if nobody else tries a bank job the same turn), petty theft (earning a small amount of money but not generating heat), or laying low (to bleed off some heat). The rules suggest that players chat in character about their plans for each round, but we were so focused on learning the game that we didn’t do much of that.

Shootin’ Ladders. A nicely twisted takeoff on Chutes & Ladders, where players are homicidal gingerbread men trying to blow each other to crumbs. Movement is similar to Chutes & Ladders (including the chutes, and also the ladders), but everyone has a gun (a Dessert Eagle) and can get more guns, items, and ammo from the board. I got my guts shot out, but I’d do it again.

Redshirts. We played one round using my copy of Redshirts. In this game, each player tries to be the first to get all her away team members killed off. It’s a mildly-Munchkin-like game of screw your neighbor. Players can play missions on themselves or others, and want to fail their own missions (getting their folks killed) and make the other players succeed. It’s always hard to wrap my brain around at first, but I like it. On this occasion, due to either closely matched (nonexistent) skill or weird luck, nobody even took the lead in this game, so we called it a tie after a while.

Sentinels of the Multiverse. This is a superhero game I’d heard good things about, and I liked it. It’s a cooperative game where each player is a superhero, fighting as a team against a single supervillain. The villain we chose was a robotics factory that could also turn into a giant robot. One player had lightning powers, one was very much like Superman, the third was Egyptian-themed, and I was a Batman-clone. Each hero has his own deck of cards representing powers and equipment. My Batman-themed deck, for example, had a crime computer (defending us against some damage), grappling hook (for knocking away enemy effects), and blades I could throw to damage one target a lot or several targets a little. I liked the fact that the longer the game went, the more cool stuff we got to put into play, increasing our options. I also appreciated that the game assigns complexity levels to all the heroes and villains, making it more accessible to new players.

Dominion. We finished up with Dominion, another one I’d heard about but hadn’t played. It’s a deck-building game, but not a collectible one—all the cards you need come in the box, thankfully. The goal is to increase your wealth enough to buy the most property. A big part of the strategy is that money and property cards aren’t useful to you in the action phase, so you have to balance how much money and property cards you have in your deck vs action cards, such as ones that give you more actions, let you draw more cards, or make opponents discard theirs. I’m proud that out of three of us, I came in second place! (Maybe I should mention that the other two players tied each other for first.)

How bout you? Did you celebrate International Tabletop Day? If not, maybe you’ll join me next year!

Gamer Vision

I had a weird case of virtual deja vu today. I was vacationing in New Orleans, checking out the French Quarter, when I got the feeling I’d been there before. After a bit I figured out what it was…the architechture and street layouts were reminding me of the video game Infamous 2, which is set in a fictionalized version of New Orleans! I’d say the game’s developers succeeded at getting across the feel of the city.

Later, I saw a ladder extending from a house’s second floor balcony up to the roof. My first thought was, “If I could reach that ladder, I could climb up there and get a shard or whatever other treasure is up on that roof!” Yep, I’ve been trained by the games to look for ways to gain items and experience points in real life.

Santa Has Manifested


I’m out of bed in the wee hours putting my son’s gifts “from Santa” under the tree, and wondering…what if I really committed to the idea that Santa truly came to our house in the night? When the Boy and I get up in the morning and see that someone has entered the house and left presents, what if I just freak out about it? “How did he get in??? The dust in our fireplace hasn’t been disturbed at all! There’s no sign of a break-in either. Let’s check the news, see if this has happened to anyone else. And these presents are exactly what you have been asking for? How did that cookie-stealing stalker manage this operation???”

Marvel Unlimited


I’ve been using the Marvel Unlimited service for a few months, and now that I’ve cooled down from the initial excitement (“OMG there are so many comics to read here!”) I feel like I can talk about it with a degree of impartiality. (So you can subscribe too! Get it, it’s great!)

The Basics
Marvel Unlimited is a service that gives subscribers unlimited access to a catalog of digital Marvel comics both old and new. By “new” here I mean issues as recent as six months ago, so if you want to read titles the day (or week, or month) they come out, Unlimited will not help you with that. (Do you want them to put comic shops out of business? Don’t be a monster!)

Current pricing is $9.99 per month or $69.00 per year (US). (There’s also a $99/year tier that includes special incentives for more hard-core fans, such as invitations to Marvel events, a Rocket Raccoon figure, and extra discounts on purchases.) The subscription has worked to my financial benefit, because until now I was buying more than that amount in graphic novels. I still buy some, but not as many as I had been.

I’m using the service on an iPad Air, but it’s also available using a web browser or mobile app. In my opinion, a tablet like the iPad is the best way to read digital comics. When reading on an app, you can download up to 12 total issues and keep them available when you’re offline. That’s super handy, and has been a workable number for me.

The App
The Marvel Unlimited app for iPad works pretty well, though not as smoothly as the comiXology apps. (I’m using version 2.1 as of this writing.) You can browse for comics by series, character, creator, date, or event (such as World War Hulk). The search function is a good one, and it will find your search term wherever it appears in a title—so that searching for “spider” will result in hits including “Amazing Spider-Man,” “Giant Size Spider-Woman” (she sounds like trouble), and “Ultimate Civil War: Spider-Ham.”


After reading an issue, the app presents links to buy the issue, read the next issue, or jump to a related series. I’ve found most of these options to be handy. (Bet you can guess which one I haven’t used. Hey, I’m already paying for the subscription!)


One feature I haven’t used is the Reading Club, though I probably will when I’m looking for something new to read. This is a collection of titles recommended on the most recent “This Week in Marvel” podcast.

Marvel recently added a “Discover” section that looks promising. It’s a collection of featured curated groupings of titles, such as recent event collections, key issues for a popular character (in the screen shot below Ultron is one, due to his appearance in the upcoming Avengers sequel), and artist and writer spotlights.


I’ve encountered a lot of glitches in the app, some of which have tested my zen-like demeanor. It crashes at times. Sometimes only the first few pages of an issue will download, until I restart the app and try again. For about a week the app would try to exit out of reading an issue if the tablet was rotated to change orientation (though this bug was fixed). A small number of issues are missing text from their speech bubbles, and some have invalid publication dates (showing up as year “0002”). Once or twice both my Library and my downloaded issues completely vanished, only to be restored a few days later. Every Sunday the app’s “new this week” section will go blank, until the new issues appear the next day. Finally, I can only download 11 issues for offline reading, instead of the promised 12. Marvel Unlimited tech support confirmed that this is a known bug that they’re working on (when they answered my complaint, a few months after I sent it).

Let me clarify now, though, that these bugs are just occasional annoyances that don’t hurt my overall enjoyment of the app. I feel like I’m getting plenty of value out of my subscription.

The Comics
My absolute favorite thing about Marvel Unlimited is how well it facilitates reading an entire Marvel event storyline. Unlike reading graphic novel collections, you can be sure that you’re reading all the tie-in issues in the correct order, because they are ordered by publication date. (And you’re not saddled with buying those few issues of Heroes For Hire just so you can follow the storyline of Civil War.)


Hey, here’s an example of a great update to the app, and an indication of ongoing support: while taking screen shots for this post, I noticed that some events are now displaying the issues in a “suggested reading order”, as below. Nice.


Marvel says there are over 13,000 comics in Unlimited now, and they add more every week. My understanding is that in addition to adding “recent” issues (the ones turning 6 months old), they also add more titles to the back catalog.

Personally, my reading has been about ¾ classic titles and ¼ recent ones. I think this is mainly because I have so much old Marvel to catch up on. (“What If” is in here! And “1602,” and “Secret Wars,” and “Tomb of Dracula,” and “Marvel Zombies”!)

This stuff is just about all I read in my first two months as a subscriber. I’ve since emerged from my cave and started reading other things again, but I still read enough Unlimited titles to make it well worth the price.

My Suggestions
I have a few ideas for features I wish Marvel would implement for Unlimited. (Don’t worry, I already submitted these to the proper authorities.)

  • The app provides an easy way to read the next issue of a title after finishing an issue, but it would be nice to also have a quick link to the previous issue. (Such as when you go to read an issue and realize you picked the wrong number, or didn’t finish all of the last one, or maybe it’s just me that does this, leave me alone!)
  • I’d like to be able to lock the screen orientation, so it doesn’t switch from portrait to landscape whenever I accidentally tilt the device.
  • I’d like to be able to add a group of issues at once to my Library. So, for instance, when viewing an event that contained 20 issues, I could easily put them all in my Library.
  • The ability to subscribe to titles would be great. So, for instance, any time a new issue of “Fantastic Four” is added to Unlimited, it could go to my Library automatically.

Now will someone please talk DC into doing something similar for their digital catalog? I was primarily a DC fan until I found Marvel Unlimited!