Columns > Published on May 17th, 2022

Build A Gaiman Writing Lab: Experiment and Get Paid

If you ever want to make sure you do something: declare, in an article, that you’ll never do it.

After writing a whole column about how I’d never re-read Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, I re-read Neil Gaiman’s Sandman.

On a related note: Stay tuned for my next article: How I’ll Never Outdance mid-2000s Usher.

What hit me reading through Sandman again, almost 35 years after it was birthed, is that lots of what Gaiman would do later—American Gods, The Graveyard Book, Mythology– it’s all scattered throughout Sandman.

The kernels and flashes might just pop up as a panel here and there, but the little bits of Gaiman’s entire career are all lined up in Sandman.

Almost like Gaiman wrote himself a to-do list in the form of a comic book.

First I felt ripped off. I paid twice for this shit!?

But then I calmed down and remembered: whenever you feel ripped off, try and figure out how the ripper-offer pulled it off and whether you can replicate it.

The Writer Problem

Writers don’t generally get paid to dick around. You don’t get paid so much for your experiments, you get paid for your products.

...enjoy being on the clock while you do it.

And when your products aren’t viewed by a lot of people, you don’t really know how they’re being received. 

Gaiman solved those problems with Sandman, his lab space.

Sandman was a book with a main thread, but it diverged wildly from its main characters, its settings, all that shit. Which meant Gaiman could experiment within Sandman.

And Sandman brought versions of stories that could be expanded later for a larger audience. So Gaiman got to see what people liked.

And that brings us to the ripoff: How can I make fiction in a lab space where I write, get some feedback, and get paid to do it?

Discrete Fictions

Instead of putting every idea into a novel, write the short story first. Or, write a section, a chapter, as a short story, and see how it goes.

It’s a lot easier to bend a story to your will than it is a novel, you know?

Send that shit out all over the place. If it gets published, hey, you made a little cash and you have some feedback that you’re doing something right.

If it doesn’t get published, rework it or publish it yourself, make a few bucks, and move on.

Chopping your long-ass books into smaller fictions gives you more chance to get feedback (someone might take a chance on a story as opposed to a whole book, if you hook them hard enough), and it gives you more product to sell.

Experiment short, then extend your success into longer pieces.


It might not be a boatload of cash, but if you start a newsletter or a read-aloud podcast or weekly novel excerpt newsletter or whatever, take an hour to set it up on Substack or Patreon or Twitch, and you’ll at least have SOME cash coming in and SOME reason to make sure you’re creating and putting out work regularly.

You can choose to give it away free on all of these platforms, but using them gives people an easy option to throw some cash your way.

As a bonus, you can get some idea of whether anyone’s interested in what you’re doing before you spend the time and energy polishing it to perfection.

Tweet No More

An idea can begin in one medium and bloom in another.

Stop giving Elon your work for free.

Whenever you go to write a tweet, write it down in a notebook instead, and turn it into a story.

If it’s worth tweeting, it’s worth turning into something you get paid for.

You might think a tweet like, “What do you all say to a short story about Freddy Krueger getting stuck in the form of a TV with arms and legs and having to live out the rest of his life as a TV?” is a way to collect feedback, but people will press a little heart button even if they have no intention of reading that story, ever, let alone purchasing it.

And, what they’re really liking is THE IDEA of the story, not the story itself.

Transform your tweets into actual work, and put it somewhere you can get paid.

Other Formats

What Gaiman started in comics sometimes turned into short stories, novels, even kids’ books.

An idea can begin in one medium and bloom in another.

It might be easier to make a little coin if you draft your story ideas, make your lab space, in video, plays, podcast scripts, livestream chats, and so on. Find a shitty beat and make songs out of your ideas, like Wesley Willis. Design the book covers for the books you’ll never write. Post a daily comic strip.

It’s not always easy to get paid for writing, but if you have another skill, you might be able to commodify that a little more easily and see which ideas seem to attract readers.


Every day, before you go to your regular-ass, boring-ass, ass-ass job this week, put a notecard in your pocket. By the end of each day, you must emerge with ONE story idea, one line of dialog, one SOMETHING written on your card.

An interaction with someone, an email, whatever, something that’ll spark one story idea needs to come from every work day this week. 

Then, the next time you’re chatting with friends, bring up the stuff on your notecards, and see which ones prompt your friends to tell their own versions of the stories. Those are the ones you need to write.

Get in the habit of using your boring days at work to come up with ideas, and hey, enjoy being on the clock while you do it.

Get The Sandman Vol. 1: Preludes & Nocturnes 30th Anniversary Edition by Neil Gaiman at Bookshop or Amazon

Get The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction by Neil Gaiman at Bookshop or Amazon

About the author

Peter Derk lives, writes, and works in Colorado. Buy him a drink and he'll talk books all day.  Buy him two and he'll be happy to tell you about the horrors of being responsible for a public restroom.

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