Ray Bradbury’s Practical and Inspiring Writing Advice

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The late, great Ray Bradbury, a master of modern science fiction, was born on this day in 1920. Bradbury was full of wit and wisdom when it came to dishing out practical writing advice. His 1990 book Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity is a must read for writers who need a jolt of inspiration. “A prescient lyrical writer with an abiding hatred for intolerance, Bradbury influenced generations of readers and many of our most famous dreamers, from Stephen King to Steven Spielberg,” wrote Junot Díaz in 2012. Celebrate the author’s life and literary career with some of his best advice about creativity, the writing process, and the importance of libraries.

“You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads.”

“You fail only if you stop writing.”

“Just write every day of your life. Read intensely. Then see what happens. Most of my friends who are put on that diet have very pleasant careers.”

“I absolutely demand of you and everyone I know that they be widely read in every damn field there is; in every religion and every art form and don’t tell me you haven’t got time! There’s plenty of time. You need all of these cross-references. You never know when your head is going to use this fuel, this food for its purposes.”

“Be pragmatic, then. If you’re not happy with the way your writing has gone, you might give my method a try. If you do, I think you might easily find a new definition for Work. And the word is LOVE.”

“Write a short story every week. It’s not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row.”

“Just type any old thing that comes into your head.”

“Love. Fall in love and stay in love. Write only what you love, and love what you write. The key word is love. You have to get up in the morning and write something you love, something to live for.”

“It was with great relief, then, that in my early twenties I floundered into a word-association process in which I simply got out of bed each morning, walked to my desk, and put down any word or series of words that happened along in my head. I would then take arms against the word, or for it, and bring on an assortment of characters to weigh the word and show me its meaning in my own life. An hour or two hours later, to my amazement, a new story would be finished and done. The surprise was total and lovely. I soon found that I would have to work this way for the rest of my life.”

“A writer’s past is the most important thing he has. Sometimes an object, a mask, a ticket stub, anything at all, helps me remember a whole experience, and out of that may come an idea for a story.”

“I spent three days a week for 10 years educating myself in the public library, and it’s better than college. People should educate themselves – you can get a complete education for no money. At the end of 10 years, I had read every book in the library and I’d written a thousand stories.”

“We should not look down on work nor look down on the forty-five out of fifty-two stories written in our first year as failures. To fail is to give up. But you are in the midst of a moving process. Nothing fails then. All goes on. Work is done. If good, you learn from it. If bad, you learn even more. Work done and behind you is a lesson to be studied. There is no failure unless one stops. Not to work is to cease, tighten up, become nervous and therefore destructive of the creative process.”

“Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It’s self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can’t try to do things. You simply must do things.”

“Don’t talk about it; write.”

“The writer who wants to tap the larger truth in himself must reject the temptations of Joyce or Camus or Tennessee Williams, as exhibited in the literary reviews. He must forget the money waiting for him in mass-circulation. He must ask himself, ‘What do I really think of the world, what do I love, fear, hate?’ and begin to pour this on paper. Then, through the emotions, working steadily, over a long period of time, his writing will clarify; he will relax because he thinks right and he will think even righter because he relaxes. The two will become interchangeable. At last he will begin to see himself.”

“Work, giving us experience, results in new confidence and eventually in relaxation. The type of dynamic relaxation again, as in sculpting, where the sculptor does not consciously have to tell his fingers what to do. The surgeon does not tell his scalpel what to do. Nor does the athlete advise his body. Suddenly, a natural rhythm is achieved. The body thinks for itself.”

“A story should be like a river, flowing and never stopping, your readers passengers on a boat whirling downstream through constantly refreshing and changing scenery.”

“It is, above all, the word about which your career will revolve for a lifetime. Beginning now you should become not its slave, which is too mean a term, but its partner. Once you are really a co-sharer of existence with your work, that word will lose its repellent aspects. . . . We often indulge in made work, in false business, to keep from being bored. Or worse still we conceive the idea of working for money. The money becomes the object, the target, the end-all and be-all. Thus work, being important only as a means to that end, degenerates into boredom. Can we wonder then that we hate it so?”

“The trouble with a lot of people who try to write is they intellectualize about it. That comes after. The intellect is given to us by God to test things once they’re done, not to worry about things ahead of time.”

“I know you’ve heard it a thousand times before. But it’s true – hard work pays off. If you want to be good, you have to practice, practice, practice. If you don’t love something, then don’t do it.”

“I always say to students, give me four pages a day, every day. That’s three or four hundred thousand words a year. Most of that will be bilge, but the rest …? It will save your life!”

“I don’t understand writers who have to work at it. I like to play. I’m interested in having fun with ideas, throwing them up in the air like confetti and then running under them.”

“I write all the time. I get up every morning not knowing what I’m going to do. I usually have a perception around dawn when I wake up. I have what I call the theater of morning inside my head, all these voices talking to me. When they come up with a good metaphor, then I jump out of bed and trap them before they’re gone. That’s the whole secret: to do things that excite you.”