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by admin | 10-04-2019 | Uncategorized

“I’ve had a Sign Over My Typewriter For Over 25 Years Now: Don’t Think!”

Ray Bradbury

Post credit:https://lithub.com/ray-bradburys-greatest-writing-advice/

This August will mark Ray Bradbury’s 99th birthday. A year closer to marking 100 years of the greatest sci-fi writer in history, who (by no small coincidence) also happened to know a thing or two about writing. 

Bradbury loved writing. He took intense pleasure in it, and it shows on every page. This is, of course, not possible for everyone, but still, I find it to be a lovely antidote to all the hand-wringing and hair-tearing and sit-at-the-typwriter-and-bleeding contemporary writers seem to do (or claim to do, online or otherwise) these days. If that’s what happens when you write, Bradbury taught, find some other way to spend your time. Which is a pretty good tip. So now, without further ado, below is an incomplete but illuminating collection of some more of Ray Bradbury’s very best writing advice.

Quantity creates quality:

The best hygiene for beginning writers or intermediate writers is to write a hell of a lot of short stories. If you can write one short story a week—it doesn’t matter what the quality is to start, but at least you’re practicing, and at the end of the year you have 52 short stories, and I defy you to write 52 bad ones. Can’t be done. At the end of 30 weeks or 40 weeks or at the end of the year, all of a sudden a story will come that’s just wonderful.

Get to the big truth first:

A novel has all kinds of pitfalls because it takes longer and you are around people, and if you’re not careful you will talk about it. The novel is also hard to write in terms of keeping your love intense. It’s hard to stay erect for two hundred days. So, get the big truth first. If you get the big truth, the small truths will accumulate around it. Let them be magnetized to it, drawn to it, and then cling to it.

-from a 2010 interview with Sam Weller, published in The Paris Review

Don’t think too hard:

The intellect is a great danger to creativity . . . because you begin to rationalize and make up reasons for things, instead of staying with your own basic truth—who you are, what you are, what you want to be. I’ve had a sign over my typewriter for over 25 years now, which reads “Don’t think!” You must never think at the typewriter—you must feel. Your intellect is always buried in that feeling anyway.

-from a 1974 interview with James Day

Don’t write towards a moral:

[Trying to write a cautionary story] is fatal. You must never do that. A lot of lousy novels come from people who want to do good. The do-gooder novel. The ecological novel. And if you tell me you’re doing a novel or a film about how a woodsman spares a tree, I’m not going to go see it for a minute.

-from a 1995 interview with Playboy

Writers’ block is just a warning that you’re doing the wrong thing:

What if you have a blockage and you don’t know what to do about it? Well, it’s obvious you’re doing the wrong thing, aren’t you? . . . You’re being warned, aren’t you? Your subconscious is saying I don’t like you anymore. You’re writing about things I don’t give a damn for. . . If you have writers’ block you can cure it this evening by stopping what you’re doing and writing something else. You picked the wrong subject.

-from “Telling the Truth,” the keynote address of The Sixth Annual Writer’s Symposium by the Sea, sponsored by Point Loma Nazarene University, 2001

Write what you love:

Fall in love and stay in love. Do what you love, don’t do anything else. Don’t write for money. Write because you love to do something. If you write for money, you won’t write anything worth reading

-from a 2002 interview with Brendan Dowling, published in Public Libraries

I want your loves to be multiple. I don’t want you to be a snob about anything. Anything you love, you do it. It’s got to be with a great sense of fun. Writing is not a serious business. It’s a joy and a celebration. You should be having fun at it. Ignore the authors who say, oh my god, what work, oh Jesus Christ, you know. No, to hell with that. It is not work. If it’s work, stop it, and do something else.

-from “Telling the Truth,” the keynote address of The Sixth Annual Writer’s Symposium by the Sea, sponsored by Point Loma Nazarene University, 2001

Read these three things every night:

What you’ve got to do from this night forward is stuff your head with more different things from various fields . . . I’ll give you a program to follow every night, very simple program. For the next thousand nights, before you go to bed every night, read one short story. That’ll take you ten minutes, 15 minutes. Okay, then read one poem a night from the vast history of poetry. Stay away from most modern poems. It’s crap. It’s not poetry! It’s not poetry. Now if you want to kid yourself and write lines that look like poems, go ahead and do it, but you’ll go nowhere. Read the great poets, go back and read Shakespeare, read Alexander Pope, read Robert Frost. But one poem a night, one short story a night, one essay a night, for the next 1,000 nights. From various fields: archaeology, zoology, biology, all the great philosophers of time, comparing them. Read the essays of Aldous Huxley, read Lauren Eisley, great anthropologist. . . I want you to read essays in every field. On politics, analyzing literature, pick your own. But that means that every night then, before you go to bed, you’re stuffing your head with one poem, one short story, one essay—at the end of a thousand nights, Jesus God, you’ll be full of stuff, won’t you?

-from “Telling the Truth,” the keynote address of The Sixth Annual Writer’s Symposium by the Sea, sponsored by Point Loma Nazarene University, 2001

Style is truth:

Style is truth. Once you nail down what you want to say about yourself and your fears and your life, then that becomes your style and you go to those writers who can teach you how to use words to fit your truth.

-from a 2010 interview with Sam Weller, published in The Paris Review

Metaphors make great stories:

If you’re a storyteller, that’s what makes a great story. I think the reason my stories have been so successful is that I have a strong sense of metaphor. And that with my stories, you can remember it because I grew up on Greek myths, Roman myths, Egyptian myths and the Norse Eddas. So when you have influences like that, your metaphors are so strong that people can’t forget them.

-from a 2001 interview with James Hibberd, published in Salon

Learn from the lizards:

Run fast, stand still. This, the lesson from lizards. For all writers. . . What can we writers learn from lizards, lift from birds? In quickness is truth. The faster you blurt, the more swiftly you write, the more honest you are. In hesitation is thought. In delay comes the effort for a style, instead of leaping upon truth which is the only style worth deadfalling or tiger-trapping.

-from “Run Fast, Stand Still, or, the Thing at the Top of the Stairs, or, New Ghosts from Old Minds,” in Zen in the Art of Writing

Study the work of the masters:

I used to study Eudora Welty. She has the remarkable ability to give you atmosphere, character, and motion in a single line. In one line! You must study these things to be a good writer. Welty would have a woman simply come into a room and look around. In one sweep she gave you the feel of the room, the sense of the woman’s character, and the action itself. All in twenty words. And you say, How’d she do that? What adjective? What verb? What noun? How did she select them and put them together?

-from a 2010 interview with Sam Weller, published in The Paris Review

But only the old ones:

[Read as many short stories from the turn of the century as you can, but] stay away from most modern anthologies of short stories, because they’re slices of life. They don’t go anywhere, they don’t have any metaphor. Have you looked at The New Yorker recently, have you tried to read one of those stories? Didn’t it put you to sleep immediately? They don’t know how to write short stories.

-from “Telling the Truth,” the keynote address of The Sixth Annual Writer’s Symposium by the Sea, sponsored by Point Loma Nazarene University, 2001

You don’t become a writer by taking writing classes:

I took a writing course in summer school in 1939, when I was in high school. But it didn’t work. The secret of writing was, to go and live in the library two or four days a week for ten years. I graduated from the library having read every single book in it. And along the way I wrote every day of every week of every month, for every year. And in ten years, I became a writer.

-from a 2010 interview with Rachel Goldstein, published in TIME

You can’t learn to write in college. It’s a very bad place for writers because the teachers always think they know more than you do—and they don’t. They have prejudices. They may like Henry James, but what if you don’t want to write like Henry James? They may like John Irving, for instance, who’s the bore of all time. A lot of the people whose work they’ve taught in the schools for the last thirty years, I can’t understand why people read them and why they are taught. The library, on the other hand, has no biases. The information is all there for you to interpret. You don’t have someone telling you what to think. You discover it for yourself.

-from a 2010 interview with Sam Weller, published in The Paris Review

Write when the idea strikes:

The short story, if you really are intense and you have an exciting idea, writes itself in a few hours. I try to encourage my student friends and my writer friends to write a short story in one day so it has a skin around it, its own intensity, its own life, its own reason for being. There’s a reason why the idea occurred to you at that hour anyway, so go with that and investigate it, get it down. Two or three thousand words in a few hours is not that hard. Don’t let people interfere with you. Boot ’em out, turn off the phone, hide away, get it done. If you carry a short story over to the next day you may overnight intellectualize something about it and try to make it too fancy, try to please someone.

-from a 2010 interview with Sam Weller, published in The Paris Review

Go your own way:

When I started writing seriously, I made the major discovery of my life—that I am right and everybody else is wrong if they disagree with me. What a great thing to learn: Don’t listen to anyone else, and always go your own way.

-from a 1995 interview with Playboy

Practice word association:

Three things are in your head: First, everything you have experienced from the day of your birth until right now. Every single second, every single hour, every single day. Then, how you reacted to those events in the minute of their happening, whether they were disastrous or joyful. Those are two things you have in your mind to give you material. Then, separate from the living experiences are all the art experiences you’ve had, the things you’ve learned from other writers, artists, poets, film directors, and composers. So all of this is in your mind as a fabulous mulch and you have to bring it out. How do you do that? I did it by making lists of nouns and then asking, What does each noun mean? You can go and make up your own list right now and it would be different than mine. The night. The crickets. The train whistle. The basement. The attic. The tennis shoes. The fireworks. All these things are very personal. Then, when you get the list down, you begin to word-associate around it. You ask, Why did I put this word down? What does it mean to me? Why did I put this noun down and not some other word? Do this and you’re on your way to being a good writer.

-from a 2010 interview with Sam Weller, published in The Paris Review

It was only when I began to discover the treats and tricks that came with word association that I began to find some true way through the minefields of imitation. I finally figured out that if you are going to step on a live mine, make it your own. Be blown up, as it were, by your own delights and despairs.

-from “Run Fast, Stand Still, or, the Thing at the Top of the Stairs, or, New Ghosts from Old Minds,” in Zen in the Art of Writing

Take off the safety harness:

You’ve got to jump off the cliff all the time and build your wings on the way down.

-from a speech at Brown University, 1995

Write only for yourself:

You can’t write for other people. You can’t write for the left or the right, this religion or that religion, or this belief or that belief. You have to write the way you see things. I tell people, make a list of ten things you hate and tear them down in a short story or poem. Make a list of ten things you love and celebrate them.

-from a 2010 interview with Sam Weller, published in The Paris Review

Use every experience that touches you:

Any experience that touches you, in any particular way, is good. It can be a horrible experience. I saw a car crash when I was 15 here in Los Angeles and five people died as a result of it. I arrived at the scene within 20 seconds of hearing the collision. It was the worst mistake I ever made in my life. I didn’t know what I was running into. People had been horribly mangled and decapitated. So for months after, I was shaken. It’s probably the reason I never learned to drive. I was terrified of automobiles for a long time after that but I turned it into a short story called “The Crowd” six or seven years later. . .  So out of this horror—this really terrible event—you take something that has taught you a certain kind of fear and you pass on to others and say, ‘This is what the car can do.’

-from a 1988 interview with Terry Gross, broadcast on NPR

Indulge in your own personal madness:

If you want to write, if you want to create, you must be the most sublime fool that God ever turned out and sent rambling. You must write every single day of your life. You must read dreadful dumb books and glorious books, and let them wrestle in beautiful fights inside your head, vulgar one moment, brilliant the next. 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. I wish you a wrestling match with your Creative Muse that will last a lifetime. I wish craziness and foolishness and madness upon you. May you live with hysteria, and out of it make fine stories — science fiction or otherwise. Which finally means, may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.

-as quoted in Advice to Writers, Jon Winokur, 2000

Don’t be afraid to cut:

Most short stories are too long. When I wrote the novel Something Wicked This Way Comes, the first draft was a hundred and fifty thousand words. So I went through and cut out fifty thousand. It’s important to get out of your own way. Clean the kindling away, the rubbish. Make it clear.

-from a 2010 interview with Sam Weller, published in The Paris Review

Don’t be afraid to write crap, either:

Whatever it is—whatever it is, do it! Sure there are going to be mistakes. Everything’s not going to be perfect. I’ve written thousands of words that no one will ever see. I had to write them in order to get rid of them. But then I’ve written a lot of other stuff too. So the good stuff stays, and the old stuff goes.

-from Bradbury’s 2000 CalTech commencement speech

Get comfortable with the idea of work:

Let’s take a long look at that faintly repellent word WORK. 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.

-from Zen in the Art of Writing

And you’ll never really have to do it:

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.

-from a 2010 interview with Sam Weller, published in The Paris Review

Surround yourself with true believers:

Get rid of those friends of yours who make fun of you and don’t believe in you. When you leave here tonight, go home, make a phone call, and fire them. Anyone who doesn’t believe in you and your future, to hell with them.

-from “Telling the Truth,” the keynote address of The Sixth Annual Writer’s Symposium by the Sea, sponsored by Point Loma Nazarene University, 2001

Write a little every day:

Action is hope. At the end of each day, when you’ve done your work, you lie there and think, Well, I’ll be damned, I did this today. It doesn’t matter how good it is, or how bad—you did it. At the end of the week you’ll have a certain amount of accumulation. At the end of a year, you look back and say, I’ll be damned, it’s been a good year.

-from a 2010 interview with Sam Weller, published in The Paris Review

Live in the goddamn library:

Live in the library! Live in the library, for Christ’s sake. Don’t live on your goddamn computer and the internet and all that crap. Go to the library.

-from “Telling the Truth,” the keynote address of The Sixth Annual Writer’s Symposium by the Sea, sponsored by Point Loma Nazarene University, 2001

And in the end:

I have three rules to live by. One, get your work done. If that doesn’t work, shut up and drink your gin. And when all else fails, run like hell!

-from a 2010 interview with Sam Weller, published in The Paris Review

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