While a lot of writing self-help books are about the basic mechanics and rules of good writing, Mr. Bradbury’s Essays on Creativity are more inspirational. He discusses what he has learned in his fifty years of writing and kindly shares it with us. He doesn’t promote so much as show you the path he’s taken. Of course, since his writing is so stellar, it only makes sense that his How To book would also be well-written and interesting.
While he doesn’t make checklists, I do, and these are some of the great points he makes in his book:
- Recall every detail of your childhood and write about them. Use your family as vampires, put your little town on Mars, and never lose your uneasiness at clowns and carnivals. While you might not think you recall much of your childhood when your sense of wonder was at its peak, after you start writing about those incidents, you’ll find exciting stories hiding within. Take the good and the bad and put them on paper.
- Work. He himself writes a story on Monday (every Monday), rewrites it on the next five days, and finishes it on Saturday. The next Monday, he starts a new one. I attempted to use this formula; however, it takes me a week to write a story, so I may only be able to whip out 26 stories in a year instead of 52 as he does. Plus, I don’t seem to need a week of rewriting. That may be why he’s a best seller and I’m not.
- Write poetry. I’ve never been a poet and will probably have trouble with this bit, but if you’ve ever read anything by Mr. Bradbury, you’ll find his prose borders on the poetic. And the reason for that is he writes poetry, too (I didn’t know). The last chapter of this book includes some of his poetry. He also likes to write screenplays (Moby Dick) and scripts of his own stories.
- Write 52 stories a year for 10 years (!). It’s worked for him, and he says it will work for anyone. I don’t know if I can come up with 52 ideas, but I’m trying to write more short stories.
- Write about what you love, what you hate, and what frightens you (not in one story). Again, use your childhood memories to relive situations that made you feel these emotions. I’ve just finished a love short story (my children) and am working on a hate one (racism). The hate one is much more difficult as the readers need someone to relate to. Still, it’s a great idea for stories, and he mentions it several times. I’m doing vampires for fear.
- Work, relax, don’t think. This is basically his ZEN philosophy. Don’t overthink things. Give yourself time to pause and let the characters take over. He says plots are the tracks left when the story passes. With more writing comes better writing and a more natural way of writing.
- Take advantage of the fates. He mentions several times how lucky he was to be at the right place at the right time in his writing career. I’m pretty sure he would have made it as one of the great storytellers of all time even without coincidences, but it’s nice to keep a positive (and humble) attitude.
- Keep a list of nouns for ideas about upcoming stories. He used it for his love, hate, and fear stories and produced stories out of almost every word on his list.
Aside from those lessons learned, I also appreciated the background on some of his stories. He wrote Fahrenheit 451 on a coin-operated typewriter that he had to insert a dime every 30 minutes! He never considered his Martian Chronicles short stories to be part of a greater whole until his agent recommended it.
Inspiring, educational, and challenging, ZEN in the Art of Writing is a nice respite from the grammar and punctuation mechanics. Mr. Bradbury delves into our motivations for why we write and how to do it more truthfully.
Fifty-two stories a year? Maybe I’ll try four in thirty days.