When you hear the name Ray Bradbury, you probably think of Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles or even The Illustrated Man. I’ve only read Fahrenheit 451, and I wish I’d known earlier that the man, who passed away in 2012, was an extraordinarily prolific writer. In honor of his 94th birthday, I did some digging and learned that he wrote daily for 70 plus years. In that time, he published over 30 books and about 600 short stories, in addition to numerous poems, plays, operas, screenplays and essays.
Bradbury’s life-long affair with writing began when he met carnival magician, Mr. Electrico. In 1932, Electrico commanded 12-year-old Bradbury to “live forever.” If there was any writer dedicated to this dream (through their craft), it was Bradbury, whose final piece, “Take Me Home,” was published in The New Yorker days before he passed at the age of 91.
In his later years, Bradbury loved to spark the creativity of his readers as well as any young, aspiring writers. If you’re in need to some inspiration, look no further than these 12 essential Bradbury-isms.
The first piece of advice that Bradbury gave was to write a “hell of a lot” of short stories. He advised against starting with novels because short stories train you to compact your writing. Bradbury challenged writers to crank out one short story a week for a year and dared them to draft 52 bad stories in a row.
The famed author also said that one way to stimulate creativity was to read — a lot. His favorite pieces were penned by Edgar Allan Poe, Aldous Huxley, L. Frank Baum, Roald Dahl, Catherine Porter, Robert Frost and John Collier. Read one short story, one poem and one essay before bed, Bradbury prescribed. When you stuff your head full of quality work, night after night, after 1,000 nights, you’ll be full of creative ideas. He also suggested readers draw from different fields; Bradbury considered himself to be a “hybrid author,” whose works ranged from humorous and sympathetic tales to the horror and mystery genres.
“Firing” those who joke at your expense or doubt your abilities was also advised by Bradbury. When he was young, people thought he was a nerd. They laughed at him because he collected comic strips. He got so mad that he tore up his comics and cried like someone had died. After picking himself and his wounded pride up off the floor, he chose to ignore the criticism and be true to himself.
Bradbury often said, “Use what you have.” He warned youngsters about technology, understanding that while it can be good for some, the internet is also rife with cats, music videos, and drama-laden Twitter feeds. All you really need is a pad of paper and a pen. Bradbury often used an old electric typewriter. But that’s not to say he was completely averse to technology; in 2009, the author said he was “completely in love” with movies.
Speaking of movies, Bradbury was a huge fan of film. He wanted people to go see movies. Two movies that most fascinated him were The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Phantom of the Opera, which he watched as a boy and inspired a lot of his work.
If you find that your writing has become work, then Bradbury suggested that you either stop complaining or stop writing and do something else. He drew great joy from his writing, and he believed that work should be a writer’s partner. Writers shouldn’t be a slave to their work.
On Writer’s Block
Bradbury’s writer’s block often came around because he thought he was writing the wrong thing, and that it could be cured by writing something else. This idea also carried over into the business end of his writing. He turned down thousands of dollars in screenplay opportunities because he knew he was the wrong person to do the writing for pieces like The Man with the Golden Arm. (It was about drugs, and he found drugs boring.) He knew himself well enough and didn’t want to take money for a bad job.
Writers like Bradbury also don’t go into writing for the money. Bradbury would joke that his wife Marguerite McClure took a vow of poverty in 1947 when they married with a mere $8 in the bank. He was nearly 40 when they could afford a car. He sold his Dark Carnival stories for $20 apiece.
On Loving and Hating
He suggested writers make two lists: one for 10 loves, and another for 10 hates. You then bring your loves to life and “kill” the hates. The Thing at the Top of the Stairs was inspired by a childhood fear that I can relate to, and maybe you can, too: The bathroom in Bradbury’s childhood house was on the second level at the top of the stairs, and he had to have the lights on just to go up the stairs because he was afraid he’d mistakenly look up and see some horrible monster waiting for him. Bam — story.
On Surprising Yourself
Many of Bradbury’s pieces came as surprises to him, and it’s easy to get the impression that that was what he found most fascinating about writing. He didn’t know what any one story would turn into. The Martian Chronicles, for instance, came out of trip to New York. Toting around a stack of short stories, he went from one editor to the next until he found the right person who saw enough connections between some of his stories. Bradbury was offered $750 on the spot for the chronicles, and another $750 to ultimately publish The Illustrated Man. He would say, “You don’t know what’s in you until you test it.”
Bradbury wanted people to be receptive to the world around them, to take life in. When he was young, his family would spend nights talking. He would listen, ear pressed to the hard slats of the porch, absorbing his relatives’ reminiscences. Once, when he was older, an energetic boy boarded the bus Bradbury was riding, and Bradbury noticed the youngster’s shoes, which led him to remember the shoe shopping trips he’d take in the spring with his father. Another time, he saw a man with a rather disfigured face, which moved him to tears on the street. Later, he saw the same man as he was having dinner with his wife and daughter, who he believed looked past the man’s disfigurement and saw him as someone they loved. Another time he saw an expensive set of paintings in an art gallery; he couldn’t afford them at the time, but eventually he formed a relationship with the artist, which led to Joseph Mugnaini illustrating his writing.
Lastly, Bradbury knew what every writer is really looking for: someone to acknowledge you and to tell you, “Hey, you’re okay.” He would recount a sweet moment when 20 tourists came up to him with copies of Martian Chronicles, seeking his autograph.
Feeling inspired yet? Well, on Ray Bradbury’s birthday, I hope you are! So get writing!
Cassandra Mehlenbacher recently graduated from Central Washington University. Now that there are no homework assignments to slow her down, she has time to pursue her creative pastimes: drawing, writing fiction and designing jewelry.
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