October was all about learning from one of the masters; Ray Bradbury. I first encountered his work in middle school when Mrs. Saucier assigned my 7th grade class to read “Fahrenheit 451.” I remember being completely enthralled by the dystopian universe as I think it was the first book of this genre that I had ever read. (I was a historical fiction girl.)
Later, in college, I took an American Gothic literature class and was assigned “Something Wicked This Way Comes.” I also found his short story, “The Veldt” in an American Short Story anthology in college and it continues to be one of my all time favorite short works of fiction to date. (Please read it if you haven’t already. So subtle creepy and wildly inventive.)
With a lengthy list of publications throughout his lifetime, I figured reading what Bradbury had to say about writing would be extremely useful to aspiring writers.
I learned a LOT from this short collection of essays and I thought I would share with you some of my favorite moment from the book.
This book read very much like a casual conversation, at times, especially in the preface. Bradbury starts us off with pondering the question: what does writing teach us?
First and foremost, it reminds us that we are alive and that it is a gift and a privilege, not a right. We must earn life once it has been awarded us. Life asks for rewards back because it has favored us with animation.
Art can not save us from all that we wish it could like war and natural disasters and death, he says. But what it can do, is revitalize us through it all. He also says that art is about survival and for many of use, we can not live unless we write.
I was particularly struck by this, because I have been drawn to writing stories and to writing as a form of expression since I began forming letters as a girl. I can't picture my life without writing and yes, it is indeed a form of survival for me!
I found a lot of inspiring lines throughout the first essay:The Joy of Writing. Bradbury’s enthusiasm feels as though it is leaping from the page and instilling itself in me as I found myself getting fired up throughout passage like:
“If you are writing without zest, without gusto, without love, without fun, you are only half a writer...For the first thing a writer should be is - excited.”
“How long has it been since you wrote a story where your real love or your real hatred somehow got onto the paper? When was the last time you dared release a cherished prejudice so it slammed the page like a lightning bolt? What are the best things and the worst things in your life, and when are you going to get around to whispering and shouting them?”
The larger part of the book makes up the lessons Bradbury learned while beginning his career. He also lays out a number of his works and explains how he came to write about the subject, what inspired him, how long it took etc. I noticed that most of his great works didn’t take very long at all for him as he explained being led by the story, banging away on his typewriter. The story practically wrote itself! he claims a number of times. ( I'm very jealous of that fact. I feel like it takes so many revisions for me to get to the core of what I'm trying to say. Anyone else?)
In the essayRun Fast, Stand Still, Bradbury talks about a writing exercise that leads him to create a number of his famous short stories. He simply wrote out a list of nouns. Example: THE LAKE. THE ATTIC. THE NIGHT TRAIN. THE MIRROR MAZE. He said all these nouns were “the provocations, finally, that caused my better stuff to the surface. I was feeling my way toward something honest, hidden under the trapdoor on the top of my skull.”
We learn later that a lot of the nouns he chose were connected to repressed memories or childhood fears. I found this completely fascinating and I wished that he wrote more on the subject. I want to try this as a writing exercise (maybe a future Write or Die Tribe prompt?) and see what could come out of it. I mean, it turned him into one of the most renowned American authors…
I could go on with more quotes and more notes I scribbled while reading this work. His advice is clear and backed up by his own successes so it doesn’t feel like fluff or deflated words telling you what you should and shouldn’t do. I can see this being a book I keep on my bookshelf for years and refer back to often.
I would love to know your thoughts on our October Book Club selection! What is your favorite Ray Bradbury book or story? Let me know in the comments!
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