Over the last few months, I've shared "Top 10" lists from several authors on the topics of writing and success. To close out the year, I chose Ray Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451, Dandelion Wine and The Martian Chronicles. He also wrote Zen and the Art of Writing where he says this in his opening:
[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 to us. Life asks for awards back because it has favored us with animation.
So while our art cannot, as we wish it could, save us from wars, privation, envy, greed, old age, or death, it can revitalize us amidst it all.~ from Zen and the Art of Writing
Certainly, he pushed boundaries, which nearly every writer wishes to do.
The New York Times called him "the writer most responsible for bringing modern science fiction into the literary mainstream."
I call him "a writers' writer" and was blessed to see him in person several times. He spoke at the L.A. Times Festival of Books, year after year, in good health and poor, with a walker and in a wheelchair. In return, he asked the Times for only one thing: keep the Book Review section in their publication.
He knew that books need to be celebrated and that writers need to be encouraged to "do what they love."
In the beginning of this video, Bradbury shares who inspired him to start writing.
Here are ten of my favorites Bradburyisms on success, in life and in art:
1. Do the work.
As with every successful writer, Bradbury knew that, at some point, you'd have to put your butt in the chair and do the work. "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!"
2. Jump off cliffs.
As with most Bradburyisms, this is a metaphor. "Jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down."
He understood that often, especially in writing, the only way to learn things is to "just do it." Once you've learned those lessons, jump off new cliffs so you can learn some more.
Failure didn't bother him as much. Like Neil Gaiman, he knew good ideas would find their way to the page, and out into the world, if you simply sat down and brought them into being. "Write a short story every week. It's not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row."
3. Live life at the top of your voice.
"You must live life at the top of your voice. At the top of your lungs shout and listen to the echoes."
Almost every writer I know is a little bit lazy sometimes. Even when we're doing the work and getting the words on the page, the [fill in the blank] is so hard, we don't want to do that.
You know what I'm talking about. Writing is so hard some days, you just don't feel like you can stretch any further than from the chair to the keyboard. What Bradbury is saying is, stretch a bit farther than you think you can. And do it with abandon. This writing "shout" will bring you tremendous echoes.
4. Do what you love.
"Do what you love and love what you do."
The first time I went to the L.A. Times Festival of Books was also the first time I saw Ray Bradbury speak. My writing muscles still squeaked, I was so new. I didn't realize that the great writers I'd grown up with were actually willing to speak to me. I ran all the way across UCLA's campus to wait in the standby line because you had to get a ticket in advance in those days.
I pinched myself when they let me in.
His warmth and excitement blew the entire audience away. "Do What You Love" was the title of his talk and every author there looked enraptured and a little bit drunk by the time he left the stage.
He gave us all permission to play. To be happy in our creativity. Here was a great writer telling us to find what we loved and embrace every day we were lucky enough to spend our time in that happy place. It was awesome.
The electricity might not come across here, as it was after he'd had a stroke and it was harder for him to articulate his thoughts, but below is a 30-second video of his cute self on the topic of doing what you love.
5. Be open to the universe of ideas.
"I don't need an alarm clock. My ideas wake me."
All of us are not that lucky. We never will be that lucky if we aren't open to the ideas the universe floats by us. Eavesdrop in coffee shops. Walk in nature. Volunteer. Be open to your world and the people in it.
Bradbury's philosophy is simple. "Stuff your eyes with wonder, live as if you'd drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It's more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories."
6. Embrace your emotions.
Bradbury said, "I've often been accused of being too emotional and sentimental, but I believe in honest sentiment, and the need to purge ourselves at certain times, which is ancient. Men would live at least five or six more years and not have ulcers if they could cry better."
I think this advice rings true for men and for women. Many of us, myself included, would rather do a public speech than cry in front of others. Crying and emotions are messy and ugly and private for most.
But here's what I think he's saying: even if you won't cry in public, you should let it rip in your writing. Spill those tears, gurgle with laughter and rage at the top of your lungs on the page. You will feel loads better, and so will your characters.
7. Don't take life too seriously.
"I don't believe in being serious about anything. I think life is too serious to be taken seriously."
It's really hard to improve or elaborate on that quote, so I'll just leave it alone for you to ponder.
8. Mankind must save itself.
"We must move into the universe. Mankind must save itself. We must escape the danger of war and politics. We must become astronauts and go out into the universe and discover the God in ourselves."
Bradbury decided to become a writer at about age 12 or 13. He later said that he made the decision in hopes of emulating his heroes, and to "live forever" through his fiction.
We are writers. It is our job to expand the world we live in, and to create new worlds when our every day world sucks. Go do that!
"There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them."
Bradbury believed in reading widely, across genres and time periods, and he was a particular fan of the short stories. A regimen he recommended was writing hygiene. He recommended writing short stories first so you got the immediate reinforcement of finishing a story. He also saw noveling as something you work up to, rather than a place to start your writing career.
He also recommended a nightly reading session that included reading a short story and/or a poem before bed each night. He saw it as stuffing your brain full of great works to expand your mind for your own writing.
It's fascinating to listen to him talk about "writing hygiene" and the short story writers he loved.
10. Get out of your own way.
"Every morning I jump out of bed and step on a landmine. The landmine is me. After the explosion, I spent the rest of the day putting the pieces together."
The first pages of Zen and the Art of Writing offer this:
"..Writing is survival. Any art, any good work, of course, is that. Not to write, for many of us, is to die....You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you."
This advice is especially timely in today's world.
Bradbury wrote for almost seven decades, which is an amazing amount of wisdom to accumulate and share. There are many more points that I left out, but which of the ten above is your favorite? Which one is the most challenging for you?
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About Jenny Hansen
By day, Jenny provides training and social media marketing for an accounting firm. By night she writes humor, memoir, women’s fiction and short stories. After 20+ years as a corporate software trainer, she’s delighted to sit down while she works.