I’ve read many books on writing by great authors, and have benefited from many of them. But none have inspired me more than the books of Ray Bradbury. Today I am listing out five pieces of advice that I’ve gleaned out of his writings and incorporated into my own life – both professional and personal.
“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 with it. Ignore the authors who say ‘Oh, my God, what word? Oh, Jesus Christ…,’ you know. Now, to hell with that. It’s not work. If it’s work, stop and do something else.”
It’s sometimes easy to forget, especially if you do it for a living, that writing ought to be fun. In the drab, word-count-hungry world of publishing where you have to get up every morning and trudge to the desk in order to catch up on your ‘target’, you sometimes go without smiling at your work for days on end, obsessing over the right word, the right phrase, the right sentence, whether it’s any good, what people will think and so on. The answer is, of course, that there are no right words or phrases; whatever comes out of you is right. To hell with what people think.
“Remember that pianist who said that if he did not pratice every day he would know, if he did not practice for two days, the critics would know, after three days, his audiences would know.”
A variation of this is true for writers. Not that your style, whatever that is, would melt out of shape in those few days. But what would happen is that the world would catch up with and try to sicken you. If you did not write every day, the poisons would accumulate and you would begin to die, or act crazy, or both.
Do you need a better argument than that to write every day? If not for the sake of quality and to look good, we must do it to preserve our own sanity. Study after study has shown that the single most important factor that separates those who are successful at a given discipline and those who are not is the amount of practice they put in.
On trusting the process
“Don’t ask for guarantees. And don’t look to be saved in any one thing, person, machine, or library. Do your own bit of saving, and if you drown, at least die knowing you were headed for shore.”
In other words, don’t let results bog you down, whether you’re a success or a failure. What matters is the mount of saving that you do. Everything else is commentary.
On writing well
“The good writers touch life often. The mediocre ones run a quick hand over her. The bad ones rape her and leave her for the flies.”
When I first read this line six years ago, I thought it was useless because it didn’t tell me anything about nouns and verbs and atmosphere and character. But now I get it. Among authors that I admire there are many differences in style and substance, but they all touch life, with kindness, with love, with wonder.
On leaving a legacy
“Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there.
It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.”
And finally, if you have fifty minutes to spare, watch this. You won’t agree with everything he says, of course, but there’s enough wisdom there to last us a while.