January 7, 2020

Ray Bradbury on the practice of daily writing

These are quotes from Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing. A collection of inspiring essays about writing. Ray’s advocates for regular practice to get out of our own way, and let the inner child speak on the page.

One of Ray’s repeated advice for new writers is daily practices, and more specifically to write one short story a week. His approach inspired my goals for 2020.

But how did I begin? […] I wrote a thousand words a day. For ten years I wrote at least one short story a week, somehow guessing that a day would finally come when I truly got out of the way and let it happen.

What kind of schedule? Something like this. One-thousand or two-thousand words every day for the next twenty years. At the start, you might shoot for one short story a week, fifty-two stories a year, for five years. You will have to write and put away or burn a lot of material before you are comfortable in this medium. You might as well start now and get the necessary work done. For I believe that eventually quantity will make for quality.

This quote below puts this exercise in perspective. To write, even if the work is imperfect is part of the path to write. You can’t get to be a pro without all the practice. And while you practice you will inevitably suck at whatever you do, like all beginners do.

An athlete may run ten thousand miles in order to prepare for one hundred yards.

All during my early twenties I had the following schedule. On Monday morning I wrote the first draft of a new story. On Tuesday I did a second draft. On Wednesday a third. On Thursday a fourth. On Friday a fifth. And on Saturday at noon I mailed out the sixth and final draft to New York. Sunday? I thought about all the wild ideas scrambling for my attention, waiting under the attic lid, confident at last that, because of “The Lake,” I would soon let them out. If this all sounds mechanical, it wasn’t. My ideas drove me to it, you see. The more I did, the more I wanted to do. You grow ravenous. You run fevers. You know exhilarations. You can’t sleep at night, because your beast-creature ideas want out and turn you in your bed. It is a grand way to live.

By work, by quantitative experience, man releases himself from obligation to anything but the task at hand.

And while feeding, How to Keep Your Muse is our final problem. The Muse must have shape. You will write a thousand words a day for ten or twenty years in order to try to give it shape, to learn enough about grammar and story construction so that these become part of the Subconscious, without restraining or distorting the Muse.

If you did not write every day, the poisons would accumulate and you would begin to die, or act crazy, or both. You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.

I many times set goals and then review when I completed them as well as when I “failed” to. And Ray here reminds us that working hard and falling short is not to fail. To abandon the struggle, only that is failure.

So we should not look down on work nor look down on the forty-five out of fifty-two stories written in our first year as failures. To fail is to give up. But you are in the midst of a moving process. Nothing fails then. All goes on. Work is done. If good, you learn from it. If bad, you learn even more. Work done and behind you is a lesson to be studied. There is no failure unless one stops. Not to work is to cease, tighten up, become nervous and therefore destructive of the creative process.

What we are trying to do is find a way to release the truth that lies in all of us.

All quotes from Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing.

January 7, 2020


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