Writing About Writing with Nana Elikem: Ray Bradbury’s greatest writing advice (I)

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Quick Announcement!

The Writers & Readers’ Grotto resumes this Sunday, August 30, 2020, at the Bambu Centre at Adenta. This Edition, dubbed the Authors’ Edition, will feature conversations about writing and publishers. There will be a lot of authors to share their experiences. It will be quite the reopening after a long period of break. For more information, contact me via [email protected].

Right! Today’s article…

According to Emily Temple, a writer for lithub.com, Ray Bradbury is the greatest sci-fi writer in history. She also describes him as one who knows a thing or two about writing. Temple begins an article (an excerpt of which I will share with you in today’s column) about Bradbury with one of the most powerful writing quotes I have read in recent times. Obviously, it is attributed to Bradbury. And it reads: “I’ve had a sign over my typewriter for over 25 years now: Don’t think!”. I am definitely going to put a note like this on my personal computer too.

In this article written by Temple which title I have also adopted for this column, she makes a list of and quotes over 20 writing advises Bradbury gave in his lifetime (August 22, 1920 – June 5, 2012). I love all of them so I decided to share them with you as sharing is caring.

Some of them will resonate with you. Some are cliché. Some of them you might disagree with. Some will challenge you. Some you might outrightly reject. Whatever your reaction is to these pieces of advice, one thing is sure. Collectively, they will make you a better writer.

Let’s get right to it then. Here a six of Bradbury’s advice.

Quantity creates quality

The best hygiene for beginning writers or intermediate writers is to write a hell of a lot of short stories. If you can write one short story a week—it doesn’t matter what the quality is to start, but at least you’re practicing, and at the end of the year you have 52 short stories, and I defy you to write 52 bad ones. Can’t be done. At the end of 30 weeks or 40 weeks or at the end of the year, all of a sudden, a story will come that’s just wonderful.

Don’t think too hard

The intellect is a great danger to creativity . . . because you begin to rationalize and make up reasons for things, instead of staying with your own basic truth—who you are, what you are, what you want to be. I’ve had a sign over my typewriter for over 25 years now, which reads “Don’t think!” You must never think at the typewriter—you must feel. Your intellect is always buried in that feeling anyway.

Don’t write towards a moral

[Trying to write a cautionary story] is fatal. You must never do that. A lot of lousy novels come from people who want to do good. The do-gooder novel. The ecological novel. And if you tell me you’re doing a novel or a film about how a woodsman spares a tree, I’m not going to go see it for a minute.

Writers’ block is just a warning that you’re doing the wrong thing

What if you have a blockage and you don’t know what to do about it? Well, it’s obvious you’re doing the wrong thing, aren’t you? . . . You’re being warned, aren’t you? Your subconscious is saying I don’t like you anymore. You’re writing about things I don’t give a damn for. . . If you have writers’ block you can cure it this evening by stopping what you’re doing and writing something else. You picked the wrong subject.

Write what you love

Fall in love and stay in love. Do what you love, don’t do anything else. Don’t write for money. Write because you love to do something. If you write for money, you won’t write anything worth reading

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 at it. Ignore the authors who say, oh my god, what work, oh Jesus Christ, you know. No, to hell with that. It is not work. If it’s work, stop it, and do something else.

Read these three things every night

What you’ve got to do from this night forward is stuff your head with more different things from various fields . . . I’ll give you a program to follow every night, very simple program. For the next thousand nights, before you go to bed every night, read one short story. That’ll take you ten minutes, 15 minutes. Okay, then read one poem a night from the vast history of poetry. Stay away from most modern poems. It’s crap. It’s not poetry! It’s not poetry. Now if you want to kid yourself and write lines that look like poems, go ahead and do it, but you’ll go nowhere. Read the great poets, go back and read Shakespeare, read Alexander Pope, read Robert Frost. But one poem a night, one short story a night, one essay a night, for the next 1,000 nights. From various fields: archaeology, zoology, biology, all the great philosophers of the time, comparing them. Read the essays of Aldous Huxley, read Lauren Eisley, a great anthropologist. . . I want you to read essays in every field. On politics, analyzing literature, pick your own. But that means that every night then before you go to bed, you’re stuffing your head with one poem, one short story, one essay—at the end of a thousand nights, Jesus God, you’ll be full of stuff, won’t you?

That’s all for this week, folks! Please, remember my invitation to attend the Grotto this Sunday. Until next time, don’t forget, it can only get better and we can only get better.

Nana Elikem

[email protected]

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