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

Photo: A writer at work Credit: Rawpixel

Last week, I shared six of Ray Bradbury’s greatest writing advise. This was originally compiled by Emily Temple for Lithub. These collections come from speeches delivered/interviews granted by Bradbury. Temple describes Ray Bradbury as the greatest sci-fi writer in history who also knows a thing or two about writing.

I got a lot of feedback from the first set of six pieces of advice I shared on my Facebook page. Most people were inspired and moved to take their writing more seriously. There was so much disagreement with Bradbury’s thought on writer’s block. These are all useful ways of engaging with advice so I welcome any form of feedback at all on these thoughts of Bradbury.

As I mention last week, 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.

Here’s Bradbury for you…

Write only for yourself

You can’t write for other people. You can’t write for the left or the right, this religion or that religion, or this belief or that belief. You have to write the way you see things. I tell people, make a list of ten things you hate and tear them down in a short story or poem. Make a list of ten things you love and celebrate them.

Use every experience that touches you

Any experience that touches you, in any particular way, is good. It can be a horrible experience. I saw a car crash when I was 15 here in Los Angeles and five people died as a result of it. I arrived at the scene within 20 seconds of hearing the collision. It was the worst mistake I ever made in my life. I didn’t know what I was running into. People had been horribly mangled and decapitated. So, for months after, I was shaken. It’s probably the reason I never learned to drive. I was terrified of automobiles for a long time after that but I turned it into a short story called “The Crowd” six or seven years later. . .  So out of this horror—this really terrible event—you take something that has taught you a certain kind of fear and you pass on to others and say, ‘This is what the car can do.’

Indulge in your own personal madness

If you want to write, if you want to create, you must be the most sublime fool that God ever turned out and sent rambling. You must write every single day of your life. You must read dreadful dumb books and glorious books, and let them wrestle in beautiful fights inside your head, vulgar one moment, brilliant the next. You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads. I wish you a wrestling match with your Creative Muse that will last a lifetime. I wish craziness and foolishness and madness upon you. May you live with hysteria, and out of it make fine stories — science fiction or otherwise. Which finally means, may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.

Don’t be afraid to write crap

Whatever it is—whatever it is, do it! Sure, there are going to be mistakes. Everything’s not going to be perfect. I’ve written thousands of words that no one will ever see. I had to write them in order to get rid of them. But then I’ve written a lot of other stuff too. So, the good stuff stays, and the old stuff goes.

Get comfortable with the idea of work:

Let’s take a long look at that faintly repellent word WORK. It is, above all, the word about which your career will revolve for a lifetime. Beginning now you should become not its slave, which is too mean a term, but its partner. Once you are really a co-sharer of existence with your work, that word will lose its repellent aspects.

And you’ll never really have to do it:

I write all the time. I get up every morning not knowing what I’m going to do. I usually have a perception around dawn when I wake up. I have what I call the theatre of the morning inside my head, all these voices talking to me. When they come up with a good metaphor, then I jump out of bed and trap them before they’re gone. That’s the whole secret: to do things that excite you.

Surround yourself with true believers

Get rid of those friends of yours who make fun of you and don’t believe in you. When you leave here tonight, go home, make a phone call, and fire them. Anyone who doesn’t believe in you and your future, to hell with them.

Write a little every day

Action is hope. At the end of each day, when you’ve done your work, you lie there and think, Well, I’ll be damned, I did this today. It doesn’t matter how good it is, or how bad—you did it. At the end of the week you’ll have a certain amount of accumulation. At the end of a year, you look back and say, I’ll be damned, it’s been a good year.

Live in the goddamn library

Live in the library! Live in the library, for Christ’s sake. Don’t live on your goddamn computer and the internet and all that crap. Go to the library.


That’s my space, folks! 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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