Ray Bradbury’s Advice for Writers

When I first made my writing intentions known, I asked one of coworkers at the time, a former English professor for advice. The next day she handed me a printed copy of Ray Bradbury’s Greatest Writing Advice. This was a year ago, I’ve never written for leisure before. And reflecting on it, this piece was hugely influential to me as a writer.

I originally got the idea of a semester at the library from this piece.

You don’t become a writer by taking writing classes

“I took a writing course in summer school in 1939, when I was in high school. But it didn’t work. The secret of writing was, to go and live in the library two or four days a week for ten years. I graduated from the library having read every single book in it. And along the way I wrote every day of every week of every month, for every year. And in ten years, I became a writer.””

I wouldn’t be writing every day either if it wasn’t for 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.

He was also the first to teach me what a writer’s information diet looks like. That I need to open my mind, read beyond books, and a few select genres.

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 time, comparing them. Read the essays of Aldous Huxley, read Lauren Eisley, 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?

For anyone aspriing to become a writer, listen to Ray Bradbury’s advice.

November 9, 2020

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