Writing Tips: Ray Bradbury

In 2001 Ray Bradbury gave the keynote address at Point Loma Nazarene University’s Writer’s Symposium By the Sea. I’ve picked through the advice he gave, which you can watch on the video below, and added my own thoughts.

Don’t start out writing novels.
You don’t start out running marathons, you run shorter distances in order to train and prepare yourself. Everything takes practice, including writing.

Examine “quality” short stories.
I’m not sure why he put “quality” in quotes. You should read the best stories in whatever genre you want to write in. Things that win awards, things that are recommended by other authors, and things that are just plain popular. You have to read them critically, though, not just for pleasure. Pick them apart. See how they’re structured. Examine the way character development unfolds, the word choices made, the way the dialog flows. Learn from the best.

Stuff your head.
Always be learning more, and always be refreshing and reinforcing the things you’ve already learned.

Get rid of friends who don’t believe in you.
Ain’t nobody got time for that. Even if you don’t waste time trying to justify your choices to those people, you’ll spend time in your head hypothetically justifying your choices to those people. Don’t surround yourself with “yes men”, either. Find people who will be supportive but honest.

Fall in love with movies.
Watch how people interact with one another when they deliver the dialog. Pay attention to how the scene is set, and think about how you’d describe that. Pay attention to the structure of the scenes, and how they flow.

Write with joy.
If you aren’t having an absolute blast doing this, why are you doing it at all?

Don’t plan on making money.
This is where I’m going to disagree. If you want to make a living as a writer, you absolutely need to plan on making money. You need to develop a head for business. While you’re writing you can think of it as art, or craft, or whatever you want, but when it’s finished you need to view it as the product that you need to sell. If you don’t think about how you could make money with your writing, you never will.

List ten things you love, and ten things you hate.
This reminds me of the idea of a writing magna carta. It’s one of the ideas that Chris Baty put into No Plot? No Problem!, the NaNoWriMo bible. I do one for every project, to give myself an idea of what I want to accomplish and why I want to avoid. It does help me keep uo my enthusiam for what I’m working on.

Just type any old thing that comes into your head.
I am not a seat-of-the-pants writer. I need outlines and structure. Free writing can be good as a warm-up, or to brainstorm ideas, but it’s not always productive writing. I’d rather tell as story on purpose than canoodle around and hope I tell one by accident.