Archive for category writers on writing

Ray Bradbury’s reading program for budding writers

In a keynote address in 2001, writer Ray Bradbury offered the following reading program to his listeners of budding writers:

every night for the next 1,000 nights, read

  • one short story
  • one poem
  • one essay

I started yesterday. And I’ve added a goal of writing 1,000 words per day. I wrote 1,000 yesterday. I think I’m nearly there today (hard to tell as most of today’s writing was editing and adding to an earlier post about reading Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods”).

Bradbury is hugely enthusiastic and inspiring. Check it out. Years ago, I bought and was dazzled by his book Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity, Expanded, then I lost it, and just last night, after watching this video, I bought the Kindle version (much cheaper!) Zen in the Art of Writing (tho I’m not sure if the Kindle version is the “expanded” or the “pre-expanded” version; probably the latter as it’s so cheap. Damn!)


Writers on writing – Paul Auster

This came up in my YouTube “recommended” side-bar. I’ve not read anything by Auster, wasn’t even sure if he was British or American until I heard him speak. He has a pleasant face and I like listening to his voice. Can’t say that for all writers, that’s for sure. Martin Amis has an agreeable voice, but is not so interesting to look at: he sits so still, imho.

“It’s so much a matter of the unconscious telling you what to put on the page. And if you’re listening and relaxed enough to be able to listen, it’ll happen.”

What keeps him up at night? This was interesting, as I’m discovering or realizing that my private rants are excellent writing material; they are expressions of feelings that need some kind of outlet. Many of my rants are addressed to particular people or groups of people that I want to communicate with but am unable to or have great difficulty doing. Writing these rants has done several things:

  • gets them out of my system
  • allowed me to explore them and develop them – “what’s the real issue here? What do I really want to say?”
  • I’ve discovered its exciting to write about feeling. It’s a kind of free-writing – I don’t worry about organization, relating what I’m saying now to what I said earlier, contradicting myself, repeating myself. Expressing, not editing.

“Blisterning, ranting inner monologues that one has about the state of the world, mostly about politics; mostly about the stupidity of our culture.”

He’s then asked to give an example of a rant, but then he embarrasses himself. You see, just because someone is a writer doesn’t mean their opinion on everything under the sun is going to be superior to most people’s. You see this especially with Hollywood stars: they are often used as mouthpieces because advertisers know that people pay attention when a star talks, and don’t examine what they say too critically.  (Auster’s rant is that healthcare is a right, and before you rush to agree, consider Ayn Rand’s question: at whose expense?)

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Writers on writing – Anthony Burgess

Anthony Burgess, deceased British writer, (in)famous for writing “A Clockwork Orange”, a novel about punishment and morality which was made into a movie by Stanley Kubrick, which movie was subsequently banned for glorifying violence. A multilingual polymath, Burgess also wrote music (in fact, that’s what he’d wanted to study at university but was turned down because he had not studied the pre-requisite subject of physics!).

Burgess was not only a writer of fiction, but, like many other writers, a literary historian and critic. He was particularly interested in D.H. Lawrence and James Joyce and had interesting and insightful things to say about them both. In “The Burgess Variations”, an excellent two-part documentary on Burgess’ life and work (part 1 here, and part 2 here), Gore Vidal said he thought Burgess’ infatuation (or was it “obsession”?) with Joyce was unhealthy, primarily because Vidal thought Burgess was much better than Joyce!

Burgess’ life story had several interesting points, which probably say as much about me as about Burgess: his first marriage did not end well – his wife was an(other) Irish alcoholic, though feisty and had no doubt a liberating influence on the rather strait-laced Burgess (brought up in Catholic Jesuit boys’ schools) and they would get drunk together regularly. The drinking eventually killed his wife, and the doctors at the hospital where she passed away pointedly asked Burgess how well he knew her, i.e. why the hell did you let her get to this state?

His second wife was an Italian who had translated some of his works. She is introduced in the documentary in the chapter titled “Liana”, and the chapter opens with a photo of Liana and Burgess and the camera slowly zooms in on Liana’s face, which immediately captured my attention, it was strikingly beautiful, perhaps not in a classical sense but it had such life and joy in it, I immediately felt glad Burgess had found and had the good sense to marry this woman, as a counter to his previous marriage.

Photo from

He has some interesting things to say about writing for money, which contrasts interestingly with what Bradbury had to say about the subject (“Don’t do it! Ever!”) – see the video at the top of this blog.


Ray Bradbury – Don’t tell anyone what you’re doing!

You don’t learn to write by going to college. You learn to write by writing!…I can’t help you become a writer. No university can help you become a writer.

OK, I think that’s enough of Ray Bradbury, don’t you? It’s been quite a fiesta, hasn’t it? Let’s wrap this up.
There’s a number of themes that Bradbury brings up in almost all of these talks: Read the rest of this entry »


Ray Bradbury on libraries and universities

Surprise in life should be everything. You shouldn’t know what you’re doing. You should go into a bookstore to be surprised and changed. So that the bookstores change you and reveal new sides of yourself. That’s the importance of a used bookstore.”

This is from an interview with Steve Wasserman of the LA Times on July 28, 2008. Bradbury died in 2012 at the age of 91, and had suffered a stroke sometime prior to this interview, which stroke left him with a slight speech impediment. (You can read the transcript of the interview here.)  Wasserman seems rather obtuse and more eager to defend his newspaper and newspapers in general from Bradbury’s criticism, and generally he talks too much. I skipped all the parts where he’s speaking and just listened to Bradbury.

I don’t know if what I’m doing online is the same as what Bradbury refers to here, but I recently discovered Gene Wolfe by accident when reading an article by Michael Moorcock, and I discovered him by accident in a YouTube interview with Neil Gaiman (on which writers influenced him when he was a young reader). I’d also never heard of Moorcock, I’m embarrassed to say, despite having been a devourer of science fiction in my early teens. And today, reading about Bradbury’s influences, I learned about two more SF writers I haven’t yet read – Theodore Sturgeon and A.E. van Vogt. (Some of van Vogt’s writing is available at free SF online. )

I was thinking on and off today about why I prefer Bradbury’s writing to Neil Gaiman’s, fascinating tho Gaiman can be, and I think it’s because Bradbury as a strong moral sense that seems lacking in Gaiman.

Bradbury identified with Verne, saying, “He believes the human being is in a strange situation in a very strange world, and he believes that we can triumph by behaving morally”.

…In a 1982 essay, he wrote, “People ask me to predict the Future, when all I want to do is prevent it”.   (Wikipedia)

Gaiman is capable of writing a scene where one character shows mercy to another, in a story which has been singularly bereft of that virtue, and not realize its significance. Perhaps Gaiman doesn’t understand what virtue is, except as some vague thing that leads to happy endings, and is therefore suspect, or “only to be used in emergencies”. His short story “The Problem with Susan”also seems to me a highly immoral, or possibly amoral, tale. (I can’t decide if Gaiman has corrupt morals or none at all.)

Back to the interview (and again ignoring that annoying interviewer):

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Ray Bradbury on how he came to write “The Martian Chronicles”

Continuing my Bradbury spree, today I highlight a part of a talk Bradbury gave at UCLA back in 1968. Towards the end, Bradbury takes questions from the audience, and a man asks him what prompted him to write “The Martian Chronicles.” This launches Bradbury into another one of his animated monologues about how and why he writes. I found this inspiring. Here are some highlights:

“The Martian Chronicles was written without knowing it, as a series of short stories that I tried out on my subconscious one after another. I word-associate constantly at the typewriter. A good 30% of my stories are word-association stories. In other words, I type things like ‘the Dwarf’, ‘the Knight’, ‘the Wind’, ‘the Desert’, ‘the Frog’, on paper. And I say to myself, ‘What does that noun mean? Why have I put it on paper? Let’s bring some people in to talk about it.’ So I bring in two people and they begin to talk, and a few hours later I have a short story.”

Jon Rappoport, painter, poet and journalist, recommends a similar writing exercise which involves writing dialogues with archetypes, such as the Knight, the Trickster, the Wise Woman, etc. This is a very interesting and richly rewarding writing activity. (Check out Rappoport’s audio collection “Exit from the Matrix” in which he describes that and many, many other imagination exercises. Another introduction is here: Exit from the Matrix – the Great Adventure)

“The subconscious is waiting to be dredged! There’s so much in each one of you, you see? I have such a personal desire for each of you to bring this out of yourself, ‘coz if it stays in there, it’s going to drive you crazy!  You’re going to be insane. You’re going to need help in your forties. You’re going to have all kinds of problems. But if you keep throwing up from now on, bringing it all out in the open, saying ‘Ah-ah-ah!  I’m afraid of that! I love this!’

“How did I write Dandelion Wine? I began a series of associative experiments. I’d write a page about tennis shoes. For no reason. Just, let’s write everything I know about tennis shoes in the summertime. Let’s write everything I know about grass. Let’s write everything I know about the smell of the wind. Ah! Let’s write a short story about the day I discovered I was alive for the first time! It happens to all of us when we’re 9 or 10. Suddenly we look around. The wind is a certain way, the temperature is a certain way, and we look at the hair on the back of our arms and we smell the air, and we say, ‘My God! I’m alive! Why didn’t I know this before? Why haven’t I ever declared it? And on that day, we declare, and it’s a panic. It’s a dreadful elation and fear almost. Because you’re trapped in this body and I didn’t ask for this but God! It’s great! It’s wonderful! And you go around feeling everything. And a couple of years later, when you’re 12 or 13, you discover you can die. You! Can die some day. And the great black bulldog seizes you with his teeth and won’t let go!”

And you can hear a pin drop at this point. He definitely has everyone’s attention!

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Ray Bradbury on imagination

I’ve got a huge buzz and inspiration from listening to this man. I’ve spent hours in his enjoyable company thanks to YouTube. Here’s some gems  from just one interview.

2:20 “The ability to fantasize is the ability to survive. The ability to fantasize is the ability to grow. Boys and girls at the age of 10, 11, 12, even 13 right on up through, the most important time of their day or especially at night before going to sleep is dreaming themselves into becoming something, into being something. So, when you’re a child you begin to dream yourself into a shape. And then you run into the future and you try to become that shape.

“When I was 10, 11, 12, I began to dream of becoming a writer. And the rest of my life has been the task of reshaping myself into that boyhood thing.”

Hmmm. What was I dreaming of when I was 9, 10? How about you? And did those childish dreams become “the father of the man” (or woman)?
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Writers on writing – Martin Amis interview 2014

Responses to a 2014 interview in Chicago of British author Martin Amis, focusing on his novel The Zone of Interest (2014, and Amis’ 14th novel, Wikipedia tells me). At this point, I haven’t yet read anything by Martin, but I did read his father Kingsley’s Modern Classics Lucky Jim (Penguin Modern Classics) many years ago, and I laughed till I cried. I wonder if it would move me so, today. (Henry Miller wrote of reading “Three Men in a Boat”: the first time “I laughed until the tears came to my eyes. The other day, after a lapse of thirty years, I picked it up and started to read it again. Never have I tasted a shoddier piece of tripe.”)

4:30 “If you tell this story backwards, the arrow of time turns out to be the arrow of morality with amazing consistency.”

That sounds terribly deep and profound, but when you think about it all he saying is that awful deeds turn out to be beneficent (to use his word) when told or shown in reverse! Well cover me with brown sugar and call me for breakfast! Who’d have thunk it?!?

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