Ray Bradbury’s 12 Rules for Writers

In a career spanning more than 70 years, Ray Bradbury (August 22, 1920 – June 5, 2012) inspired generations of readers to dream, think, and create. A prolific author of hundreds of short stories and close to 50 books, as well as numerous poems, essays, operas, plays, teleplays, and screenplays, Bradbury is one of the most celebrated writers of our time.

His works include Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man, Dandelion Wine, and Something Wicked This Way Comes. He wrote the screen play for John Huston’s classic film adaptation of Moby Dick, and was nominated for an Academy Award. He adapted 65 of his stories for television’s The Ray Bradbury Theater, and won an Emmy for his teleplay of The Halloween Tree.

Throughout his life, Bradbury liked to recount the story of meeting a carnival magician, Mr. Electrico, in 1932. At the end of his performance Electrico reached out to the 12-year-old Bradbury, touched the boy with his sword, and commanded, Live forever! Bradbury later said, “I decided that was the greatest idea I had ever heard. I started writing every day. I never stopped.”

Bradbury was a recipient of the 2000 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, the 2004 National Medal of Arts, and the 2007 Pulitzer Prize Special Citation.

Rules from a Writing Master

Like fellow genre icon Stephen King, Bradbury reached far beyond his established audience by offering writing advice to anyone who puts pen to paper. (Or keys to keyboard; “Use whatever works,” he often said.)

In this 2001 keynote address at Point Loma Nazarene University’s Writer’s Symposium by the Sea, Bradbury told stories from his writing life, all of which offered lessons on how to hone the craft. Most of these lessons focus on the day-in, day-out practices that make up what he liked to call “writing hygiene.”

1. Don’t Start Out Writing Novels
They take too long. Begin your writing life instead by cranking out “a hell of a lot of short stories,” as many as one per week. Take a year to do it; he claims that it simply isn’t possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row. He waited until the age of 30 to write his first novel, Fahrenheit 451.

2. You May Love ’Em, But You Can’t Be ’Em
Bear that in mind when you inevitably attempt, consciously or unconsciously, to imitate your favorite writers, just as he imitated H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, Arthur Conan Doyle and L. Frank Baum.

3. Examine “Quality” Short Stories
He suggests Roald Dahl, Guy de Maupassant, and the lesser-known Nigel Kneale and John Collier. Anything in the New Yorker today doesn’t make his cut, since he finds that their stories have “no metaphor.”

4. Stuff Your Head
To accumulate the intellectual building blocks of these metaphors, he suggests a course of bedtime reading: one short story, one poem (but Pope, Shakespeare, and Frost, not modern “crap”), and one essay. These essays should come from a diversity of fields, including archaeology, zoology, biology, philosophy, politics, and literature. “At the end of a thousand nights,” so he sums it up, “Jesus God, you’ll be full of stuff!”

5. Get Rid of Friends Who Don’t Believe in You
Do they make fun of your writerly ambitions? He suggests calling them up to “fire them” without delay.

6. Live in The Library
Don’t live in your “goddamn computers.” He may not have gone to college, but his insatiable reading habits allowed him to “graduate from the library” at age 28.

7. Fall in Love with Movies

Preferably old ones.

8. Write with Joy
In his mind, “writing is not a serious business.” If a story starts to feel like work, scrap it and start one that doesn’t. “I want you to envy me my joy,” he tells his audience.

9. Don’t Plan on Making Money
He and his wife, who “took a vow of poverty” to marry him, hit 37 before they could afford a car (and he still never got around to picking up a license).

10. List 10 Things You Love, and 10 Things You Hate
Then write about the former, and “kill” the latter — also by writing about them. Do the same with your fears.

11. Just Type Any Old Thing That Comes into Your Head
He recommends “word association” to break down any creative blockages, since “you don’t know what’s in you until you test it.”

12. What You’re Looking for Is Just One Person To Come Up And Tell You, “I Love You For What You Do.”
Or, failing that, you’re looking for someone to come up and tell you, “You’re not nuts like people say.”

Link to original feature HERE

2 thoughts on “Ray Bradbury’s 12 Rules for Writers

  1. jmh says:

    Great, inspiring advice! A reviewer once compared my novella to his, saying our styles were similar in some ways. I consider it an astounding compliment.


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