Whispering and Shouting with Bradbury

“What are the best things and the worst things in your life, and when are you going to get around to whispering or shouting them?” – Ray Bradbury

This morning, Ray Bradbury died. It is strange to write that sentence. It’s one of those things that never quite seemed possible. The writer that never grew up, that never lose his childhood love of life and writing, has now been written out of our lives.

Ray Bradbury held a special place for me. In college, while I was taking a fiction class, just for fun, I decided to read about being a writer. I had written screenplays before. I had written comic books for most of my life. I had even written a story a time or two, but I had never thought of myself as a writer.


That changed when I read Zen and the Art of Writing. It blew my world apart. The book is a collection of essays written by Bradbury on the subject of writing. There is little talk of technique, methodology, style, scene structure, climax, and the like.

Zen contains something so much more important. It is Bradbury’s love letter to writing. It is hard to imagine anyone who loved the art of writing as much as Bradbury. His passion poured off the pages. It is no wonder that I would find myself soaked in it.

Bradbury penned a pep rally for writers. To this day, I cannot read Zen without immediately feeling the need to rush to a keyboard, any keyboard, and get to work. For a young man just learning to write fiction, that was exactly what I needed.

I’ve read countless books on writing. I have several more waiting for me to read them. All pale in comparison to the feeling I got from reading Zen. Those other books taught me about writing. Bradbury taught me to go ahead and get on with it.

The creative method I use today hasn’t changed much from that time. I still sit and start typing. If something comes out of it that is good, great. If it doesn’t, I enjoyed it all the same.

Bradbury poured his life into a typewriter and found the fantastic. He found excitement and joy in the smallest things. He excited and terrified us. In a world where writers are pigeon-holed into marketing genre, Bradbury transcended them.

There was always a debate in the science fiction world of whether or not Bradbury wrote Science Fiction. He insisted he did not. What I came to realize is that Bradbury did not write science fiction, fantasy, mystery, or horror. He wrote what he wanted. He wrote Bradbury.

I’ve never had a mentor in writing. My instructors in college were helpful, but were around for only a moment. The rest of my writing training has come from books and the critique of my peers. Looking back, the constant in my writing life has been the impact of Zen and the Art of Writing.

Bradbury was my hero, my role model. He was the closest thing I had to a mentor, and I never met him. Still, I felt I knew Bradbury in a way, as I think we all did. We knew him through his writing, a prolific career that continued nearly his entire life.

I cannot thank him enough for the gift he gave me, as well as all he other writers he inspired. There should be no shedding tears. Instead, I hope to hear the clacking of keyboards as I, and my colleagues, celebrate his life the way he celebrated it, by writing.


You Are Not a Beautiful and Unique Snowflake

Listen up, maggots. You are not special. You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake. You’re the same decaying organic matter as everything else. – Tyler Durden in Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club

Writer’s are a fragile bunch.  We are primarily solitary creatures, except when we are gathering with other writers to talk about writing.  We spend most of our lives dancing to music that exists only in our heads, talking to characters no one else can hear, and trying to effectively communicate what they say to everyone else.

That can be a lot of pressure.  Sometimes it can be overwhelming.  In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott writes about the delicate psyche of the writer and the oppressive gravity a blank page can place upon them.  I think sometimes we let ourselves get frightened by the gravity and scope of what we are trying to do.  There are so many things to worry about.  There is plot, characters, theme, setting, dialogue, grammar, spelling.  We may invest hundreds of hours in a work of fiction that sucks and no one will ever read.  We want to write something special, something that means something.  We want to write the great American novel.

Anne Lamott deals with this by telling herself she only has to write what she can see through a one inch window.  What I do is far less romantic, and likely the by-product of a blue-collar upbringing.  I remind myself that I am not special.  I cannot sit and watch a beautiful masterpiece flow from my fingertips.  I am working.  That requires practice, attention to detail, stubbornness, and the little bit of skill I possess.

I am not special.  Thousands of writers are facing that same blank page at this moment.   Hundreds of thousands of writers have faced millions of blank pages, and amazingly they have managed to be filled.  The Library of Congress has 33 million books, not even a small percentage of all the writing done when you include magazines, screenwriting, playwriting, etc.

I am facing the same problem as everyone else.  My answer will be the only thing different.  When I stopped writing for awhile, a lot of it was about pressure.  Some people around me who had read my stuff said I had talent.  I felt pressure to perform and to do so immediately.  Write a best-seller, my ex-wife used to say, so we can live on the money.  She was trying to be supportive and encouraging, but a few rejection letters later, I stopped submitting.  It was one thing for Ray Bradbury and Stephen King to say to persevere through rejections, they could literally crap on a sheet of paper and a publisher would buy it.  But I am not either one of them.

Lately, I’ve been going to writer’s groups, and that has made the difference.  I realized that I am not special.  I am not the only writer struggling to start a literary career.  I’m not even the only writer in my sub-genre in this city.  Hell, for all I know, I’m not the only writer on my block.  Somehow, that all makes me feel better.  It calms my agoraphobic social phobia enough to get to work.

You don’t worry about mowing your lawn correctly because everyone does it.  You don’t worry about shoveling snow the right way.  You just shovel it.  If you are working on a car, you know other people have done the same repair before and you just go do it.

When I approached writing this way, suddenly the blank page wasn’t near as offensive.  Writing is just another thing I do.  I love doing it, but in the end, it’s just another project.  A blank page is nothing.  I’ve filled them before.  My colleagues are out there filling them right now.  My fellow writers of the Dead Horse Society, the Writers of the Weird, and the Lawrence Writer’s Group are out there punching keys along with me.  Some of our stuff will be good, some of it great, some of it God awful, but it will be there.

I’m not a beautiful and unique snowflake, and that is fine by me.