Our Reader Friday this week paid tribute to the late, great Ray Bradbury. He lived in L.A. so I got to hear him speak on a number of occasions. One time I got to meet him.
This was back when I was an unpublished writer unsure if I had the goods. Two books that had helped me keep my hopes up were Brenda Ueland’s If You Want to Write and Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing.
Bradbury was set to speak at the Woodland Hills branch of the Los Angeles Public Library, the very branch I grew up in. I couldn’t wait. I’d gobbled up The Illustrated Man in junior high school, and it was one of those transcendent reading experiences you get only once in a great while. This collection of stories is a glorious imagination on fire. It certainly turned up the heat on my own nascent desire to someday write stories myself.
So I took my well-thumbed and underlined copy of Zen to the library and settled in with a packed room. Bradbury arrived, walking slowly and wearing his white hair long and a bit wild. His hair was a metaphor for his writing approach––let it go, untamed, and put off a neat cut for as long as possible. “Time enough to think and cut and rewrite tomorrow,” Bradbury wrote in Zen. “But today––explode––fly apart––disintegrate!”
Bradbury spoke about his love of libraries, and it was great to hear from his own lips the well-known tale of how he wrote Fahrenheit 451 on a rented typewriter in the basement of UCLA’s Powell Library. (You can hear the man himself tell that story here.)
Then he talked about writing, and I took notes. Here they are:
- Do word associations, as a way of letting your subconscious tell you what is inside you.
- Creating is NOT about fame, NOT about money. It’s about having fun.
- Just do it.
- Writing every day for 57 years. That wasn’t work. That was fun!
- The intellectuals want us to believe it’s no good unless it’s tortured. The hell with that!
- Do what you love. Let it out into the world. If you’re lucky, you’ll get some money. But if you don’t, do it anyway.
- “I work for free. I haven’t made any money on any of my plays. But I love theatre. And I put up productions around town. And when I see the actors who’ve been in them on the street, we embrace, because we did what we loved and we had this experience together. For free. All the money went to my actors.”
- Don’t think while you’re doing it. Think after it’s done.
- He uses no outlines. He wakes up in the morning and lays in bed until his characters, his voices, compel him to “scramble to the typer” and record them before they get away.
He signed books after his talk, so I stood in line with my treasured copy of Zen. I introduced myself and we shook hands.
“Are you a writer?” he asked.
I quoted from the book: “‘Stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.'”
He laughed and said, “Oh, you must!”
I asked him if he set himself a daily quota, and he said, “I let my love determine how much I write.”
“Ah, so you fall in love daily?”
He signed my book. “Do you write every day?” he asked.
“Five days a week,” I said. “Weekends are for my family.”
He laughed again. “That’s the way to do it!”
He offered his hand once more and said, “God bless you.”
And off I went into the night, feeling blessed indeed for having had the chance to chat with one of the legends of our literature –– Ray Bradbury, American original.
Have you had the chance to talk to an author you admire? Who would be at the top of your list of writers you’d love to meet?