‘Fahrenheit 451’ by Ray Bradbury is a classic book that you always find on those ‘100 books to read before you die’ lists. It’s a book that everyone has heard of and you feel like most people have read, either through force at school or self-improvement in adulthood. ‘Fahrenheit 451’ for me, had come up in recommendations, reading lists and in my peripheral reading vision, time and time again but it was only this year that I decided to read it.
Being an avid reader, I empathised with the main message of the book which is the importance of reading and, not just critical thinking, but independent thought. Loud flashy images, screens which fill entire living rooms and short meaningless entertainment have taken over Bradbury’s unspecified world and has distracted the populace to such a degree they no longer think for themselves or are interested in learning or growing in intellect. Obviously this is perfect for the government because they can now do what ever the heck they like and everyone will be too distracted and dumbed down to notice (Does this sound familiar?). Interestingly, Bradbury doesn’t lay the blame solely at the feet of the government as other dystopian literature does but also on the individual populace for allowing this to happen, as one of his characters states, “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” As many people have said before me, this book can be applied to our society as a cautionary tale, a reminder to not always buy into the new fad, to continue to read and think for yourself no matter the year, decade or century. Not to be drawn into the ‘tyranny of the masses’ and follow the crowd but to continue to think, discuss and analyse our society for its betterment. As you can now see, it has become one of my favourite books and Bradbury one of my favourite authors. I highly recommend it and quite frankly could go on and on about this book, but that’s not why we’re here today.
As all of us are at some point, I was looking for some guidance on how to continue to grow as a writer. Imagine my joy when I realized that Bradbury had actually written a book to help me do just that! So, who better for me to get advice from than one of my favourite authors!
‘Zen in the Art of Writing’ is a series of essays which concentrate on certain elements of his writing methods and inspiration. It has many pearls of wisdom and advice which I will be taking through into my writing and you might find useful too. So here are some top tips from Ray Bradbury on how to become a better writer.
Writing during difficult periods of your life
Bradbury believes that writing teaches us that we are alive. Who here cannot say that after a particularly good writing session they haven’t felt more alive and satisfied. He believes that through writing we can begin to understand that life is ‘a gift and a privilege, not a right’ and we must earn that because although our writing cannot prevent us from experiencing life’s negatives it can revitalise us despite everything around us. Therefore for Bradbury writing is not only about embracing life and exploring it but also about survival, as he says, ‘Not to write, for many of us, is to die’.
You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.-Ray Bradbury
I very much empathised with this as there are days when I don’t write and in the back of my mind the page is always calling me. Often it can be satiated just by writing for 20 minutes, often there are days where the feeling takes me and I can write all day. Even Bradbury himself states that he becomes uneasy after even a day not writing and after three he starts going a bit loopy. The point is not to be too hard on yourself and to practice as often as you can but this can often be difficult if life is taking a downward turn. The key is to keeping going despite everything, Bradbury says,’ The smallest effort means to win’ against the world and not writing can mean that the ‘world would catch up with you and try to sicken you’. He believes that even ‘an hour’s writing is tonic’, it’s the little bit of poison that is taken to build immunity to life’s own venom. Writing makes sense of life, both the light and dark, it can help the reader and the writer to work through life’s horrors. As Bradbury says, ‘Who amongst us has not had a cancer-dead friend? Which family exists where some relative has not been maimed by the automobile?….The list is endless and crushing if we do not creatively oppose it.’ Now Bradbury may come across a little flippant here but he does go on to say that writing can be a cure, that although we never get over these things it can be a form of ‘therapy’ and that when life throws you a curve ball or a tragedy, ‘You must leap to set up your diving board and dive head first into your typewriter’. Obviously everyone is different and deals with life in a different way, some things in life hit harder than others, but writing as a form of working through your own feelings and extracting meaning from difficult situations is a workable theory. It may help us all to make sense of life and to push through our difficult periods and come out the other side.
Taking Joy in your work
I don’t think many of us need to be told to take joy in our work, it is inherent in the craft. Bradbury believes that all writers should harness this ‘Zest’ and ‘Gusto’ and imbue your work with it. Don’t be distracted by the commercial markets, what’s popular or the ‘avant-garde coterie’ because if you are, you are not being yourself and ‘without gusto, without love, without fun, you are only half a writer’. Take what annoys you, what you hate, what outrages you about society and use it in tandem with your enthusiasm to create. Bradbury tells of the numerous times he would walk around the neighborhood at night to think about his writing, only to be stopped by the police often enough that it birthed ‘The Pedestrian’. A story of a man who is arrested and study by government scientists because he prefers to look at ‘untelevised reality and breathing in un air-conditioned air’. Ideas and inspiration can also come from the things you love; objects, concepts, people. Use your enthusiasm for what you love and weave stories around them. Even the most unassuming of items can be sources of inspiration, a spider’s web, a scientific journal, a shoe. As Bradbury says, ‘ Ideas lie everywhere, like apples fallen and melting in the grass…’
The first thing a writer should be is excited. he should be a thing of fevers and enthusiasms…’-Ray Bradbury
Bradbury’s gives his formula as this, ‘ What do you want more than anything in the world? What do you love? What do you hate? Find a character like yourself who will want something or not want something, with all his heart. Give him orders, Shoot him off. Then follow as fast as you can go. The character, in his great love or hate, will rush you through to the end of the story‘.
Bradbury also talks about how as writers, we should also use our ‘Gusto’ to help us to find joy even with the more technical side of writing. Grammar checking and drafting are not to most glamorous of tasks for the writer but Bradbury urges you to take ‘ joy in the first draft, in the hope that your joy will seek and find others in the world, who, reading your story, will catch fire too…’ That initial joy of getting it all down on paper will get you through the drafting and redrafting and will even help those that stumble with ‘grammatical tools and literary knowledge’. Passion is key, so use your ‘Zest’ and ‘Gusto’ to move you to find ideas, write and enjoy your craft.
What else can we learn from Ray Bradbury? Find out in Part 2, coming soon!
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