Words of advice from Ray Bradbury

Here’s a link to a fantastic lecture by the late great Ray Bradbury on how to become a better writer.

Watch Ray Bradbury’s lecture here.

488px-Ray_Bradbury_(1975)_-cropped-Bradbury was, of course, a sci-fi genre writer but he produced work which still resonates and has had a significant impact on the culture. His first novel Fahrenheit 451 is named after the temperature at which paper ignites and presents a future where books are burned and freedom of speech and thought are banned. It’s a ‘fiction’ which is all too real in parts of the world today.

In this lecture Ray Bradbury was speaking to a room full of writing students and it’s a fascinating insight into the mind and work of a hugely successful author. His number one tip for writers who are starting out is this: write lots of short stories to practice rather than spend a year writing a novel which might be no good.

That’s strong advice I would say. Old Ray points out that if you write a story each week for a year then you are going to have 52 stories by the end of the year – and, chances are, not all of them are going to be bad!

“You are learning your craft – that’s the important thing.”

This craft, this habit of treating writing as something which has to be learned and practiced, is so important I think.

An issue which concerns me a little about the current trend towards self-publishing is that, for all the opportunities it brings, it can encourage people to publish work before they are really ready and to release books which are simply not good enough to be published. Knowing you face rejection encourages a writer to have self-discipline. Once you remove the possibility that your work might not be good enough some writers might believe there is no such thing as bad writing – the reader will be under no such illusion.

Ray also says: ‘writing is not a serious business, it is a joy and a celebration.’

It’s not work, he says, if it feels like work then stop doing it and do something else. His cure for writer’s block is simple – put down whatever you are writing and write something else instead, because you’ve picked the wrong subject.

Being true to yourself, and to the subjects which mean something to you, is the important thing he feels. During his lifetime he certainly put his money where his mouth was, turning down lucrative script writing jobs for movies because the subjects did not move him to write.

His advice to all of us writers is clear and honest and something we should all take heed of I think. He says, don’t concern yourself with what is commercial or what might sell, but write what you really ought to be writing.

“Your true self, your true fear, your true hope, your true love.”

Don’t forget if you get a moment to take a look at my book Song of the Sea God. You can look inside to read the first few pages free and download a free Kindle sample for UK readers here. And for readers in the USA here.

21 thoughts on “Words of advice from Ray Bradbury”

  1. Very interesting post. The part about writing short stories particularly struck me as brilliant advice, which I intend to follow. For me the main obstacle is EXPECTATION, and I think if I can do the short story a week for 52 weeks, just for my own pleasure, with no expectations of ‘it HAS to be good’ I will enjoy the process a lot more! Thanks for your blog – you’ve made my day!

    1. Aw thanks greasepaint – I think it was probably Ray Bradbury who made your day though – it was his idea! I love writing short stories myself and wrote many before I attempted my first novel, which is why his advice resonated with me. I do feel they are a great way to practice writing, as well as a very worthwhile end in themselves.

  2. What an interesting man and an interesting post. I would love to develop as a short story writer. I suspect you are right that it’s good practice, but it’s also such a different approach from writing a full length novel that I think it’s pretty challenging and even more difficult to master. Everything has to be encapsulated and resolved in such a short space of words and time. Thanks for another great post, Chris.

  3. What I love about writing short stories is the opportunity it gives you to try out an infinite variety of voices, perspectives, narrative stances, structures, in a short space of time. I love this piece by Bradbury, whose short story ‘Sound of Thunder’ I used a lot in the classroom.

    1. Me too, all of those things! Plus I would say stories have also helped me impove generally as a writer – the things people like now in my novel were learned in all the stories I wrote over the years

  4. Very interesting post. I read and write short stories, though I could never attempt to write one every week … I have managed eight in a year, and I’m still re-writing and editing those. Another six months’ worth I reckon. I also feel that short stories should not have complete resolution, being a fan of ambiguous endings (but that’s just me!) One day I might try a novel, but frankly it scares me; so it may have to be a number of short stories linked in some way, perhaps along the lines of Hawthorn & Child by Keith Ridgway.

    1. I think one a week would be a very tall order too – in the context of the lecture he gave I think he was challenging his audience, giving them perhaps too much to do – they had a rather long reading list to get through each day too. I wrote a lot of short stories ( and still do) before moving to writing novels. I remember being aprehensive before setting out on the long road to writing a novel but the trick is to split it into little steps and do what planning you can. Though it takes me two years to write a novel each day on its own is not too daunting!

  5. Hello Chris,

    I am currently writing my first e-book (about 100 pages tops), and it’s coming somewhat close to fruition now.

    Do you have any useful tips or smart things to think about when it comes to the end of the process – putting it all together and making it a pleasant read etc.?

    1. Hi – I thought I had replied to this but my reply didn’t seem to register! Basically I would say – I don’t know much about the publication side as I have a publisher and they do that. But in terms of the writing – towards the end of the process it is very important to have an editor to catch the things you have missed and make your book as good as it can be.

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  7. An excellent post, Chris. I love Bradbury’s advice about tackling short stories before trying a novel. It’s great advice for two reasons: first, it helped me become familiar with the basic story arc and how the actual shape can shift from one piece to the next. Second, at the end of eighteen months, I had a binder full of stories, all ready to revise. As a bonus, I also had a clear indication of the genre in which I was most comfortable.

  8. Taped to my computer, just under the left hand with which I am currently typing, I have a quote from Bradbury that I cut out of Writer’s Digest: “I always say to students, give me four pages a day, every day. That’s three or four hundred thousnd words a year. Most of that will be bilge, but the rest…? It will save your life.” And, by the way, I think of Bradbury every Sunday when I am cooking bacon for breakfast. I put the plate of bacon in the oven still on the paper towel that has absorbed the grease. I know the paper will be ok in the warm oven (250 degrees) because paper burns at Fahrenheit 451. 🙂

    1. I like that quote – it’s a similar point to the one he’s making when he suggests people write all those stories – the idea that you get better through practice. It might be an unfashionable notion in this era of instant gratification but I certainly believe I’ve become a better writer over the years simply by keeping at it.

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