It’s so packed with great writing advice I’m almost loathe to finish it – because then I’ll have to take it back!
Writers often wonder about inspiration – and how to get good ideas for stories.
And often, when writers start out, they wonder what kind of writer they’re going to be – and what kind of stories they will write, and in which genre.
Mr Bradbury has some advice on both of these issues. In the pages of his book, he explains what helped him.
He says he’s been writing at least a thousand words every day of his life since he was twelve. Great. We like to hear that all the best writers have this simple habit ingrained.
He’d been reading a lot of science fiction since he was a kid he said and naturally thought he was destined to be an SF writer.
Trouble was, in his early twenties, he wasn’t having much success with his SF stories. Editors complained that they were derivative and not very original. Ray agonized over this because he knew in his heart he would have to make a living from writing – there was after all nothing else he wanted to do – but how was he going to get his work published if editors weren’t impressed with his stories?
He made a decision to take a couple weeks off to write down all his favorite words and phrases. Some of them intended as titles for works, some just words that he liked. Words that appealed to him and struck him as evocative.
This is the important part. He didn’t just pick words that sounded good. He picked words that inspired an emotional reaction in him. The words on their own may have sounded innocuous to anyone else. Words like BODY, LAKE, CARNIVAL and DOLL. But to Ray the words personified events in his life and more relevantly, changes in his perception as he was growing up.
When he had a small notebook full of these words, he would then take one at random and write a short piece based on his personal reaction to the images and emotions triggered by them.
Hey presto, his work became, he says, more original overnight.
Original because his work became more honest, more uniquely “Ray Bradbury”, he says. One of the first tales he wrote using this technique was “The Lake”, a story that is still republished to this day, almost forty years later.
He said that the practice of writing down all the words he found evocative helped him to establish in his own mind what kind of writer he was. The list helped him to see patterns in his own preferences. In short, the pages of words in his notebook became the template for his “style” – his own unique way of perceiving the world.
He said what was interesting to him was that this list of words is still a source of inspiration to him to this day. Thirty years after he’d written down the list, he still plunders it for short story ideas!
So, as I said, the list became his own source of inspiration and originality at the same time. Certainly nothing to be sniffed at for a writer.
I don’t know about you but this sounds like a fabulous idea – and one that may have already occurred to you. I remember being seventeen and writing down titles of books I would one day write.
I also wrote down snippets of dialogue that appealed to me. Phrases that still work their way into my stories, even now.
So if you’re ever worried that you don’t know what kind of writer you are, try this exercise:
Make a list of 200 words you like the sound of. Words that uniquely move or inspire you, or fill your head with images and emotions.
And when you have the list, study the words. Look for patterns.
You may discover you’re not quite the kind of writer you thought you were.
Plus, you’ll have a deep, ready store of inspiration.