“There is only one kind of story in the world. Your story.” ~Ray Bradbury
In his book, Zen in the Art of Writing, acclaimed author Ray Bradbury shares his insight on how to be a better writer. In short, he posits that success in writing depends on how well one examines their own life. He shares anecdotes about how he activated his authorial process as a beginning writer:
…I thought you could beat, pummel, and thrash an idea into existence. Under such treatment, of course, any decent idea folds up its paws, turns on its back, fixes its eyes on eternity, and dies.
It is with great relief, then, that in my early twenties I floundered into a word-association process in which I simply got out of bed each morning, walked to my desk, and put down any word or series of words that happened along in my head.
I would then take arms against the word, or for it, and bring on an assortment of characters to weigh the word and show me its meaning in my life. An hour or two hours later, to my amazement, a new story would be finished and done. The surprise was total and lovely. I soon found that I would have to work this way for the rest of my life.
Bradbury was lucky enough to stumble upon a process that worked for him and he had the foresight to understand that he needed this structure to carry him forward into his writing career. He did this by befriending a word that most of us find repellent: WORK. He talks about how he partnered with this word and became a “co-sharer” of his existence with it. He asks:
Why is it that in a society with a Puritan heritage we have such completely ambivalent feeling about Work? We feel guilty, do we not, if not busy? But we feel somewhat soiled, on the other hand, if we sweat overmuch?
I can only suggest that we often indulge in made work, in false business, to keep from being bored. Or worse still we conceive the idea of working for money. The money becomes the object, the target, the end-all and be-all. Thus work, being important only as a means to that end, degenerates into boredom. Can we wonder then that we hate it so?
Bradbury writes that work itself creates its own cadence, falling into a rhythm in which we lose our self in the act of writing. The body takes over as the mind lets go. Bradbury calls this stage two: RELAXATION. The work becomes joy. And then his third stage is: DON’T THINK. This results in the fourth stage: FURTHER RELAXATION. Bradbury writes that one must create a body of work to manifest any kind of mastery. He believes experience breeds quantity and from that quantity we walk the path towards quality. Bradbury concludes:
All arts, big and small, are the elimination of waste motion in favor of the concise declaration.
Bradbury emphasizes that writing is about self-discovery. There is no one in the world with your singular story and it is the refinement of that telling that is so important to share with the world. Bradbury also warns about not getting lost in the shuffle as one discovers how to present that truth.
How does one get lost?
Through incorrect aims, as I have said. Through wanting literary fame too quickly. From wanting money too soon. If only we could remember, fame and money are gifts given to us only after we have gifted the world with our best, our lonely, our individual truths
…What do you think of the world? You, the prism, measure the light of the world; it burns through your mind to throw a spectroscopic reading onto white paper than anyone else anywhere can throw.
Let the world burn through you. Throw the prism light, white hot, on paper. Make your own spectroscopic reading.
Then, you, a new Element, are discovered, charted, named!
Then, wonder of wonders, you may even be popular with the literary magazines, and one day, a solvent citizen, be dazzled and made happy when someone sincerely cries, “Well, done!”
A sense of inferiority, then, in a person, quite often means true inferiority in a craft through simple lack of experience. Work then, gain experience, so that you will be at ease in your writing, as a swimmer buoys himself in water.
Bradbury returns to his success with his word-association exercise and challenges the reader to try it. “The true test is in the doing,” he writes. If you give his method a shot, he says, then you might find that your definition for WORK is transformed into a new meaning: LOVE.