I was given this book as a gift a few years ago, and I just barely got around to reading it.
I've read a lot from Ray Bradbury, but I've never read non-fiction from him, so this was a treat. This book is full of writing inspiration, humor, and details about him that I never knew.
His Writing Habit
What impressed me most about Bradbury was his writing habit. For ten years he wrote a short story every week, and each week he sent it out to a publisher. That's a lot of writing, but you know what it did? It made him a stronger writer. He had writing the short story down to an art. He eventually learned what to do, and he became a master at it.
"All during my early twenties I had the following schedule," Bradbury writes. "On Monday morning I wrote the first draft of a new story. One Tuesday I did a second draft. On Wednesday a third. On Thursday a fourth. On Friday a fifth. And on Saturday at noon I mailed out the sixth and final draft to New York. Sunday? I thought about all the wild ideas scrambling for my attention..."
I love how each day had a purpose. As a planner myself, I see the beauty in this. It somehow seems more manageable when it's broken down like this, doesn't it?
Bradbury continues, "If this all sound mechanical, it wasn't. My ideas drove me to it, you see. The more I did, the more I wanted to do. You grow ravenous. You run fevers. You know exhilarations. You can't sleep at night, because your beast-creature ideas want out and turn you in your bed. It is a grand way to live."
As I read about his writing habit, I started to think about my own (or the lack thereof). I began to think that maybe if I could write as much as Bradbury did, even for just a year, maybe I could start to make more progress with my writing career. And that got me thinking even more. What if I started The Bradbury Challenge? Maybe start slowly - one short story a month for a year - and work my way from there. In fact, it could be bigger than myself, inviting other writers to join in - kind of like how NaNoWriMo does it. If you'd be interested in something like that for next year (2018), let me know!
Finding Inspiration & Feeding Muses
I've always loved the idea of muses. It probably stems from watching Disney's Hercules as a child. Those muses were my favorite part. I mean, come on, they sang the best songs.
So, how did Bradbury come up with all his ideas? You'd think he'd run out of story ideas writing one story a week for a decade, but that wasn't the case.
"...ideas lie everywhere, like apples fallen and melting in the grass for lack of wayfaring strangers with an eye and a tongue for beauty, whether absurd, horrific, or genteel."
He made lists of words as way of inspiration, which sounds so simple. And maybe it is. Maybe we're all missing the boat here. The lists would consist of words like skeleton, old woman, lake, coffin, and so on. Take a look at how it worked for Bradbury.
"I began to run through those lists, pick a noun, and then sit down to write a long poem-prose-essay on it. Somewhere along the middle of the page, or perhaps on the second page, the prose poem would turn into a story. Which is to say a character suddenly appeared and said, 'That's me'; or, 'That's an idea I like!' And the character would then finish the tale for me."
Easy enough, right?
What it Means to Be a Writer
Bradbury provides some fantastic quotes about what it means to be a writer. When I read these, they hit home. I'm nowhere near Ray Bradbury's level, but now I know that we were both meant to write.
As the students in one of my classes turn in their personal essays and another class working on personal articles for potential publication in magazines, I've had universal truths on the brain. As I've pondered how to accurately describe the idea of a universal truth to my students, I've made it even clearer for myself.
What is a Universal Truth?
A universal truth is an emotion or experience that the reader can relate to, no matter their language, upbringing, race, or life experiences. Even though the reader may not have almost died in a car crash, attended their parents' wedding later in life, or swam with dolphins, they can still relate to your experience through the emotion or the deeper meaning of your experience.
So, say you read an article or story about someone fighting in WWII. Even though you've never fought in WWII, you can relate to the fear, confusion, and maybe even hope in a dire situation that the writer experienced. The same goes for when you write your own work. Remember, the reader doesn't have to have the same experiences in life in order to connect to your work on an emotional level. It's all about base emotions - the universal truths of being human.
To sum it up, the best universal truth is felt in the heart of the reader.
When is a Universal Truth Necessary?
Both fiction and non-fiction works need to have a universal truth. Otherwise, how will the reader connect with it? The reader needs something that draws them in emotionally, and that's where the universal truth comes into play.
Writing a non-fiction article about a personal experience, writing a memoir or even just a blog post? You need a universal truth.
Writing a fictional short story or novel? You need a universal truth.
Because I just finished reading "Madame Bovary" by Gustave Flaubert, I'll use that as an example.
I have not had the same experiences as Emma Bovary. I have not cheated on my husband, I have not spent money so frivolously that I risked execution, and I've never committed suicide. However, that doesn't mean I can't connect with Emma's character and her plight just the same. I understand the want to buy things for the sake of buying things. I understand the feeling of unhappiness or being unfulfilled by life and what you thought it held in store for you. I understand complete devastation and embarrassment and a shocking loss of hope that turns your entire world and universe upside down.
Because I have felt those emotions, I can find a deeper meaning beyond the physical actions of the characters. I can put myself into the story and be a more active participant. I can connect.
How Do You Find Your Universal Truth?
Sometimes identifying the universal truth in your own work can take practice. Take the main events in your writing and boil it down as much as you can. Boil it down until you hit the root emotion. It can be as simple as fear, sadness, joy, or anxiety.
If you're still not sure what your universal truth is, ask a friend or a family member to read your piece. Ask them to boil down the events until they find the root emotions. Or, ask them what parts they connected with the most and why. Once you get the hang of it, identifying your own universal truths will become much easier and more natural.
Examples from Published Works
I'm an adjunct creative writing professor and freelance writer, but I dream of being a published novelist. This is my journey.