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
In my last blog post I mentioned a few online classes I teach through Rio Salado College, and now I get to add to the list!
Later this month, I will begin teaching ENG106 - Basic Writing - for Brigham Young University-Idaho, and I couldn't be more excited! I think it will help me develop stronger teaching muscles with experience from a new class and teaching for a new college. Plus, Brigham Young University - Idaho is where I went to school for my undergrad, so I love that it has come full circle.
So, if you're looking for another online writing class to take, I'd love to have you in one of my classes!
Some of you know that I teach creative writing classes for Rio Salado College. In about a month, I'll be adding to the variety of courses I teach, so if you're looking for an affordable way to develop your creative writing, consider taking one of my courses. Here's the breakdown:
1. CRW 170 - Introduction to Writing Fiction
This is a great starter class if you want a little refresher or you're starting from scratch. There are 14 weeks, and I love that the class allows you to write about whatever you want. So, each assignment will have requirements, like focusing on dialogue or point of view, but you can write about wizards, teenage drug use, or whatever floats your boat. This course will also have you analyze the short works of other authors, helping you pinpoint what works and what doesn't.
2. CRW 271 - Topics in Writing: Fiction
Improve your fiction writing with this course. This is for those who have already taken some of the 100-level classes or have enough writing experience. Just like the other class, you get to write about anything that interests you. No matter if you're working on a piece well before this class or you want to start something new, it's a fun class that can take your writing to the next level. Plus, sometimes you just need an excuse to write more. And homework is a great excuse.
3. CRW 274 - Revising the Novel
I'm particularly excited about this one. This is a new class for me, and it's a perfect fit. I'm currently revising my own novels, so I know it will be as useful to me as it is to my students. It will deal with everything from a novel's structure to dialogue. I still have to go through the course myself first, but I can't wait to get started on this one.
4. CRW 201 - Portfolio
This course centers on - you've guessed it! - creating a writing portfolio. This is for those students working toward their academic certificate in creative writing. You can take work from other classes and perfect the pieces. I loved my portfolio classes when I was in school. It's fun to see where you started and how far you've come.
Any of these online classes sound interesting? Find out more here.
Sometimes life has a way of raising you up to beautiful heights or knocking you down until you're flat on your face. When either one happens, it colors the following days. When it's a good experience, everything seems more vibrant and the world feels like a happier place.
When it's bad, it can color every experience after that with anger, frustration, sadness, or bitterness. I'm hoping not everyone has this problem, but, for me, I can't turn my brain off. I replay events over and over in my head. I can't focus. I can't sleep. I can't move on. I become stuck on the injustice and the bad actions of myself and others.
As a writer, here are two ways I've found to deal with these emotions that feel like they will chew you up and spit you back out.
Six years ago, I experienced a very traumatic medical event. It rocked my world. It crushed me. It felt as though it shattered my soul, and I still believe it was/is true. I didn't feel like I had anyone to really to talk to about it, not fully, at least. My negative feelings were eating me alive, and I was a wreck.
I turned toward journaling my raw feelings. First, it was in the form of blog posts, and then I turned it more private and just had a word doc on my laptop. I didn't censor myself. I didn't hold back. I just wrote what I felt. Simple as that.
And you know what? It helped. It let me put some of those feelings away because I had them on paper. Once they were on paper, they didn't have to be inside me, rotting away.
Another way to channel these emotions is to use the people/experiences as fodder or inspiration for a character or a story.
For example, I worked with this one guy years ago who was one of the most pompous and degrading people I had met - at least back then. This guy would haunt my thoughts and sometimes my work-related nightmares. He was so much like another person in my life at that time that I paired them together in my head and made them into a character in one of my novels.
Let me tell you... that was a lot of fun. I got to explore who they were as people (at least my interpretation of them) and put them where I felt they fit into the story. Those who have read that manuscript have told me that they could picture that character so clearly, that he was a great villain. I think it's because I wrote with real emotion when I created the character. I used real life as my inspiration, and because these actual people were so real to me, the character became so real to the reader. Plus, it helped me explore their motivations for behaving the way they did. It helped me understand them better. I didn't like them any better after, but I could understand why they acted out the way they did.
And now it looks like I'm back to this point with a recent life event. Several good friends suggested that I journal about my feelings, and I think that's a good start. But I decided I needed to take it a little further and develop a story around it. I thought about it for days and weeks, and three ideas finally hit me. Thank you, muses! I haven't started writing about it yet, but even just playing with these ideas in my head, I already feel a little better. I can't wait to use a person/several people to bring a new character to life. And I think it will help me understand more about them, too. If I need anything right now, it's understanding.
Plus, it's cheaper than therapy, right?
I'm an adjunct creative writing professor and freelance writer, but I dream of being a published novelist. This is my journey.