In the first essay of the book Ray Bradbury cuts right to the chase and gives us what I think of as his secret-of-life for a writer:
“If I were asked to name the most important items in a writer’s make-up, the things that shape his material and rush him along the road to where he wants to go, I could only warn him to look to his zest, see to his gusto.”
Zest and gusto; two words I don’t read very often. (Anyone else hear the jingle “zestfully clean!” in their head?)
It’s worth noting here that Bradbury “warns” the writer to look to zest and gusto. Writers are often encouraged to do things, or even just told to do things. For example, have you ever heard statements like these?
“If you want to know how to tighten up your prose then I encourage you to read more Hemingway.”
“You should set a schedule to write every day.”
“You should join a writers’ group.”
“Think about using less adverbs next time.”
But throughout this essay there is a sense that in order to truly experience “the joy of writing” the writer has to live dangerously. He talks about writing about what you “want more than anything else in the world,” and what you love and hate. He discusses the joy and humor in writing angrily, specifically in response to bad art, and encourages writers to “write out of pure indignation.”
Have you done this? Have you written out of hate? Or out of unbridled love? I have.
When it’s about love, it gets written in my journal. When it’s about hate, it’s sometimes written in an empty email, then quickly deleted; or again, in my journal. I view these writing sessions as mostly therapeutic (a word Bradbury would balk at). As I said in a previous post, writing like this is salve for a wound. When I’m writing about love, when my heart and head are full of bubbles and sunsets, the writing is no longer salve but an outlet for the boyish, fumbling prose that always accompanies infatuation.
And this is why I think Bradbury encourages us to live and write dangerously. Because no one wants their love letters and rants published, do they? (Okay, maybe some do.) But for the rest of us storytellers, we want the finest of our craft in print, not our emotional, cliche-filled first drafts. Bradbury has something to say in response to this too:
“The history of each story, then, should read almost like a weather report: Hot today, cool tomorrow. This afternoon, burn down the house. Tomorrow, pour cold critical water upon the simmering coals. Time enough to think and cut and rewrite tomorrow. But today – explode – fly apart – disintegrate! The other six or seven drafts are going to be pure torture. So why not enjoy the first draft, in the hope that your joy will seek and find others in the world who, reading your story, will catch fire, too?”
Interesting stuff. I’ve certainly experienced writing this way during the 3-Day Novel Contest. Most of my first drafts come out in long bouts of non-stop writing. How about you? I’m about as meticulous as a fire hose when I write a first draft.
Amid all this zest and gusto Bradbury makes one other point about creating interesting characters that I think is worth mentioning here:
“Find a character, like yourself, who will want something or not want something, with all his heart. Give him running orders. Shoot him off. Then follow as fast as you can go. The character, in his great love, or hate, will rush you through to the end of the story. The zest and gusto of his need, and there is zest in hate as well as in love, will fire the landscape and raise the temperature of your typewriter thirty degrees.”
So go on! You have the secret to a writer’s life. Burn your typewriters (and laptops)! And write dangerously!