Zen in the Art of Writing (3)

Ray Bradbury, Essays on CreativityRun Fast, Stand Still, or, The Thing at the Top of the Stairs, or New Ghosts from Old Minds

This is the second essay in Bradbury’s collection and the first to be heavily autobiographical. After quickly making his main point about how writers should write, Bradbury traces how he experienced it in his own career. Here’s his thesis:

“In quickness is truth. The faster you blurt, the more swiftly you write, the more honest you are. In hesitation is thought. In delay comes the effort for a style, instead of leaping upon truth which is the only style worth deadfalling or tiger-trapping.”

Bradbury then discusses how he “blundered”and “stumbled” into his unique writing voice. He says that when he was young he imitated his favorite authors to the point that he wasn’t writing anything new. In his efforts to write something fresh he began to create long lists of nouns that were important to him. (The Lake, The Night, The Crickets, etc.) From these lists he crafted his first stories that sold into magazines like “Weird Tales” and “Famous Fantastic Mysteries.” The nouns on the lists not only reflected important elements in his life, but they were also things that had his own stories attached to them. By using them as his creative catalyst to write stories he did not necessarily write biographical tales, but tales steeped in reality while being entirely fresh. (That’s my take on this essay anyway…)

What about you and me?

So, what does this mean for us? If I were to take Bradbury’s advice I would start keeping a list of nouns that have meant something in my life, and from the list stories based on my subconscious would emerge – but only if I write quickly, in the pursuit of truth rather than style.

Do you agree with this approach? It’s certainly unique. Although I love Bradbury I have a hard time believing this method is  the only method for writers to generate story ideas. That said, if I were to start my list of nouns today it would something like this:

  • gravel road
  • minivan
  • lake access
  • church basement
  • cereal bowls
  • the hammer
  • the barber
  • the books
What about you?
You can read a short story based on “the books” here. It’s the closest I’ve come to really capturing something meaningful from my life and weaving a fictional story around it.


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One thought on “Zen in the Art of Writing (3)

  1. Pingback: Thoughts on the 2011 Breathe Conference « Tell Better Stories

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