Ray Bradbury was one of my earliest writer heroes. I read a lot of his work when I was a teenager and young man. Along with Asimov, Clarke, Aldiss, Heinlein and Wyndham he was one of the authors who created my love of science fiction.
I hadn’t come across this collection of essays aimed at other writers in the genre until a couple of weeks ago, when I happened on a post on the blog, ‘Books: Publishing, Reading, Writing’, about the blogger’s rereading of Zen in the Art of Writing. I was at once inspired to buy a copy.
More importantly, as a writer, I was inspired to read it. Ray Bradbury’s work is poetic, exciting, evocative, enthralling. So I assumed his ideas on writing would be as rewarding, and I was right.
The book consists of a series of dated essays that recount his experiences, influences, motivations and encounters as a writer. You will not find advice on technique or marketing, language or grammar, story structure or characterisation in these pages, although some of these topics are tangentially referred to along the way. This is a book about what it is to be a writer, what drives that urge to put words on paper, what matters to the author.
I’ve been writing fiction in various forms for more years than I care to consider. Without knowing it, I’ve approached my writing in the same way that Ray Bradbury approached his, except I lacked the luck to be writing in America at the time he started. It was the golden age of science fiction, when the reading public suddenly began to understand that science fiction, far from being a genre for kids who liked comic books, was and is actually a field full of ideas, questions and possible solutions. I was interested to note that Ray advises his readers of this book to acquire a copy of another of my favourite writing books; ‘Becoming a Writer’ by Dorothea Brande. Along with the more recent work by Stephen King, ‘On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft’, these are the only books I urge would-be authors to read before they attempt their first work.
Reading this book has re-ignited my early enthusiasm for writing. Not that I ever lost the urge, but that, over the years, the motivation can dim a little. Ray’s words of wisdom, written in his effortlessly poetic style, empower authors with his idea that the prime emotion you should feel when writing is excitement. If you feel this, the reader will be infected with the same exhilaration. And, it’s true. The emotional state of the writer seeps onto the page, no matter what the scene describes, how the character feels. It is the writer’s state of mind that creeps into the mind of the reader. That’s why honesty is fundamental to good fiction. Any attempt to dupe the reader with an author’s false feelings will seep onto the page and undo that effort.
I’m so pleased I came across this book. I wish I’d read it earlier. It’s good to know that, instinctively, I’ve been following Ray Bradbury’s advice and suggestions for much of my writing life, but reading this book has inspired me to renew my approach to the work of the author, to make sure I enjoy the work and pass on my enthusiasm to my readers. Thank you Ray Bradbury. I’ll now revisit your back catalogue and find the works of yours I didn’t read as a young man and see how many I can read now that I’m older.