Thursday, January 01, 2015

The Bradbury Project: An Introduction

So this was going around the Web a couple of weeks ago: Ray Bradbury Gives 12 Pieces of Advice to Young Writers. Now, I long ago aged out of the “young writer” demographic — though I still feel that I’m a beginner, and if God is good to me I suppose I always shall — but there’s a lot of good stuff here for anyone, at any stage of their career.

I’ve been on a bit of a Bradbury kick since late last year anyway. My annual Halloween reread of Something Wicked This Way Comes (inspiration for this mixtape from the Popdose Conceptual Theater of the Airwaves) was a forcible reminder of his considerable strengths and equally considerable weaknesses. His long slide into right-wing crankdom was sad, but hardly unprecedented; even leaving aside the long screed of Fahrenheit 451, you can discern traces of bitter judgmentalism in those early shockers, where he was apt to insinuate that it was perfectly okay to murder someone if they didn’t love the same books that you loved. The fact remains that as an imaginist, Bradbury is nearly unparalleled; as a stylist, though, he’s a distinctly mixed bag. At its best, his prose has a kind of lucent poetry to it — but when he stumbles, boy howdy! Vague and prolix.

The failings in others that bother us most are the ones that we fear we might share, and the remedy they find (if any) might be the one that we seek. Bradbury is at his best — the power of his ideas is best matched with, but not overwhelmed by, the vividness of his prose — in his short stories. So this piece of advice at the top of the list really jumped out at me:

Begin your writing life ... by cranking out “a hell of a lot of short stories,” as many as one per week. Take a year to do it; [Bradbury] claims that it simply isn’t possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row. 
narrows eyes
hitches up belt

Mister, I’ll take that challenge.

Look. The Honeythief is out in the world now, a feral thing learning to tolerate the company of human beings before I bring it out to society in the months to come; I’m pondering my next long fiction project while keeping busy with contract work and freelance proofreading, and nursing a general unhappiness with the slack tone of my fiction muscle. It’s grown accustomed to the slow lope of a novel; I want to tighten it for the sprint.

So here’s the idea for the exercise: One new short story per week — most likely very short — in this space, for one year or as long as I can manage it. (I’m painfully aware that I barely made it to 100 days on a long-ago attempt at 40x365.) Stakes so low as to be non-existent. I’m not going to write anything that’s purposely terrible, but I’m not gonna lose any sleep sweating the content, either. The important thing is just to do it. It’s about the process, not the product. And if nothing else comes from it, I will have written a bunch of short stories.

I don’t know that Uncle Ray was entirely right. I have a suspicion that it is all too possible to write 52 shitty stories, one after another; but I do believe that you can’t write 52 stories in a row, however awful, without learning a thing or two.

And learning — that’s what being a beginner is all about.

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