Ray Bradbury On the Joy of Writing

3 07 2017

“You write to please yourself. You write for the joy of writing. And then your public reads you and it begins to gather around…The enthusiasm, the joy itself draws me — so that means, every day of my life, I’ve written. When the joy stops, I’ll stop writing.”

Suggested Resources:

Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity (Ray Bradbury)

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (Stephen King)

 

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Indulge Your Instinct to Create

28 09 2013

CreativityI believe that every human being who is living or has ever lived was made in the image of God, the Creator.  I believe this, first of all, because I am a Christian and believe the biblical record that says God made man in His own image.

From that reality follows certain things.  We are moral creatures, capable of choosing good or evil.   We have personality and intellect, heart and soul, drive and ambition, capacity and ability.

And creativity.  Like Creator, like creation.

Yesterday’s post, unpacking a quote by bestselling author Stephen King, highlighted the importance of reading as preparation for writing.  King’s goal, without a doubt, is to stimulate literary creativity.  He wants writers to write and to do so with skill.

I think I need to bring a necessary balance.

One might be left with the unfortunate conclusion, having read King’s quote, that unless one is a reader, especially an avid one, he or she ought not try to write.  Following on that logic, unless one has music or art lessons—especially “proper” ones—one ought not try to draw, paint, sculpt, or play piano.  Really?

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Training in the arts is often helpful.  It gives one exposure to the best that creatives have offered fellow human beings throughout our history.  Such training often helps us along with instruction in techniques, interpretation, style, and grace.

But sometimes such training, though well-intentioned, has had the effect of stifling or even truncating one’s gifts.  Not all the time for sure, but too often.

The creative instinct is by nature a wild, exuberant, and wonderful thing.  It tends to defy a leash and, indeed, often withers by such an attachment.  It was because he thought about the universe as a child, rather than as a scientist, that Albert Einstein formulated his theories of relativity (General and Special).

What to do then?  Simple.  Write!  Draw!   Play!  Compose!  Sculpt!  Act!  Do so with wild abandon.  There’s little you cannot do unless someone tells you that you can’t.  That’s not the purpose of this blog.  My biggest regrets have come by believing I couldn’t do something significant because someone older and “wiser” told me I couldn’t.

And as for training?  Think it through and do so carefully.  If it enhances the gifts you’ve been given, then try it out.  If not, continue creating and let the snowflakes layer the ground where they will.

Most of all, enjoy the ride.  There’s nothing quite like creating, inventing, and reimagining.  It is, in fact, a divine partnership with the One who made you.

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Reading and Its Importance For Writers

27 09 2013

CA: Premiere Of Paramounts' Remake Of "The Manchurian Candidate" - Arrivals

“You have to read widely, constantly refining (and redefining) your own work as you do so. It’s hard for me to believe that people who read very little (or not at all in some cases) should presume to write and expect people to like what they have written, but I know it’s true. If I had a nickel for every person who ever told me he/she wanted to become a writer but “didn’t have time to read,” I could buy myself a pretty good steak dinner. Can I be blunt on this subject? If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” (Stephen King)

When I first read this quote, I thought it a little harsh, candidly.  But as I’ve chewed on it over the past year or so, I think it is a statement of reality.

I’m a voracious reader.  If you’ve visited The Upside regularly, you know that.  So I am not intimidated by Stephen King’s perspective on the importance of reading as preparation for effective writing.  Why?

I am a musician.  I play guitar and piano.  In fact, I’ve been playing guitar since 1976.  I acquired my chops by learning the songs and imitating the styles of my heroes—Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Phil Keaggy, etc.  Imitation, in writing as in music and an array of other disciplines, is the way we learn and then cultivate our own voice, our own style.  What we see modeled, we emulate.

So, is King’s observation fair?

I think it is.  His excellent and hilarious book—from which the above quote is taken—On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, details his own development as a writer and the importance reading played in his own life, inspiring him to write.  It is an insightful and easy read.  Just the other night, I laughed myself to tears as I worked through about eighty pages.  Stephen King is one of the most unpretentious writers one will ever meet.

Confession:  Though I’ve read most of his book on writing, I’ve not yet read one of his novels.  But I’m sure I will.

But why is reading important for an aspiring writer?  Simply this.  For one, you are exposed to information and perspective which you’d otherwise have not considered.  But more to the point, reading is apprenticeship.  An apprentice learns his or her craft, whatever it is, by sitting at the feet or standing beside a master or mistress of the same.  We learn by what is modeled to us.  To avoid reading is to diminish perspective and stunt growth in skill.

It is interesting to me that John Wesley once told the Methodist ministers under his leadership either to read or leave the ministry.  Was he being harsh?  Uppity?  Not at all.  He just knew that failure to read was to leave oneself vulnerable to the prison of a very narrow perspective: One’s own.  Same with King.

Illiteracy is certainly a problem in our land.  And, to be fair and charitable, reading does not come with ease or delight to all.  But you must keep at it.  We have at our disposal these days all sorts of vehicles that deliver us information—books, blogs, websites, audio and video files.  Whatever you do, if you are a communicator with an audience, you must learn and process information, perspective, and style.  There are no shortcuts.

So…if you’re not reading and learning and growing, begin now.  You’ll be pleased with the results in your writing and in your life.

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“Inspiration” and Discipline

12 07 2013

segovia_with_ramirezI’ve been thinking lately about  creativity, being “inspired” and self-discipline.  There’s a common misconception afoot that creativity comes primarily or solely in moments of unsolicited inspiration.  And that, somehow, to go about one’s art in a methodical and disciplined way is to stifle creativity.

But this is simply not true.  Inspiration and self-discipline are not enemies.

They are friends.

Consider the output of creative geniuses of our time and of history.

Father of the classical guitar, Andres Segovia used to practice five hours a day up until his death in 1987.  I saw him give a recital at the University of Michigan in 1986 and he was still performing like a virtuoso.  And he was 93 years old at the time.  Ninety-three.

Author Dan Brown gets up at 4 AM every single day and writes.  Every day.  Mega best-selling novelist Stephen King writes 10 pages every day.

Oscar Hammerstein II, the great Broadway lyricist, used to work regularly in the upstairs portion of his home from 8 to 3 PM.  Every day.  He insisted his wife keep the volume level of the children down during his work period so it didn’t interfere.  He had, by comparison with all his work, a handful of really successful musicals on which he collaborated.  But people will be singing his lyrics hundreds of years from now.

Leonardo da Vinci made sketches of human hands thousands of times before painting the Mona Lisa.

Someone once asked a famous composer, “What comes first, the music or the lyrics?”  His answer? “The phone call.”  All this to say that an artist simply cannot wait to “be inspired.”  The greatest artists have been disciplined practitioners of their craft.  They saw no dichotomy between inspiration and steady production.  Kiss of the Muse and a regular schedule.  And no panic when the phone call comes.

Can shifting your perspective even a little in this area improve both the output and quality of your work?  You will discover that creativity tends to favor the diligent as does opportunity!

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The Habits of Successful Writers

7 07 2013

writers-and-their-habitsWriters are an interesting tribe of people.  They often have the strangest habits.  They are all unique and quirky.  I’m fascinated by the stories writers tell about how they ply their trade.

Consider Ralph McInerny, for instance.  McInerny was a philosophy professor at University of Notre Dame for over fifty years.  He emerged from academic obscurity as the writer of the famous Father Dowling mysteries, a series so engaging that it was eventually made into a television series starring Tom Bosley of Happy Days fame.  He wrote other novels with different protagonists and settings, as well as numerous philosophical treatises, an adjunct of his day job.  He was a prolific and multifaceted craftsman.

McInerny became focused on writing in the early 1960’s.  At that time, he was teaching at Notre Dame, had a large family, and had just bought a new home.  As a result, he was financially overextended and needed to earn extra money to make ends meet.  He’d done some writing before, selling stories to magazines, but had never taken the idea of being a writer seriously.

So, facing a recurrent financial squeeze, he set himself up into an apprenticeship in writing.  Each night after the children had gone to bed, he went into his basement and pecked away on a manual typewriter from 10 PM to 2 AM.  Every night for a year.  Though pooped after a long day, he said about going to his subterranean writing desk, “It was as if the sun came up and it was a new day.  I just loved it.”  He tells the story of his writer’s apprenticeship here.

He did this for a year, having determined from the outset that, if he didn’t sell anything by the year’s end, he’d find a different way to moonlight.

He published over fifty books before he died three years ago at age eighty.

I’m inspired by hard work like this.  Here are some curious habits of some well-known writers:

  • Ernest Hemingway wrote every day for six hours.  Sober.  His average output being about 500 words.
  • Truman Capote always wrote reclining on a couch.
  • Stephen King writes ten pages a day.
  • Dan Brown rises at 4 AM and writes.  Seven days a week.
  • George Will writes his editorials with a fountain pen.
  • Vladimir Nabokov wrote his novels on index cards.
  • Daniel Silva writes all the first drafts of his novels in longhand on yellow legal pads in pencil.

What writers inspire you in your creative tasks?  What are their habits?

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Habits of Successful Writers

3 01 2013

Writers and Their HabitsWriters are an interesting lot of people.  They often have the strangest habits.  They are all unique and quirky.  I’m fascinated by the stories writers tell about how they ply their trade.

Consider Ralph McInerny, for instance.  McInerny was a philosophy professor at University of Notre Dame for over fifty years.  He emerged from academic obscurity as the writer of the famous Father Dowling mysteries, a series so engaging that it was eventually made into a television series starring Tom Bosley of Happy Days fame.  He wrote other novels with different protagonists and settings, as well as numerous philosophical treatises, an adjunct of his day job.  He was a prolific and multifaceted craftsman.

McInerny became focused on writing in the early 1960’s.  At that time, he was teaching at Notre Dame, had a large family, and had just bought a new home.  As a result, he was financially overextended and needed to earn extra money to make ends meet.  He’d done some writing before, selling stories to magazines, but had never taken the idea of being a writer seriously.

So, facing a recurrent financial squeeze, he set himself up into an apprenticeship in writing.  Each night after the children had gone to bed, he went into his basement and pecked away on a manual typewriter from 10 PM to 2 AM.  Every night for a year.  Though pooped after a long day, he said about going to his subterranean writing desk, “It was as if the sun came up and it was a new day.  I just loved it.”  He tells the story of his writer’s apprenticeship here.

He did this for a year, having determined from the outset that, if he didn’t sell anything by the year’s end, he’d find a different way to moonlight.

He published over fifty books before he died three years ago at age eighty.

I’m inspired by hard work like this.  Here are some curious habits of some well-known writers:

  • Ernest Hemingway wrote every day for six hours.  Sober.  His average output being about 500 words.
  • Truman Capote always wrote reclining on a couch.
  • Stephen King writes ten pages a day.
  • Dan Brown rises at 4 AM and writes.  Seven days a week.
  • George Will writes his editorials with a fountain pen.
  • Vladimir Nabokov wrote his novels on index cards.
  • Daniel Silva writes all the first drafts of his novels in longhand on yellow legal pads in pencil.

What writers inspire you in your creative tasks?  What are their habits?

Image Credit





Creativity and Discipline

22 11 2012

I’ve been thinking about  creativity, being “inspired” and self-discipline.  There’s a common misconception afoot that creativity comes primarily or solely in moments of unsolicited inspiration.  And that, somehow, to go about one’s art in a methodical and disciplined way is to stifle creativity.

But this is simply not true.  Inspiration and self-discipline are not enemies.

They are friends.

Consider the output of creative geniuses of our time and of history.

Father of the classical guitar, Andres Segovia used to practice five hours a day up until his death in 1987.  I saw him give a recital at the University of Michigan in 1986 and he was still performing like a virtuoso.  And he was 93 years old at the time.  Ninety-three.

Author Dan Brown gets up at 4 AM every single day and writes.  Every day.  Mega best-selling novelist Stephen King writes 10 pages every day.

Oscar Hammerstein II, the great Broadway lyricist, used to work regularly in the upstairs portion of his home from 8 to 3 PM.  Every day.  He insisted his wife keep the volume level of the children down during his work period so it didn’t interfere.  He had, by comparison with all his work, a handful of really successful musicals on which he collaborated.  But people will be singing his lyrics hundreds of years from now.

Leonardo da Vinci made sketches of human hands thousands of times before painting the Mona Lisa.

Someone once asked a famous composer, “What comes first, the music or the lyrics?”  His answer? “The phone call.”  All this to say that an artist simply cannot wait to “be inspired.”  The greatest artists have been disciplined practitioners of their craft.  They saw no dichotomy between inspiration and steady production.  Kiss of the Muse and a regular schedule.  And no panic when the phone call comes.

Can shifting your perspective even a little in this area improve both the output and quality of your work?  You will discover that creativity tends to favor the diligent as does opportunity!

Image Credit