‘Zen in the Joy of Writing’ chapter ‘Run Fast, Stand Still’

Actually, this chapter had a much longer title, but I didn’t want to cause my blog to crash due to too long of a title.

As a writer, there are times to run very fast and other times to stand very still. Running fast is what you have to do when you get a great story idea. In fact, that’s why I almost always have a pen and notebook on me at all times–even when I shower.

Ok, I’m kidding about having those in the shower.

You do get what I’m saying: nothing stinks worse than to be some place, observe something and come up with a great idea for a story, book, magazine article, column or blog posting. When this has happened to me and I’ve been without pen and paper, more times than I care to admit I’ve forgotten them later.

When you have the idea, Mr. Bradbury says, write down everything you can. Omit nothing. Assume everything’s vital, even thoughts that make no sense.

I like to visit the FBI’s website and study the 10 Most Wanted list. A year ago, I started wondering what would happen if one of the men on the list were ever recognized during their ventures of trying to live off the grid. Then Writer’s Digest had a prompt about a tragedy happening at a local swimming hole. Writing down a few notes about a character loosely based on Robert William Fisher, I came up with the short story Final Swim at Poesta Pond. It didn’t win, but it was an enjoyable story to write.

Mr. Bradbury adds that when taking things slow, use it to observe and develop a style. Read, read, read. Read what’s popular, read what’s not, read what you don’t necessarily like. Read heavily in the genres that interest you and work to develop your own style. Pay close attention so you can see how good writing’s done and why bad writing’s bad, and also to avoid doing what’s already been done.

One must wonder if actor Darryl Hannah loves to write. Rumor has it, she loves to sit in public places and observe people. Actually, not only is there nothing wrong with this, but Hannah’s habit is one a good writer should also do. Observing people, what they say, how the say it, how they look, how they dress, their mannerisms, is an excellent way to sharpen your description skills as you write. Of course, you must do this in a way where the police or an overprotective boyfriend doesn’t come up and demand to know what you’re doing!

Sometimes, Mr. Bradbury notes, good–perhaps even great–writing stumbles upon you. You write and you’re done before you even know it. He remarks that a few stories took hours to write. Wow. Considering this was in the day before word processors, this is remarkable. It makes me wonder if one of my favorite Bradbury short stories, Marionettes, Incorporated, was one of these: the story flows so well and reads so fast it seems like it must’ve flown from the typewriter. It can be as easy as one to four thoughts that are written very quickly. Write it fast and worry about revisions later.

Mr. B also encourages prospective writers to read the greats of literature and from that to develop their own style. Shakespeare, Coleridge, Poe, Hawthorne, Cather, Alcott, Lovecraft, Bradbury (he doesn’t mention his own name, but I’d certainly throw it in there), Asimov, Pohl, Turtledove, Milton, Faulkner, and, more recently, King, Crichton and one of my new faves, Bova.

Finally, in this chapter Mr. Bradbury observes that life experiences can make great story ideas. A terrifying ride on a merry-go-round when he was a child eventually led to his masterpiece novel Something Wicked This Way Comes. A childhood fascination with skeletons led to his short story Skeleton (a fascinating mix of suspense, thriller and dark humor).

Next, we’ll blog about Mr. Bradbury’s observations on muses.

Richard Zowie’s a writer who hopes to add this book to his collection someday. Post comments here or e-mail richardzowie@gmail.com.

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