How Ray Bradbury changed my life…
Ray Bradbury turned 91 years old on Monday. I wrote a heartfelt thank you to him on his Facebook page. I’m sure he has no idea how much he impacted my life.
I discovered Ray Bradbury late in life. I didn’t read Something Wicked This Way Comes and Fahrenheit 451 until my daughter was in high school. If you’ve never read these books, I highly recommend them! I stayed away from Ray Bradbury because I wasn’t a big sci-fi fan, but what I found was magic.
When you read Ray Bradbury’s words, you can feel his passion for storytelling. He weaves sentences together without grandiose metaphors and a lofty vocabulary, and yet they come together to make verses that stick with you long after you close the cover.
But his books weren’t what changed my life.
I was lucky enough to meet Ray Bradbury a few years ago. He could hardly hear, and he was confined to a wheelchair, but the moment he made eye contact with me, his spirit burned bright. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever met a person more “alive”. During his speech, he made me cry more than once. That’s how passionate he is about writing and about loving every single day you’re given.
After the standing ovation for his inspiring speech about the craft, I was introduced to this amazing man. I worried I would be tongue-tied, but his smile and the love and acceptance that brimmed in his eyes calmed any anxiety that brewed inside of me. I thanked him for his time and his encouraging words.
At that point I had completed two novels, and was completely discouraged with agent rejections. I asked Ray a simple question. “What can I do to improve my writing?”
I had anticipated he would recommend some books to me. Ray has written a couple of craft books himself. But his advice was this…
With a sparkle in his eyes he grinned and said, “Write a new short story every week for a year. In the end you’ll have stories to last a lifetime.”
That was it. No books, no classes, no quick fix.
Needless to say I ignored his advice. (Have I mentioned I’m a genius? LOL Yeesh!)
I had already sold a few short stories at that point. One of my stories had even been a finalist for a Bram Stoker award from the Horror Writer’s Association, but I knew I’d never be able to make a living at short stories. There’s very little money in it.
But his advice wasn’t about money.
A year slipped by. I wrote almost nothing other than query letters. The rejections stole my muse, or at least that’s the excuse I sold myself. Then one day I found a blogging group online that posted writing prompts once a week. The people were very welcoming, and I gave it a shot. I wrote a new short story that week. It took me all week to get it down and edited and ready to post.
God it felt SO good! I forgot how amazing it felt to write every day.
So the next week I wrote another story. I was about ten weeks into the exercise before I realized that I was going to go after Ray’s challenge. 52 stories in 52 weeks.
I learned something new every week. Some weeks I struggled with the story and had to force myself to get it done by my deadline, and other weeks, I was ready early. As the year wore on, my writing got much tighter and I could flesh out an idea in half the time it took me in the beginning. I also learned to research and fact-check without letting it steal my writing time.
In fact, during my 52 week challenge I wrote a novel while writing a new story every week. I couldn’t believe it.
And after the year was finished, I kept writing short stories while I wrote another novel, and I realized something amazing. Ray Bradbury knew EXACTLY what he was talking about. When he gave me that advice, I didn’t want to work that hard.
I was writing to try to “sell” it. By the end of the year, I was writing because I “loved” it. Huge difference.
I also learned there isn’t a recipe. There’s no magic pill. Writing is a craft, like painting and drawing and singing. You can’t get better without practice. Lots of practice.
I also learned that when you love the craft, it shows in your work. The love comes through in your verses and your words without any conscious effort on your part, and the love becomes that elusive “voice” publishers are always talking about.
Love makes magic. If I hadn’t met Ray Bradbury, I’m not sure I would have persevered and kept chasing my publishing dream. He made all the difference in my writing with his one simple challenge.
Happy Birthday Ray!!!
And thank you…
PS – In September, I’ll be teaching an online class through Savvy Authors on Using Flash Fiction to find your Voice. I think there are still a few spots left. It’ll be very hands on for 4 weeks. A new story each week… You’ll be on your way! :) Hope to see you there…
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