Ray Bradbury On Training as a Writer
How Ray Bradbury understood writing has more to do with athletics than literary genius
I was going through my zettelkasten notes on writing, and I rediscovered some notes I took on Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing. Bradbury doesn’t offer a whole lot of practical advice in his book, but he does provide a great deal of wisdom on what it takes to be a writer.
There’s one quote that’s stuck with me as I’ve developed my writing practice: “An athlete may run ten thousand miles in order to prepare for one hundred yards.”
One of the misconceptions I’ve had about other writers is that once we’ve reached a certain level of skill, we have to operate on that level at all times. The truth is that, like athletes, a writer’s skill exists within a spectrum. Like athletes, we have good days on the field and we have bad days. Like athletes, our writing sessions don’t fall in either category — most are right in the middle.
But most importantly, like athletes, writers spend most of their time training, not performing.
I’ve begun to realize that the point of a daily writing practice isn’t to create 100% incredible, glistening pearls of meaning during every session, or even during most sessions. The point of writing every day is to practice honing our voice, learning to speak truthfully in our fiction, so that when we do need to say something meaningful, we’re ready to perform.
The upper limit of shitty writing
There’s a piece of advice I got when I was in college: I have to write 10,000 words of “shitty writing” so that I can get to my “good writing.” While the intent is sound (“practice for volume, not quality”), the advice itself isn’t. Because I don’t have just 10,000 words of shitty writing in me, and even if I managed to write millions of words of shitty writing, I wouldn’t suddenly produce good work.
Instead, what happens is this: most days, the writing feels just okay. On some days, it feels like absolute dreck. On a few glittering days, you may write like the spirit of Homer himself was moving through you. These days happen seemingly at random, in no particular order.