I am tardy in noting the passing of Ray Bradbury last week. In addition to enjoying his many fine works over the years, I owe Bradbury the one piece of advice that has made all the difference in my own approach to writing. I never met him, though my mother, who published one romance novel in the mid-1970s, got to have lunch with Bradbury once. Having just read Fahrenheit 451 in high school, I was immensely jealous that I couldn’t tag along, so I quizzed mom for everything the great man said. I’ve forgotten everything she told me about lunch except this:
He said, “Anyone who wants to be a writer should write at least 1,000 words a day. Every day.”
That was Bradbury’s practice, and it eventually became mine. It turns out to be the only way to get a long book written (or even a short one for that matter). You stay at your writing pad or keyboard until you get 1,000 words down. Before word processing programs with word count functions, it would be about two and half pages on the single-spaced, narrow-ruled yellow pads that I liked to use. Some days this goes quickly and smoothly; other days, it takes all day and much agony and involves many false starts and dead ends.
Needless to say, this discipline is ideal for the new world of blogging.
Our friends over at ImaginativeConservative.com (which is presided over by Prog Rocker Brad Birzer) have reprinted an appreciation of Bradbury from Russell Kirk, written way back in 1968. Worth reading the whole thing, but this paragraph in particular brought back a certain memory:
Some librarians, too, have taken alarm. Bradbury’s stories are disturbing! No disturbances can be permitted in this perfect American culture of ours. In error, a company which distributes educational books included among a consignment of books for children one copy of Fahrenheit 451. A female librarian detected this work of heresy, and fired off a letter of furious protest to the wholesaler. How dared they send such a dreadful book? “I took it right out in back and burned it.” Tomorrow is already here.
I don’t recall exactly how, but some time in junior high school (as we called “middle school” back then), I think maybe around the sixth or seventh grade I recall, I got the idea that I wanted to read Fahrenheit 451, and found it in the town library. But when I took it to the checkout counter, the librarian wouldn’t let me have it. She tried to talk me into several other science fiction books. When I finally got to read the book—assigned ironically for a high school English class—a few years later, I couldn’t figure out what the fuss had been about. Little did I realize it was my first encounter with political correctness, long before the phenomenon became known as such.
P.S. When I told my high school English teacher that my mom had gotten to have lunch with Bradbury, she told me that she’d give me an A in the class if I could get Bradbury to come to the high school to give a talk. It turned out that Bradbury didn’t drive—he never even got a driver’s license—which was almost unheard-of in Los Angeles, and the opposite of what you’d expect from a science fiction writer.