Confession: I hate this quote. I just think it’s silly and meaningless.
There are so many of these quotes from Bradbury, though, because he is one of the most influential American writers ever and he has, well, very quotable advice for writers. He is probably best known for Fahrenheit 451and The Martian Chronicles, but has written 27 novels and over 600 short stories. He even has an award in his name for excellence in screenwriting—The Ray Bradbury Award. On his death in 2012, The New York Times called Bradbury “the writer most responsible for bringing modern science fiction into the literary mainstream.”
For our seventh installment of Advice from Famous Writers, here is Ray Bradbury near the end of his life in 2009. The sound quality is not great, but the advice is. It’s a very short video and I want to call out only two short quotes, although the story that ends the video is fun.
“Do what you love and love what you do.”
This is beautiful. It immediately brings to mind two of my favorite quotes. The first is from John Wooden: “Things turn out best for those who make the best out of the ways things turn out.” The second is a mantra my father has always had: “You can either find a way to do what you love for your job, or learn to love the job that you’re doing.”
If you love writing, do it.
Here, I’ll make it easy for you to add to more Bradbury quotes on the internet.
“Don’t do anything for money… You cannot write for people for money. You must write for yourself.'”
All of us aspire to be well-paid, best selling authors. We dream of the day that the royalties will be pouring in. Bradbury’s advice is poignant to this fact.
Yes, while we want to make a good living as authors, that can’t be the reason that we write. You must write first for yourself and no one else. If you don’t write for yourself, your writing will be empty.
It’s been awhile since we’ve had an edition of Writing Advice from Famous Authors. This time, it’s not just one author, but many bestselling authors speaking on a panel at SLCC (Salt Lake Comic Con). Let’s jump right into it with Frank Bedder, Platte F. Clark, James Dasher, Michael Jensen, Shannon Messenger, Jennifer Nielsen, and James A. Owen.
Here they are in late 2016:
“Go out and find your favorite book…that book that you were reading over and over again, the book that made you want to become a writer, get a fresh copy of that book and highlight every single scene that you love… Ask yourself why does this work?”
I love this advice. The key to Nielsen’s is advice is the final question. Why does this work? The goal is to understand why this book is your favorite. The goal is to understand why and how your favorite author did what she did. Once you know that, once you understand why you loved that book in the first place, you’ll know exactly what you want to write in your own book.
“I wrote [my book] thinking ‘I’m just going to write what I think will be funny for me to read to my kids.’ …That served me the best because I wasn’t true to anything other than my own voice and what I wanted to do.”
The hardest and most necessary thing for an author to do, especially one that’s just starting out, is to find his voice. It takes painstaking work and it takes constant vigilance. Like Clark says here, you need to be true to your voice or the reader is going to see right through you.
“When I’m writing and I’m into it and I have a really good scene, I don’t ever finish it. I put it down at the end of the day so the next morning when I start writing again I know exactly what I’m going to start writing.”
I’ve never heard this advice before, but I think it’s a brilliant trick. How many times have you been so excited about a scene that you wrote and wrote and wrote well into the night? It’s amazing when it happens, right? But what about the next morning? It was hard to find that same vigor wasn’t it? Beddor’s advice gives you the perfect place to start your writing day when this happens. Most likely, it will give you renewed energy and excitement when you jump back into that scene the next morning too.
If it’s been said once, it’s been said a thousand times. The best trait a writer can have is perseverance. Don’t quit. Don’t write just half a book. Don’t write just a chapter. Finish what you start. Owen goes on to say, “No one ever writes a great book. You write a book that you can fix.” His point is that you can’t fix an unfinished book. You can’t get editor and reader feedback on an incomplete work. Finish what you start!
There’s some great tips from the other authors in there as well. Like Shannon Messenger’s reminder that if you’re writing YA, the kids need to be the heroes, not the adults. Or James Dashner’s advice that the characters in your stories are more important than anything else.
What advice did you find the most helpful? What advice did you hear and have that AHA moment?
Our next installment of Writing Advice from Famous Authors comes from the smart, witty, and hilarious John Hodgman. You may have seen Hodgman’s work on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart or heard his very funny podcast Judge John Hodgman. If you haven’t, then at the very least, you know him as PC in Apple’s “Get a Mac” advertising campaign back in in 2006. You have probably also seen his writing on countless shows and didn’t even know it.
“People who keep submitting, and keep doing it, and keep making are statiscally much more likely to be successful than the people that are just merely super talented.'”
This advice is spot on. I recall a time about 10 years ago when a close friend of mine was worried about “making it” in his chosen profession. I explained to him that he has a huge leg up because he’s not crazy and he’s educated. That puts him at a huge advantage from the get go. Now just work harder than his peers and he’ll be just fine, which is even easier since many of our peer group seem to recoil from hard work.
Although I don’t think of myself as one, I’m right at that first year of where people say millennials begin. There are a lot of stereotypes about millennials, but stereotypes are stereotypes for a reason. I have found many 20-somethings and 30-somethings are afraid to put in the effort required day-in and day-out. That means if you are willing to do that work, you’re at a distinct advantage to be successful. Even if you’re an author in your 40s, 50s, 60s, or even 70s, you still have a distinct advantage if you’re willing to work harder and persevere longer than the next writer.
Hodgman’s advice here sounds strikingly similar to advice we heard from Ta-Nehisi Coates in our first Writing Advice from Famous Authors from last August where he voiced how much he believed writing is about perseverance. Keep working hard; keep writing. If you want to be a successful writer, work harder and write more.
John Hodgman’s chart on how to be a successful writer.
You already have a leg up on the crazy people and most super talented people (the geniuses) won’t work as hard as you, that leaves you competing with the Medium to Low Talented people. Work harder and work more often than them.
“It’s not enough to write what you know. You have to know interesting things.”
This is a great line. On display with this line is some of Hodgman’s trademark wit. The truth contained within this sentence is that if you want to be a successful writer, you have to continue to experience life. No one wants to read about how you watched the latest episode of This is Us. That’s not interesting.
“You also have to know what you know, and I think that’s even the hardest thing.”
I was really struck by this. It sounds obvious, but it’s in fact very complex. Most people don’t actually know what they think they know. They haven’t examined their experiences and their beliefs enough. As a writer, you need to really go to the heart of the matter and challenge those things that you know. That’s when the written word becomes interesting.
I am reminded of the famous line from Socrates at the trial for his life (from Plato’s Apology): “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
As writer’s, we have to examine everything, and then once we’ve finished examining them, challenge what we’ve come to know to be true.
“You have to know what it is that is driving you to do this completely narcissistic and asocial act of creating.”
This is another sentence that puts Hogdman’s wit and humor on display. There’s always truth in his comedy, though.
The comedy, in my mind, is labeling the writer as narcissistic and asocial. Any writer can identify with the humor in that.
The truth, however, is the need to understand what is driving you to write in the first place.
It doesn’t have to be only one thing, and it doesn’t have to be the exact same thing year-in and year-out, but you should always know what that thing that’s driving you is at any given point in time. If you don’t, you’ll become lost in your writing efforts. If you don’t know what’s driving you to write, you will fail to work harder than the next person and put your success in jeopardy.
In our fourth edition of Writing Advice from Famous Authors, we bask in the writerly wisdom that Anne Rice has to offer. If you don’t know Anne Rice—and even if you think you don’t, you still probably know of her—she is a fascinating author, and quite a successful one at that. Here’s how her wikipedia page describes her writing: “[Rice] is an American author of gothic fiction, Christian literature, and erotica.”
Wait, what? Yep, she has published books in all three of those genres. Brilliant.
Anne Rice may be best known for her debut novel Interview With the Vampire, a book that was rejected time and again for three years before finally seeing the light of day and getting published in 1976. It went on to become a bestseller. Any of you out there that are feeling down because of all the rejections we hear as writers, know that even some of the great books and great authors have walked the same plight. one of the best traits a writer can have is perseverance.
Rice also wrote the bestselling Exit to Eden, another book adapted to become a major motion picture, under the pseudonym Anne Rampling. She has sold nearly 100 million copies of her books, making her one of the most successful American authors in recent history. Needless to say, we can probably learn a thing or two from her about writing.
Here is Anne Rice in 2012. The video is a little long in the tooth, but there is some excellent advice to be gleaned.
“Write. What makes a writer is writing.”
If you’re a long time reader of Nothing Any Good, you know that this is probably the main tenant I wish for everyone to take away from here. Write.
Yes, review, read, edit, learn, ask questions, and on and on, but it’s all a waste of time if you don’t actually write. The best way to learn how to become a better writer is to write. It’s the Malcolm Gladwell 10,000-hour rule. Write as much as you can!
Rice goes on to say, “Writing to a person like me and asking for advice is, in a way, a waste of time.”
Harsh, but true. Asking for writing advice is, often times, a form of procrastination. We all do it. We all have clever ways to feel like we’re working when we’re not in fact writing. Asking for writing advice is one of them.
This is important advice. For a brand new writer, it’s probably second nature to save your pages. You haven’t written very much at all, so the pages you have written are precious. You would never dream of tossing them out, (or deleting them from your computer).
For the more seasoned writer, you know that there are days or weeks or even months where you feel everything you write is garbage. You just hate what you’re churning out. Don’t delete it.
Resist the impulse to chuck it and start anew. You never know when it will become worthwhile again. It may not be useful for the manuscript on which you’re currently working, but at some point, maybe years down the line, you may find that it sparks new life into your writing and is quite valuable indeed.
“Every year somebody makes it to the bestseller list who started out…in their bedroom writing late at night.”
Never forget this. It’s good to have dreams. Again, one of the greatest traits of a successful writer is perseverance.
“The publishing world today is crying for new voices, new visions, new stories, new characters.”
I find that quite often Indie Authors are trying to emulate another author’s voice. Reading a lot is great. Gleaning writing tactics from other successful authors is advisable. Trying to copy another author’s voice, however, is a surefire way to waste everyone’s time.
As Rice says, nobody wants “somebody that sounds just like Anne Rice, or Stephen King, or Oscar Wilde, or Danielle Steele. They want an original voice.”
Find your voice. Become your own author. Don’t copy someone else in order to try and “make it.” You’ll fail. Trust me, you’ll fail. Readers don’t want a copycat.
“Go where the pain is.”
I love this. This is wonderful advice. It’s something that we should probably follow in our daily lives as well, but certainly as writers. We avoid pain too much as writers. In fact, I like this so much that I tweeted out something similar last week before I even knew Anne Rice had offered the same advice.
When you start to write the things that make you uncomfortable, you've made a breakthrough. #amwriting#writerslife
Don’t avoid the uncomfortable subjects. Find that pain and write about it.
“Go where the pleasure is.”
Rice says, “Write the book that’s interesting to you.” Then later explains that if the book becomes boring to you, don’t give up on it, think about “what do I have to do to make it exciting to me.”
I think we often times forget this as authors, particularly the part about becoming discouraged once the book we’re writing begins to bore us. Instead of going where the pleasure is, we try to just plow through and make it work. We would all, writer and reader alike, be better off if us authors asked ourselves more often, “Is this interesting to me?”
“Never revise [your] book because you got a rejection from an editor with a bunch of negative advice.”
This advice was quite profound to me. It may seem obvious and simple, but I think that’s what makes it so wonderful.
Advice from someone that hates your work isn’t going to be good advice. They clearly don’t get it. Don’t change anything to try and please them. It’s a waste of time because they either aren’t your target reader or they didn’t give your book a fair shake. Any advice they give is going to be advice that leads your book astray.
Rice goes on to say, “Wait until you get a letter from an editor that says, ‘We really love your book. We’d like to publish it, but do you think…'”
That’s when you take the advice to heart. That’s when the advice is going to have the best interest of your writing in mind. By all means welcome that kind of advice with open arms, but reject the advice of the editor that hates your work from the start.
I really love this.
“The only thing between you and realizing your dreams as a writer is yourself.”
This is a perfect place to end and it brings us back full circle. Rice begins by telling us to write and finishes with a variation on the same advice.
Being a writer is one of the only professions that is completely accessible to you right now at this very moment. The only thing stopping you is your belief that you can do it. Sit down and write. You can do it.
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