The fourth essay in Ray Bradbury’s book, Zen in the Art of Writing, is the best title ever: “Drunk, and In Charge of a Bicycle”. To my writer’s mind, it opens up all kinds of questions. And, I suppose, in a round about way, this is how Bradbury was able to create so many short stories. He writes about his fascinations with dinosaurs, carnivals, the scary, and the bizarre. He wrote down nouns, allowed one to lead to another, and then, because his subconscious had been percolating ideas and wonderment for years, speed wrote story after story. He submitted them to many literary journals, then expanded to write novels and screenplays.
He states, “But how did it begin? Starting in Mr. Electrico’s year, I wrote a thousand words a day. For ten years I wrote at least one short story a week, somehow guessing that a day would finally come when I truly got out of the way and let it happen.” If we’re going to be a writer, we must write. A thousand words a day, more or less, gives us the practice of not only the basics of composing sentences, but becoming intimately familiar with how our Muse shows up, what makes her dance, and what creates walls that keep her locked inside. From my own experience, I can attest that writing time consistently means keeping the gates open, the words flowing. The more often I take breaks, and the longer the breaks are, the more difficult it becomes to return to that place of creativity. Bradbury agrees with me. “My ideas drove me to it, you see. The more I did, the more I wanted to do. You grow ravenous. You run fevers. You know exhilarations. You can’t sleep at night, because your beast-creature ideas want out and turn you in you bed. It is a grand way to live.”
“…like every beginner, I thought you could beat, pummel, and thrash an idea into existence. Under such treatment, of course, any decent idea folds up its paws, turns on its back, fixes its eyes on eternity, and dies.” It takes a bit of coaxing, some wooing even, to encourage the Muse to open up, to sing her sweet song. I know some artists browbeat themselves and their work, and for some it shows. But we can also go too far the other way, and coddle and coo to the Muse who preens and pays us no attention. The road of productivity, I believe, is between the two extremes. There is a way to keep the Muse happy, to keep the stories coming. “I was gathering images all of my life, storing them away, and forgetting them. Somehow I had to send myself back, with words as catalysts, to open the memories out and see what they had to offer.” Thus, the word associations and the flooding in his mind of the stories.
“I blundered into creativity as blindly as any child learning to walk and see. I learned to let my senses and my Past tell me all that was somehow true.” This is the trust that we all must have if we are to create. We trust our Muse, our past, our moments, the characters and setting and dialogue, and eventually ourselves.