...so that narrative stays close to you. Let it snuggle up with you in your favorite chair and lick your hand so that it knows you.
You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.
Welcome to the Electric Didact. Let's get started.
As it happens, the quote above is not simply a random anomaly, but a deliberate point (do I do anything randomly? Only parenthetical statements!). While I do not endorse getting drunk, I DO endorse writing a lot! In his collection of essays, Zen in the Art of Writing, Bradbury argues over and over again that the writer of stories must dive in, jump off, and in all ways write as if his or her life depended on it. This means writing every day (as many an author will advise, cf. Stephen King, On Writing). Bradbury himself claims (in the same book) to have built up the habit of writing a new story every Sunday, revising it for the next five days, and then sending it out on Saturday. Some cite that he wrote a new story every day!
That's a statement.
It's not going to hurt a bit (says the doctor with the syringe--yes, I am a doctor now). To begin with, most authors will advise you to do a lot of reading while you're doing a lot of writing (Stephen King's first commandment of creative writing: "read a lot, write a lot"). Bradbury himself prescribes reading a short story, a scientific article, and a poem every day. Stephen King says, "Can I be blunt on this subject? If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or tools) to write" (On Writing, p. 147).
His solution? Bring a book wherever you go. Read at the dinner table, in waiting rooms, in the theater before your movie starts, while you're exercising. He goes on: "The real importance of reading is that it creates an ease and intimacy with the process of writing; one comes to the country of the writer with one's papers and identification pretty much in order" (p. 150).
If you don't have time to read,
I am always in the middle of some book, usually speculative fiction, but I like imaginative fiction of other genres too (see The Poisonwood Bible, The Night in Question, or Dubliners).
At work or on the road, I listen to NPR, which provides news, sure, but also some great programs that present deep and interesting stories that cause you to think (see This American Life, The Story, The Moth Radio Hour).
At home, I like to watch movies. Stick to the old stand-bys and don't be afraid to engage in some literary criticism with your friends and/or significant other.
Besides giving me insights into narrative itself (that is, how to tell a story), I'm always getting fresh ideas for stories by listening to podcasts of radio shows. I just finished a draft of a story called "The World Needs Psychopaths" which took its inspiration from a Moth story by James Fallon called "Confessions of a Pro-Social Psychopath." His last words conclude that, since the brain markers for psychopathic killers appear in many people whom we actually know and interact with (family, friends, etc.) then perhaps the world needs psychopaths.
I imagined a room where two guys are responsible for all the chaos in the world, constantly watching video screens and inserting psychopaths wherever in the world their manual and their wits deem fit.
Taking something true, something real, and asking those beautiful, tiny, unassuming "what if" questions is the essence of great speculative fiction. Which leads me from the "read a lot" part to the "write a lot" part. But we'll save that for another blog.
So, what do you think? What are ways in which you stay close to narrative? Do these tips work for you, or do you work better another way?
Jedd Cole is a professional writer and author of short speculative fiction. He resides in Ohio where he is completing a degree in Rhetoric & Professional Writing, crafting short stories in every time-nook he can find, all while frequenting the pages of imaginary worlds with his wonderful wife, Heather, and no pets. None.