Advice, Books, Craft, Doubt, Fiction, Writing

Ray Bradbury wrote this just for me!

If you’re a writer, I’m sure you’ve heard the terms plotter and pantser. For the non-writers: those terms refer to opposites in how much a writer prepares before he begins a work. Pantser comes from an aviation saying, “Fly by the seat of his pants.” meaning to fly on instinct alone, without instruments. (Finally looked that up.)

I’ve confessed to being a pantser, but the truth is, often my method is more like ultimate pantsing. I take the bare bones of a story idea and explore it—not before I write, but as I write. At first, I didn’t realize there was any other way to write. Then I decided to become a SERIOUS writer and bought book after book promising to teach me how to work like a real writer. Uh-oh.

I learned many useful things from these books, but some of the advice stymied my Muse. I hadn’t pre-written outlines, synopses, plot points charts, etc. for my many stories and one novel. And because I hadn’t followed those rules, I feared none of my work could possibly be any good. My hope for publication faded.

Then, a little over three years ago, I put my fingers to keyboard to elaborate on a dream I’d had and write it as a story. But the characters kept talking to me and the story grew. My dream turned into a novel. Some new writer friends thought it was a good novel. But I doubted their judgment because, again, I’d written mostly on instinct. In fact, most of the time, it felt as though I was only taking dictation. So how could it be good?

I’ve mentioned in a few recent posts that I was reading Ray Bradbury’s collection of essays on writing, Zen in the Art of Writing. I finally reached the last chapter and read something that, for me, surpassed all the bon mots I’d selected before. Mr. Bradbury didn’t know it, but he wrote the following part just for me:

The time will come when your characters will write your stories for you, when your emotions, free of literary cant and commercial bias, will blast the page and tell the truth.

Remember: Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations. Plot is observed after the fact rather than before. It cannot precede action. It is the chart that remains when an action is through. That is all Plot ever should be. It is human desire let run, running, and reaching a goal. It cannot be mechanical. It can only be dynamic.

So, stand aside, forget targets, let the characters, your fingers, body, blood, and heart do.

Sha-zam! A celebrated writer had validated my method. It may not be every writer’s way, but it’s right for me. I no longer have to doubt the value of a story just because it seemed to write itself. Of course, not everything I write will work, but if it fails, it won’t be because I flew without instruments. It will be because I didn’t “stand aside” enough to let my “fingers, body, blood, and heart do”.

What say ye? Does Bradbury’s advice make your heart sing or shudder?


Photo credits: Anne Burgess – Creative Commons License

39 thoughts on “Ray Bradbury wrote this just for me!”

  1. My best writing is always from the intuitive mind. But some event out there usually starts me off. Getting it accurate and well written is where the work part comes in. So my vote is mixed.

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    1. Mary Jean, I didn’t take Bradbury to mean we can’t revise and polish what we’ve written intuitively. For me, the second round work is easier when I let the first round flow organically.

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  2. Sing, sing, sing! Yes, plot is important, but I have heard many the writing professor lament those that focus on that and not much more. When I line things completely out before writing the story, I find that I shut myself down. I’ve learned to outline what the story is after my first draft and then revise based on what needs to be cut or added. Great quote and post!

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    1. I’m loving this chorus of voices, Barbara. 🙂 Writing first and then evaluating what I have is the way I’ve always written. When I believed that wasn’t the RIGHT way and tried to outline and all that jazz, it affected me the same way it does you.

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  3. I’ve always loved Bradbury and his constant affirmation that my way of writing might not really be as crazy as everyone else might suggest. This advice definitely makes me sing. Even in a rewrite of a book that HAS ALREADY BEEN WRITTEN, my characters are doing other things that surprise me and work for the new direction I wanted to take the rewrite. It’s such an amazing feeling when they do that, too, especially when it’s a good fit. You’re all, “Aww! Thanks, characters, you rock!”

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    1. I wish I’d read Bradbury’s book sooner, L.S., though all things in their time, and I certainly needed his book now. I’ve been puttering along in my WIP because I keep questioning where it’s going. I need to put away the map, shut-up, and enjoy the ride. 😉

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