How to Feed Your Muse: 7 Writing Tips From Ray Bradbury

A young Ray Bradbury, head in the clouds, imagining Martians.

Is writing a chore for you? It doesn’t have to be.

The man who wrote about a future in which firefighters burn books to prevent negative ideas from spreading has some positive words for writers.

Whether you write a blog, advertising copy, marketing materials, novels or science fiction, the challenge is to keep your writing fresh and inspired. If you already understand how storytelling helps make great copy, you’ll want to know this master storyteller’s tips for rediscovering the joy of writing.

Ray Bradbury discusses his techniques for cultivating writing inspiration in a collection of essays entitled Zen in the Art of Writing. “Ideas lie everywhere,” he says, “like apples fallen and melting in the grass for lack of wayfaring strangers with an eye and a tongue for beauty, whether absurd, horrific, or genteel.”

Wow. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Here then, are 7 writing tips from Ray Bradbury.

1. Collect Experiences Instead of Things

Perhaps you’re familiar with The Muses of Greek mythology, the goddesses of the arts. If not, just substitute “inspiration,” “creativity,” or whatever it is that causes lightning to strike your cranium and deliver an idea.

Bradbury’s advice for keeping a Muse? Offer food. For the creative Muse, food is experience.

“In a lifetime we stuff ourselves with sounds, sights, smells, tastes, and textures of people, animals, landscapes, events, large and small. We stuff ourselves with these impressions and experiences and our reaction to them. These are the stuffs, the foods, on which The Muse grows.”

Reflect for a moment and consider your experiences. Is your Muse healthy and well fed or on a starvation diet?

2. Read Both Trash and Treasure

Reading is another source of inspiration. But don’t feel like you should read only the classics. Read it all. Poetry, essays, novels, magazines, trade journals, short stories, comics, newspapers, blogs… the more variety, the better. Read those with whom you disagree. Mix it up.

Bradbury offers examples of poems that fed the Muse for some of his work:

“My story, ‘There Will Come Soft Rains,’ is based on the poem of that title by Sara Teasdale, and the body of the story encompasses the theme of her poem. From Byron’s, ‘And the Moon Be Still as Bright,’ came a chapter for my novel The Martian Chronicles. In these cases, and dozens of others, I have had a metaphor jump at me, give me a spin, and run me off to do a story.”

When’s the last time you read a poem? Does anyone read poetry any more? No. That’s a good enough reason to start. Bradbury, who says he was “raised by libraries” and bookstores, absorbed everything he could find.

Ray Bradbury's "Zen in the Art of Writing"

Read the best sellers, too, like Harry Potter or the more recent Twilight series, so you’ll at least know what all the fuss is about.

3. Make Lists

After collecting experiences and soaking up influences, you need to find your own voice. Inspiration from other writers can lead to imitation until you find the courage to blaze your own trail.

Bradbury’s secret? Keeping lists of random memory fragments.

“It was only when I began to discover the tricks and treats that came with word association that I began to find some true way through the minefields of imitation.

“I began to make lists of titles, to put down long lines of nouns. These lists were the provocations, finally, that caused my better stuff to surface.

“Well, if you are a writer, or would hope to be one, similar lists, dredged out of the lopside of your brain, might well help you discover you, even as I flopped around and finally found me.

“I began to run through those lists, pick a noun, and then sit down to write a long prose-poem-essay on it. Somewhere along about the middle of the page, or perhaps on the second page, the prose poem would turn into a story. Which is to say that a character suddenly appeared … and the character would finish the tale for me.”

4. Write With Zest

Write about what you love as well as what you hate. Write about your angers and indignations, large and small. Write about what amuses or frustrates you.

Whatever your topic, says Ray, keep it real and write like you mean it!

“If you are writing without zest, without gusto without love, without fun, you are only half a writer. It means you are so busy keeping one eye on the commercial market, or one ear peeled for the avant-garde coterie, that you are not being yourself. You don’t even know yourself. For the first thing a writer should be is—excited.”

5. Run Fast, Stand Still

As the cliché goes, “strike while the iron is hot.” According to Bradbury, this applies to writing as well.

“What can we writers learn from lizards, lift from birds? In quickness is truth. The faster you blurt, the more swiftly you write, the more honest you are. In hesitation is thought. In delay comes the effort for a style, instead of leaping upon truth which is the only style worth deadfalling or tiger-trapping.”

There will be time to edit later. After you’ve slept on it. In between the hurrying and scurrying, rest and take it all in.

6. Choose Your Friends Well

Are you surrounded by an encouraging, supportive network of allies?

Writers seek affirmation as much as anyone, more so than ever in the age of social media. Don’t let snarky comments stop you from pursuing what you love—even if it’s reading comics.

When Bradbury was nine years old he tore up his Buck Rogers comic books after “friends” made fun of him. He was miserable until he realized comics trumped critics. He never looked back.

Bradbury asks, “Who are your friends? Do they believe in you? Or do they stunt your growth with ridicule and disbelief? If the latter, you haven’t friends. Go find some.”

7. Train Your Muse

Just as athletes need to practice and prepare for the big game, writers need to hone their craft by… wait for it… writing. Lots of it.

“Have you trained well enough so you can say what you want to say without getting hamstrung?” inquires Bradbury. “Have you written enough so that you are relaxed and can allow the truth to get out without being ruined by self-conscious posturings or changed by a desire to become rich?

“To feed well is to grow. To work well and constantly is to keep what you have learned and know in prime condition. Experience. Labor. These are the twin sides of the coin which when spun is neither experience nor labor, but the moment of revelation.”

Who Inspires You?

What are your favorite authors or books (whether pleasure or business)? I’d also love to hear any personal tips you may have for keeping your Muse fat and happy.

August 22–28 is Ray Bradbury Week in Los Angeles in honor of his 90thbirthday. Check out the Ray Bradbury Week Facebook page for more details.

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9 responses to “How to Feed Your Muse: 7 Writing Tips From Ray Bradbury

  1. Alright, so, I hate to admit that I haven’t read too much of Ray Bradbury, though I do have the utmost respect for him. It’s one of those “too many books to read, too little time” kind of things, especially since I wasn’t exposed to much of his work when I was young.

    I do love to feed my muse with science fiction and fantasy though. And even on an everyday basis, I try to ask the “W” questions whenever I can to spark some interesting ideas. “What if…” is probably the one I use most often!

    To echo Patrick, great post. 🙂

  2. Love it Mitch! I liked the idea of reading Trash and Treasure a lot. Mix it up. I read a very specific kind of book… usually for the sake of gaining knowledge or learning or growing myself. I should probably spend some time reading other books such as fiction, essays, comics, etc. I like the idea of adding variety to my palate. I also know the importance of story telling, I need to work on that.

    Also, make lists. I like that. I often take notes on my phone when I have an idea that comes to mind that I want to write about.

    I know for me, I build confidence by being reaffirmed. I know I’ve had one person who has suggested my writing isn’t the greatest – and I’m open to that criticism. Maybe I should surround myself with excellent copywriters. 🙂 For a little while, I need people who know how to write to reaffirm my writing. Or, maybe I don’t need this. Maybe I just need the confidence to trust my voice. Granted, I know it depends on the type of writing, be it website copy or the weekly blog post.

    On the question Who Inspires Me – I’d say it depends. Sometimes it’s Robert Kiyosaki. Or Gary Vaynerchuck. Or the guys over at 37signals. Or my dad. Or sometimes it’s the 2 billion people living on less than 2 dollars a day. Or it’s the 1 billion people living without clean water. Or the story of a person who was trafficked. Sometimes that inspiration is motivating, sometimes it’s inspiration out of anger to make a difference.

    • Matt, well said! I’m happy to affirm your writing. 🙂 I think confidence also comes from experience – if you keep doing it, you keep getting better at it and learn to trust your instincts more.

      I’ve read both Robert Kiyosaki (Rich Dad, Poor Dad) and Gary Vaynerchuk (Crush It!) and they’re certainly inspiring to me as well. Stay motivated, Matt! Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Fantastic and inspiring post, and fresh and unique tips from Mr Bradbury. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever read writer’s tips that condoned the reading of trash. I love trashy novels; in my opinion, they’ve got a very important role to play in the literary world and turning your nose up at them is just elitest bullshit. Those little Harlequin romance novels for example, they’re translated into 26 languages and sold in over 100 countries. I smile every time I see one of those books ( I’ve read my fair share too!) and I think of all of those bored housewives sitting on public transport all over the world, escaping monotony, grabbing a little ‘me time’ and basically, reading soft porn! Trashy novels have probably touched more lives than religious texts!

    • Tammy, great to hear from you. I have to admit to reading a few of those Harlequin romances myself. I once found a bookshelf full of them when I was a teenager at a summer camp. I don’t think I read any of them all the way through, but I managed to find the “good” parts!

      Check this out: there’s a neat little bookstore in Costa Mesa that specializes in selling that genre exclusively: New & Recycled Romances. Cheers!

  4. Wonderful article. Thank you for sharing it. 🙂

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