Recently, I saw a quote from Ray Bradbury offering advice to fiction writers that has stuck with me. It went something like this: “Write a story every week for a year. It is physically impossible to write fifty-two bad stories in a row.”
The reason this idea resonates so much with me is that this is exactly opposite to what my internal editor has told me to do. For most of my career, this internal editor (or censor, what have you) has told me to only write good stories, or at least stories I can do well. Anything else is a creative waste. The same goes for trite or overdone stories (vampires, anyone?). Writing a vampire story write now is pretty much a waste of time because no editor around is going to accept it, right?
Unless, of course, it’s really, really good.
The problem with that system, the one my infernal editor insisted I follow, is that it truly limits your output. If you’re only going to write exceptional stories, you’re only going to try and write exceptional stories. If they aren’t exceptional, or you don’t think you can handle them with exceptional writing, you won’t even attempt to write them.
How many perfectly good stories have I discarded without even attempting to write because they never made it past the judgement of the internal editor?
Ray Bradbury, on the other hand, says to write all those stories. Write every story you can think of, because some of them will be good. A few might even be brilliant. But first you have to write them.
It’s a question of volume. It’s a similar theory that drives the idea of freewriting. A writing instructor I know advocated (he did this himself) setting a timer and writing for a certain period every day. He suggested starting with two minutes and working your way up to ten. You start the timer and your write constantly until the timer goes off. Don’t worry about spelling or grammar or structure. Just write the entire time until the buzzer goes off.
Just like Mr. Bradbury’s advice, the object is volume. Everything you produce will not be great in these writing session—in fact, most of what you write will not be memorable—but some of it will. Some of it will come straight from the subconscious (bypassing the editor, by the way) and be very good. But in order to find these gems, you need to produce the volume. They are part of the larger package.
What Bradbury’s advice and the writing instructor’s advice about freewriting are also forcing us to do is to write something every day. In order to create a new story every week, one would need to be working on a story at any given time. The same goes for the freewriting. It forces you to write every day. And the more you write, the more fluid the writing becomes. The better the writing then becomes.
It is physically impossible to write fifty-two bad stories in a row. And as you continue to write the story a week, the number of bad stories will decrease. While you might only create a handful of good stories that first year, the second year, you will create two handfuls. The third year it might be even more.
I write every day now as it is, but that’s working on novels for the most part. Yet there are breaks in between the novels and periods where I’m brainstorming a new scene or a revision of an existing scene of a novel I’m working on. free writing, working on a side story would certainly help my progress as a writer.
I think I will give it a try.