In the Fiction Writing Department, we are required to take three Critical Reading and Writing courses. These classes are designed to look at specific types of writing, genres, or authors and examine the craft and specific pieces of work to discuss how it was written, the choices made, and the process behind the piece. CRW Ray Bradbury is one such course, and it focuses on Ray Bradbury.
What’s cool about this course is that it focuses on one writer and looks at his process and the “greatest hits” of his career. Taught by Sam Weller, the official biographer and close friend of Bradbury, this course offers insight into an American icon and legend that perhaps no other course on campus might. Sam knows the back-stories behind every story we read, and he is fully aware of Bradbury’s process and the different ways in which he worked. You would hope so—the man spent thirteen years of his career writing about Bradbury!
Process is a huge part of a writer’s toolbox. How does one write, and why does he or she write in this way? Bradbury had a few different methods of writing. This week in class, we talked about The Martian Chronicles, arguably Bradbury’s finest work, and read an almost unpublished essay by Bradbury about how he wrote the book (I say “almost unpublished” because it exists only in a limited edition print of The Martian Chronicles that only had 500 copies). This is a book that is considered a novel but is made up of short stories (it’s a short story cycle). Bradbury would write a story, then put it away in his files for six months. He said each story went through four-five drafts, and each draft would spend six months in the files. This is why the book took four or five years to write.
This is a meticulous way of writing, but we talked in class about how this is very effective for some writers. Bradbury tended to do this for the early part of his career, the age of “Golden Bradbury” from the 1940s-1962. But Bradbury was perhaps the most prolific of modern writers. During his middle period, his process changed. He would write one short story a week—he said he’d write the first draft on a Monday, revise it into multiple drafts on Tuesday-Friday, and write the final draft on a Saturday, which he sent off for publication. While this may seem like a myth and might seem a little incredible, it might be just that. But, the man published over 600 short stories, and this is in addition to his books.
The later Bradbury would return to his earlier method of writing, dusting off ideas and stories that he wrote early in his career and editing them. We haven’t discussed this period yet, but Sam mentioned that these stories return toward Golden Bradbury. Perhaps this is Silver Bradbury—I don’t know; we haven’t gotten there yet.
Each week, we read either 3-5 short stories or one of Bradbury’s books. We have to journal about the reading, discussing anything at all—what’s taking our attention, themes in the piece(s), how certain elements of the writing work, or how process seems to be involved, just to name a few. We also get to experiment with different ways in which Bradbury approached stories, adding to our toolbox of process.
Bradbury was inspired to write because he encountered a carnival man that told him to live forever when he was just a boy. That’s exactly what he’s doing through his work—living forever. Fellow writers, I think we should all do just this.
What do you think? Add your comments and questions to my margins.