A Master's Advice to Those Who'd Like a Career in Writing

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Mary Laine Yarber teaches English and journalism at an area high school. Her column appears occasionally in The Times

Aspiring athletes imitate the masters of their sports, whether it's Michael Jordan, Steffi Graf or Sinjin Smith. And who better to advise aspiring writers than Ray Bradbury, one of the nation's most prolific and versatile writers? Bradbury's list of published works--novels such as "Fahrenheit 451" and "The Martian Chronicles," short stories and television plays--contains more than 500 items.

In a recent interview, Bradbury offered a strategy for those who want a career in writing. The first step, he said, is to find a subject you know and love.

"Latch onto something that you love so much that you've got to write about it," he said. "You can't write about things you don't care about, and you can't write about things that you don't truly know."

Once you've found your best subject, Bradbury said, you don't necessarily need a class or other formal training to learn to write. "You don't need a teacher--you just need to run wild in a library."

As for inspiration and raw material, you need not look any further than your own experience.

"You've got a lot of stuff in your head you don't know is there, put away since the day you were born," he said. "That's all the good stuff you're going to be using through the years, along with what you've seen and heard."

Bradbury also recommends viewing other art forms, including good movies and television shows, for inspiration.

"Any good art . . . makes your adrenaline churn--and then you say, 'Well, what can I do that is different from this but equally exciting?' "

But inspiration isn't enough by itself; you also need lots of practice. Bradbury suggests that you write every day for at least an hour, then hide the writing for a few months.

In fact, Bradbury doesn't even read parts of his novels until the whole work is finished. "When a year has passed and I have 600 pages, I sit down and read it for the first time," he said.

Write about "anything (you) want" in your daily practice, he added. "It doesn't matter about the quality; just do it."

Starting out with short forms of writing is best, and Bradbury particularly recommends Japanese haiku poems. "(They) are going to help you write good short stories or screenplays" because they are a "very composite form of image."

As for choosing a genre, "you don't," Bradbury explained. "It chooses you. As soon as you feel you're madly in love, something has chosen you."

But, he warned, you must realize that some genres are less profitable than others.

Poetry, for example, is hard to sell because "no one publishes it." Novels are "too shaky . . . you spend a year writing one and if it doesn't sell, you're destroyed."

So Bradbury suggests writing short stories at first. "You can write 40 or 50 a year and one of them is bound to sell."

Your best options for selling your stories, according to Bradbury, are fantasy and science fiction magazines such as "Amazing Stories," "Analog" and "Weird Tales."

A final piece of advice from Bradbury on learning to write: "The best way to learn is just to read a thousand short stories," so that the writing "goes into your bloodstream."

And if you face rejection, as nearly every writer does at some point, bear in mind that Bradbury wasn't even published in his high school's literary magazine.

"They rejected everything," Bradbury laughed. "They thought I was crazy."

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