I have a real treat for you today, via my friend, writer Christopher Ridge. Chris brought to my attention a presentation by Ray Bradbury to participants in a university writing program.
You can find the link toward the end of this post. The video is almost an hour long, but it’s Ray Bradbury, for goodness’ sake. Who can’t listen to Ray Bradbury for an hour? On writing?
Of course, I was hooked at the name. Anyone who knows anything about me knows Ray Bradbury is one of my strongest and most favored influences. But even if I hadn’t been hooked at the name, I would’ve been hooked at these words from the guy who introduced him:
“[Ray Bradbury] embodies [the concept that] good writing is good writing across all types of genres.” Man, you can’t say it any better or with any more truth than that.
And in this case, by “types of genres” he means “forms”: short stories, novellas, novels, screenplays, etc. Although the same is true about the various commercial genres (romance, SF, western, mystery, suspense, thriller etc.).
I personally recommend you watch the video once for the sheer joy of it, and then listen again and take copious notes. That’s what I did. And yes, I still learned a few things and was reminded of a few others.
Watching the video also caused me to realize professionals (including Dean) seldom say “Don’t worry about the money. Write for joy.” Dean does say writing should be fun, but he also talks a lot about making money from it (probably because that’s what newer writers demand of him).
So I thought I’d tackle the topic today, perhaps expand a little on what Bradbury said in the video.
Topic: Writing for Money
Money’s nice to have. To paraphrase some comedian in years past, money won’t buy happiness, but it’s probably more fun being miserable in a yacht than a rowboat. Something like that.
I don’t know about any of that, but given the alternative, I’d rather make money from my writing.
Still — and frankly, I think this makes all the difference — making money is not the driving force behind my writing. Or behind my wanting to write.
For anyone who didn’t know, there’s a heirarchy among forms just as there is among genres:
● Novel series and novella series sell best.
● Then come novel and novella one-offs.
● Then short story collections.
● And finally individual short stories.
But as Bradbury says during his talk, a short story doesn’t take long to finish, and it’s all practice.
1. have time to be prolific, and if you
2. know how to get out of your own way, and if you
3. spend the time in the chair,
ostensibly you could write one short story per week plus twelve novels in a year.
(But I don’t personally recommend holding yourself to one short story per week. I think you should write an opening for every idea as it occurs to you and see where it goes. Chance are, if it’s a short story, you’ll finish it that day or the next. If it keeps going and heads for novella or novel territory, follow it. And after you finish, write the opening for the next story. If you write an opening and it’s simply a non-starter, trash it and move on to the next idea.)
Obviously writing a novel every month would be easier if you didn’t feel you had to conform to Big Publishing’s page or word counts, but either way, you could do it.
I don’t conform to anyone’s preset prescribed notions on length. For a free copy of my own Fiction Lengths guide, email me at email@example.com. Many, many excellent works are far under 100,000 words. Witness works by Hemingway, Steinbeck and Weisel to name only a few.
But it would also be a ton easier if you didn’t worry about how much money you’re going to make (or not).
In one way, I’m fortunate that I didn’t become a “serious” writer until a few years ago. Unless lightning strikes — and it strikes in this business even less often than it strikes in many others — most credible sources say it takes around five years for a fiction writer to even begin to see a good return on his or her investment of time, money in ongoing education, and so on.
And that’s if you do everything right.
● That’s if you go in knowing you must have characters the readers care about. Characters who strike a strong emotional chord in the readers: a great protagonist the readers will pull for and a great antagonist the readers will root against. Feverishly, in both cases.
● That’s if you go in knowing you must have a great cliffhanger at the end of every major scene or chapter, and a great hook at the beginning of the next one.
● That’s if you go in knowing you must ground the reader not only at the beginning of the story, but at the beginning of every major scene or setting change, and you’ve learned how to do that without being boringly repetitive.
● That’s if you go in knowing you must let the character experience the scene not through you, but through all five physical senses of the POV character and the POV character’s opinions of the setting.
● That’s if you go in knowing how to write great sales copy for the cover blurb, how to come up with a great title, and how to create (or cause to be created) a great cover.
● And that’s if you go in knowing all of the above is required not only in mystery and thrillers and suspense, but in all genres across the board.
If you don’t go in knowing all of that stuff, you’ll still make a few sales, but whatever you don’t know will still be in your future in your learning curve. And it will effectively push back the beginning of your five-year practice period.
You will still have to learn all of the above, and the only way to do that is to read extensively in your chosen genre(s), take courses and read books on writing from credible instructors, and p-r-a-c-t-i-c-e.
Oh, and you have to know that the only way to practice is
1. do your best at your current skill level on your WIP,
2. publish it (or submit it), and
3. move on to the next story.
There literally is no other way.
The thing is, to submit yourself to that kind of daily or weekly grind, you can’t see it as a “grind”.
It has to be fun. It has to be something you enjoy. As I like to say, it has to be the most fun you can have with your clothes on. (grin)
But I’m fortunate I came in late. As a result, I decided awhile back I probably won’t make any real money from my writing. After all, five years from the time I became a proficient storyteller, I’ll be in my late 60s or early 70s.
Therefore I don’t worry about making money. (I figure my grandchildren will rake it in.) My payment in the here and now, seriously, is the writing itself. I get to hear the stories first. For me, it’s all fun. When I get money for my writing too, it’s a happy surprise.
I literally write to entertain myself. To let my characters entertain me, and to live lives, through them, that I otherwise never would have lived.
If you can do that too, in my opinion you will be among the most fortunate human beings on earth.
And if you can do that — if you can ignore the sales figures and the money and Just Have Fun — in the way of all great cosmic ironies, that is when you’ll start making money from your writing.
Here’s the video for “An Evening with Ray Bradbury” (https://www.uctv.tv/shows/An-Evening-with-Ray-Bradbury-2001-5533). (This is also now permanently available on my website at the Writers Resources tab.)
‘Til next time, happy writing,
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