My friend, Jim Denney, writes more than 50,000 words every month. He’s such an inspiration. I call him a Writing Ninja.
In Quickness is Truth
by Jim Denney
Here’s an inspiring, motivational story to speed you on your #NaNoWriMo adventure:
Ray Bradbury used to prowl the library in search of inspiration. He’d stroll among the stacks, pull random books from the shelves, read a few lines of poetry, sample a few paragraphs of fiction — and something would click. Soon he’d be scribbling story ideas on any piece of paper he could find.
Once, while rummaging for inspiration at UCLA’s Powell Library, he heard the clacking of typewriter keys in the library basement. He followed the sound and discovered a typing room filled with shiny new typewriters, each with a coin-operated timer. The typewriters could be rented for ten cents per half hour.
So, one day in 1950, Bradbury descended into the library basement and began writing an expanded version of his 1947 short story, “Bright Phoenix.” Over the next nine days, he pounded out a 25,000-word novella called “The Fireman.” He averaged about five and a half typing hours per day, totaling 49 hours of typewriter time at a cost of about $9.80 in dimes. His daily output averaged about 2,800 words. “It was a passionate and exciting time for me,” he recalled in an article for UCLA Magazine. “Imagine what it was like to be writing a book about book burning and doing it in a library where the passions of all those authors, living and dead, surrounded me.”1
Bradbury’s agent, Don Condon, tried to sell “The Fireman” to such upscale publications as Esquire and Harper’s. In the end, the only taker was Horace Gold’s Galaxy science fiction magazine — certainly a fine publication, but not as prestigious a showplace as Bradbury had hoped. Galaxy paid him $300 for the novella, and it was published in the February 1951 issue.
Two years later, publisher Ian Ballantine urged Bradbury to rewrite “The Fireman” and expand it to a novel. In January 1953, Bradbury contracted with Ballantine to deliver a 50,000-word version of “The Fireman,” with a title to be determined later. The deadline was March 15, 1953 — but Bradbury was afflicted with writers block, and missed the deadline. Ballantine gave him an extension to April 15, but that date came and went, with Bradbury so blocked that he had not written a single word.
Ballantine gave Bradbury one more extension to June 15 — his last chance. After procrastinating all through May, Bradbury knew he needed to force himself to write. He decided to do again what had worked before. So, in early June 1953, Bradbury returned to the basement of the UCLA library, his pockets jingling with dimes.
As Jonathan Eller recounts in Becoming Ray Bradbury, the author’s second stint in the library basement “mirrored his 1951 creation of the original novella” by also lasting nine days and producing an additional 25,000 words. Bradbury gave a new title to the 50,000-word version of “The Fireman,” calling it Fahrenheit 451, after the ignition-point temperature of book paper.
Bradbury actually enjoyed the pressure of having to rent his typing machine by the half hour, because it forced him to write quickly and remain in a creative flow. If his writing process ever slowed down, it meant he was thinking too much. The constant pressure of the typewriter meter enabled him to punch his way through writer’s block and create one of the great dystopian novels of our time.
“I am a passionate, not intellectual, writer,” he later observed, “which means my characters must plunge ahead of me to live the story. If my intellect caught up with them too swiftly, the whole adventure might mire down in self-doubt and endless mind play.”
Since its initial publication in 1953, Fahrenheit 451 has sold more than 10 million copies and has been translated into 33 languages. The book is assigned reading for millions of high school and college students, and is recognized as a masterpiece of American literature. And this masterpiece was written in two intense nine-day writing stints, the first one in 1951, the second in 1953.
On numerous occasions, Bradbury has observed that great writing is fast writing. In a 1987 essay, he wrote, “In quickness is truth. … 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.”
The moral to the story: If you want to write brilliantly, write quickly. As you chase your NaNoWriMo dreams, remember the example of Ray Bradbury. Be inspired! Don’t think—write quickly.
Adapted from Writing in Overdrive: Write Faster, Write Freely, Write Brilliantly, copyright 2013 by Jim Denney. Available in ebook and trade paperback editions.