In the spirit of the “All Summer in a Day” writing prompt, today’s “Writers on Writing” will focus on prolific science fiction writer Ray Bradbury. An American author and screenwriter known best for Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury worked in science fiction, fantasy, horror, mystery fiction, dystopian fiction, and many other genres. He received the Prometheus Award for Fahrenheit 451 in 1984, was given the National Medal of Arts by President George W. Bush in 2004, and the Ray Bradbury Award from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America organization was named in his honor. Needless to say, he’s a fantasy/science fiction icon.
I’ve honestly only read two short stories by Bradbury (at least which I know were written by him), “All Summer in a Day” and “Mars is Heaven!” I’m also fascinated and amused beyond all belief by the fact that Fahrenheit 451 is among the most challenged books of recent decades. He also gave writers–and human beings overall–many gems of wisdom, including the one I am discussing today:
Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It’s self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can’t try to do things. You simply must do things.
The last two lines of that advice immediately put Yoda in my head. “Do or do not, there is not try.”
You could argue that Bradbury’s remarks expand on Yoda’s advice. Bradbury explicitly explains that which Yoda alludes to: overthinking something like a creative act disrupts the flow, which brings the entire act to a screeching halt. You cannot think too much on what you’re doing because you’ll start to imagine all that could go wrong and doubt yourself; when you doubt yourself, you almost certainly fail.
While I am horrible at following this advice, I know from personal experience that Bradbury and Yoda are right.
Most of my writer’s blocks come from thinking too much. I’ll start wondering, “Does this dialogue mesh with the character? If I do [blank] to [blank] character, will the readers hate me? Will anyone even read this? Why should I bother?”
You can see how that sort of train of thought can kill the creativity. If we think too much, we become too self-conscious. When we grow too self-conscious, we doubt everything we do and then nothing gets done.
In addition to the self-conscious inhibitions discussed by Bradbury, thinking can get us side-tracked. If you’ve ever watched The Big Bang Theory, you’ll remember this scenario from the episode “The Focus Attenuation”. Leonard, Sheldon, Howard, and Raj take a weekend away from the girls–and, theoretically, all other distractions–to try and focus on their work to make a breakthrough. They get to work but, unfortunately, thinking as they worked led to many tangents, including watching pigeons play ping-pong and determining if Bill Murray misuses “negative reinforcement” in Ghostbusters. Needless to say, the characters didn’t get any work done.
Thought seems important for creative acts. After all, where do these ideas come from but our thoughts? Still, we have to be careful to not think too much. Figuring out the logistics of a fight scene or deciding if dialogue is working or not is best left for the editing/rewriting stages. Before all else you need to just get the ideas out and then you can make sense of the babble later.
Writing doesn’t work this way for all writers. Anne Rice is pretty open about how, in her process, she won’t move on to the next page in a book until she’s perfected the one she’s on. Perhaps you, as a writer, need to think enough to work out how exactly your character gets from scene A to scene B before you can continue to write.
For many writers, like me, Bradbury’s words ring true; once pen touches paper or fingers touch keyboard (after the initial outline/notes stage), the conscious mind needs to shut off and let the words flow. Otherwise we become self-conscious, doubt ourselves, and/or go entirely off-track. There’s a time and place for everything, and often the time for thinking is not when you’re writing.
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