I have worshipped Ray Bradbury ever since I first read Martian Chronicles in high school, which immediately become one of my favorite books.
As I started researching him more as a writer, I discovered that his philosophy for success is incredibly simple:
Read a ton. Write a ton. Submit a ton. Repeat.
It is, perhaps, not the most elegant approach—it’s the artist’s equivalent of slamming your head into a wall, over and over, until you finally break through to the other side (especially when you think about all the rejection letters you’ll collect along the way).
But it is also a remarkably democratic approach to art—anyone can do this, and anyone can find success, if they simply persist. As a writer trying to work my way up, I find this comforting.
Even better, it seems to be a very effective approach, based on my own anecdotal observations of the authors who “make it.” A few get lucky, sure, but the vast majority simply persist.
So I take Bradbury’s advice pretty seriously.
One of his most specific tips for writers is to write one story a week.
Why short stories?
New writers typically set their sights on writing a novel.
There are good reasons for this—it is the most popular form of written fiction, and by no coincidence, it is the form most of us are familiar with.
But most writers who tackle novels have to write a few of them before they actually get published.
My first novel took five years to write. I’ve gotten a bit more efficient since then, but still. That’s a massive time investment to simply learn the craft.
But what if you took a fresh stab at the foundational elements of storytelling every week instead of once every few years?
You’ll hone your craft a lot of faster.
Writing Short stories is the perfect way to do this.
Playing the odds
Writing a story a week also allows you to create a large body of work, which increases your odds of creating something publishable.
Or, as Bradbury put it:
“It’s not possible to write 52 bad stories in a row.”
When you put it that way, writing a story a week is simply putting the odds in your favor—something very few writers feel they have, and would do almost anything to gain.
And you’re not only improving your odds by quantity. You’re also improving your odds by quality.
With every new story, you’re learning something new about writing well and building up those creative writing muscles.
What do you do with all of those stories, once you have them? Submit them for publication.
Getting your work out there is another key element of Bradbury’s recipe for success.
In fact, he felt persistence in submissions was so important, he recommended focusing on the process itself (submissions), rather than the results (publication).
Bradbury recommended picking a wall and setting a goal of covering it in rejection slips. And, he promised that before you can reach this goal, you’ll be published.
Commit to stick with it
Writing a story a week is not for the faint-hearted. I have done this before, and it was a lot harder to do than I anticipated.
But it also forced me to come up with completely new ideas, focus on my craft and prioritize my writing.
If you work full-time or have other major demands on your time, I don’t recommend doing this all the time. Consider it a creative exercise for a shorter time period, like a few months.
Expect it to be hard, and be prepared to stick with it. In the end, you will be a better writer and have some great work to share with the world.
How do you practice your craft?