My BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) of 2021 is to spend 2,021 hours creating. Some of those hours I will spend following the advice of one of my favorites, Ray Bradbury. His advice is also part of the foundation for the DiY MFA site, DiYMFA.com, which I highly recommend if, like me, you are too cheap for a real degree.
Ray Bradbury is pretty famous for his advice to writers:
“The best hygiene for beginning writers or intermediate writers is to write a hell of a lot of short stories. If you can write one short story a week—it doesn’t matter what the quality is to start, but at least you’re practicing, and at the end of the year you have 52 short stories, and I defy you to write 52 bad ones. Can’t be done. At the end of 30 weeks or 40 weeks or at the end of the year, all of a sudden a story will come that’s just wonderful.“
Read these three things every night:
“What you’ve got to do from this night forward is stuff your head with more different things from various fields . . . I’ll give you a program to follow every night, very simple program. For the next thousand nights, before you go to bed every night, read one short story. That’ll take you ten minutes, 15 minutes. Okay, then read one poem a night from the vast history of poetry. Stay away from most modern poems. It’s crap. It’s not poetry! It’s not poetry. Now if you want to kid yourself and write lines that look like poems, go ahead and do it, but you’ll go nowhere. Read the great poets, go back and read Shakespeare, read Alexander Pope, read Robert Frost. But one poem a night, one short story a night, one essay a night, for the next 1,000 nights. From various fields: archaeology, zoology, biology, all the great philosophers of time, comparing them. Read the essays of Aldous Huxley, read Lauren Eisley, great anthropologist. . . I want you to read essays in every field. On politics, analyzing literature, pick your own. But that means that every night then, before you go to bed, you’re stuffing your head with one poem, one short story, one essay—at the end of a thousand nights, Jesus God, you’ll be full of stuff, won’t you?”
-from “Telling the Truth,” the keynote address of The Sixth Annual Writer’s Symposium by the Sea, sponsored by Point Loma Nazarene University, 2001
I can’t remember when I first read these words, but I have been trying to follow this advice from the first time I read them. I have bullet journals from 2016 where I checked off that I read a story, essay, and a poem nearly daily, but the short story a week threw me off. I like to think I am more of a novelist than a story writer. That said, I have ten completed novels and all of them are pretty bad, so I think a year of stories will help me get better faster than a year in one novel.
There was a time when I wrote a short story every month with a group called A Novel Approach to Writing. It was great, we were in an online group of about six and we all wrote a story from the same prompt and then voted for the best one, which went site wide and we would vote for the best story of the month from all eight or nine groups. I miss it now, the prompts, the deadlines, and the comradery around the shared challenge. But the group dissolved years ago.
For my 52 stories this year, when I can, I will try to use them for world building for my new novel/trilogy. I decided that I do need prompts, so I am using diymfa.com/writer-igniter for my prompts. It provides a character, a situation, and a prop. For my first story of 2021, I spun the igniter, and got
A DJ, confesses to a horrific crime, and a rare vintage bottle of wine
That didn’t seem to be easy to go on, so I spun again:
A Plumber in training, travels back in time, a tub of green goo.
Bingo! I am all over time travel and green goo. And have managed to combine both prompts. I am about 1/4 way through, and my due date is Sunday at 4 to either post the story or report it as complete. I think in the beginning I will post stories, but if I have one that I would like to submit to a publisher of some sort, I will not post. Hopefully by next November, I will have a couple that would be submittable. Otherwise, this blog will feature 52 really bad short stories, so if nothing else, you can feel better about your own writing, eh?