The short story, if you really are intense and you have an exciting idea, writes itself in a few hours. I try to encourage my student friends and my writer friends to write a short story in one day so it has a skin around it, its own intensity, its own life, its own reason for being. There’s a reason why the idea occurred to you at that hour anyway, so go with that and investigate it, get it down. Two or three thousand words in a few hours is not that hard. Don’t let people interfere with you. Boot ’em out, turn off the phone, hide away, get it done. If you carry a short story over to the next day you may overnight intellectualize something about it and try to make it too fancy, try to please someone.
It’s tempting for anyone who’s read Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing, or even the rest of this Paris Review interview, to dismiss his “just do it” work ethic with, “That’s easy for him to say.” I mean, I’ve certainly never cranked out “two or three thousand words in a few hours” without some difficulty. And it’s been a pipe dream of mine for years to meet Bradbury’s suggested goal in Zen of one short story a week. In fact, I’ve tried and failed at this for quite some years now.
But Bradbury’s approach doesn’t just represent a metric to me. It’s a way of writing that has finally shown that, like everyone says, it’s about the journey.
Let me be clear: I’m not talking about “it’s the journey” in some head-in-the-clouds, stop-and-smell-the-roses, appreciate-the-here-and-now kind of way. I’m talking about a journey that fucking makes me a better writer. And I attribute every piece of (my pretty meager) success to that journey.
Why? Because my personal writing journey–that attitude of “just fucking do it”–is fed by one aspect of my personality: my inherent stubbornness. And it’s only been that stubbornness that’s been able to defeat another aspect of my personality. the one that gets in the way of my writing: my inherent laziness.
(Edited to add) What fuels your artistic journey?
Next time: The other ways I beat my laziness.