This is the third part in my series of takeaways from Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing.
Last time I gave specific examples on how to find inspiration and keep it maintained. This time we’re going to bring the focus inwards and do a little self-examination.
Getting in the Way of Your Own Story
“The stories, the plays, were born in a yelping litter. I had but to get out of their way.”
This is a common theme that occurs throughout Bradbury’s essays. He is big on getting your inspiration out there, without interference from…well, you. He says that an idea is like a dog that bites your leg and won’t let go until you can shake it off by turning it into a story. This makes sense to me, because whenever I’m overwhelmed or can’t deal with stuff, I write it all down. Goals and stuff. Things I want to happen. It feels really good and I’ve filled up entire notebooks this way. By writing thoughts down, you can release them. The dog will relax and go away.
What are some ways you interfere with your story? I can think of some. Distractions like social media and gaming. Busy work also comes to mind. It should be that an idea hits you and you write it down until it becomes a story. What does it matter what software, what app?
When I need to go into “termination mode” – a concept I adopted from another productivity-focused blogger – I close all windows except for the ones I need to get the job done. For art and comics, that means it’s Photoshop or Manga Studio + Evernote if I need references. Chrome, Twitter, and all of my web dev apps do not need to be open “just in case”. I intentionally put my phone face down on my desk.
Since I switch hats often from “business owner” to “web developer” to “designer/illustrator”, I used to have a million different programs open and checked Gmail regularly just in case. This is how you’ll feel busy without actual getting anything done. Because you’ll be in the zone, working on comics, and suddenly you’ll see a tweet with a link you need to open. (Here’s a hint: you don’t actually need to open it. You’ve lived and survived for many years without seeing that link. If it’s worthwhile, then it will come back to you.) Or you’ll notice the Gmail tab in your browser suddenly have a “(1)” appear. And you switch windows to see what’s going on. You send a reply. You get back to work. Suddenly, there’s that “(1)” again. After a whole day of stop-and-go work, you’ll feel like you got so much done! But…could you have gotten even more done by focusing on the task at hand until it’s complete? Could you have delegated certain times of day to check your email and social media?
Not sure if you’re falling victim to yourself? Start tracking things. Make a list at the start of the day and see how much you were able to cross off by the end of it. Not busy work like “browse Pinterest for the best way to fold socks”. Stuff like “2 pages of comic sketched” or “outline blog post on Favorite Video Game Food.” If at the end of the day you find yourself unable to accomplish what you set out, keep tweaking and adjusting things until you can. Two comic pages too ambitious in one day? What about one page? Or even one panel? Keep fine tuning until you start to have realistic expectations on what you can accomplish. You can even go so far as to make notes on your moods and habits so you know when the best times are for you to work, and when you’ll be mentally checked out. Don’t assume that just because you tend to stay up late that that’s the only time when you can produce your best work.
Ray Bradbury wrote a thousand words a day. He wrote one short story a week for ten years. He wrote Fahrenheit 451 on a typewriter in the basement of a library. You had to put a dime in the typewriter to get a half hour of typing. The first draft of Fahrenheit cost $9.80. This was a man who was so feverishly consumed by his ideas that he had to get them out at any cost. He didn’t perpetually search for the BEST typewriter as he was writing, or check the news every five minutes just in case. He knew how to get out of the way of his stories.
Next up: Loving Work. The differences between Agony Work, Happy Work, and the Busy Work that sneaks up in-between.