Koontz v. Bradbury

“Every morning I jump out of bed and step on a landmine. The landmine is me. After the explosion, I spend the rest of the day putting the pieces together.”

“Because I don’t do a quick first draft and then revise it, I have plenty of time to let the subconscious work; therefore, I am led to surprise after surprise that enriches story and deepens character.”

In his nonfiction wonder, Zen in the Art of Writing, Ray Bradbury asks, “What do you want more than anything else in the world?”

Me? I want friends and family whom I love and who love me. I also want a productive job.

What does this have to do with writing? Bradbury argues that a character who shares your deepest yearning “will rush you through to the end of the story.”

Bradbury asks pointed questions. “What do you love, or what do you hate?”

I love solitude. Being comfortable in my own skin. Unexpected beauty. Games. Pondering. Music. Food. Genuine laughter.

I hate parties (I also hate that I hate parties). What else? Falseness. Being hungry. Being tired. Green beans. The injustice of slaughterhouses. Making people feel bad.

“If you are writing without zest, without gusto, without love, without fun, you are only half a writer.” How can what you want, what you love, and what you hate set you on fire when you write?

In an online interview, Dean Koontz confesses that his near-crippling self-doubt forces him to “revise and polish one page — ten times, twenty times, whatever — until I am unable to make it flow more smoothly or invest it with more tension. Only then do I move on to the next page.”

Koontz attributes his method to severe self-doubt, but I see its practicality. Why move on to the next page of writing unless what you have written already is very good? Writing crap on top of crap is like trying to construct a house of cards on quicksand.

“I work 10- and 11-hour days because in long sessions I fall away more completely into story and characters than I would in, say, a six-hour day.”

Sometimes we’re lucky to have even two hours to write. We padawans of writing must shun our electronic chums and close the doors if we want to have any chance of falling into a hypnotic state.

Let’s end with quotes from our two masters.

“The secret is doing it day after day, committing to it and avoiding distractions. A month — perhaps 22 to 25 days — goes by, and, as a slow drip of water can fill a cauldron in a month, so you discover that you have 75 polished pages.”

“You must stay drunk on writing so that reality cannot destroy you.”

Can you guess who said what?

And whose team are you on?

Sources: Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury // Interview with Dean Koontz

18 thoughts on “Koontz v. Bradbury

  1. I haven’t read “Zen in the Art of Writing” – must see if I can track down a copy.
    Personally I don’t polish as I go because I don’t know where I’m going til I get to the end anyway, and it’s a waste of my time to polish prose that may not fit in the finished work. But that’s just me.

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    • It’s a great read! Just finished reading it for the second time. And I only re-read books that are really good!
      I normally write the same way … I am interested in trying out Koontz’s method, though. Maybe magic will happen!

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      • You’re magically impassioned. I feel it is most important in that without it, you may as well create only for profit. Keep up the great work, and never leave out the passion for what you love. Best wishes!

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      • I’m happy to share in the real importance of life. Glad it helps anyone feel they have a good sense of self worth and hope it will serve as a constant reminder that you also can make lifelong contributions in that way. Stay good…and you are very welcome!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. For me writing has an energy all its own. I treat it lightly because it doesn’t work if I get in my head and try to force it. I give it free reign and sometimes something remarkable appears. Sometimes not.

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    • I like that approach. Bradbury says something similar in Zen in the Art of Writing. Something about an idea, if pressed too hard, will roll on its back and die. Sad! And yes, sometimes nothing remarkable appears. That’s when the doubt comes in! Grr!

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  3. I am much more a Bradbury. I take my time in writing, although I don’t have nearly the time I need. I do go back and reread and rewrite parts of novels before they are finished, unless I’m in a writing frenzy. But I need to slow down and love life as much as I love writing, and don’t want to get super stressed by either anymore.

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  4. I understand Koontz’s obsessive revision- it is one of the reasons I have been a slow writer. But now I am trying to subscibe to Anne Lamott’s admonition to just sit down and write the sh**ty first draft. Pick up her book “Bird by Bird” if you haven’t read it yet. It contains some of the best advice on writing.

    Thanks for stopping by and following my blog.

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    • I’ll be sure to check that book out! I always hate the first draft. I think that’s why Koontz’s method appeals to me — he cuts it out entirely. But then again, he is a master and I am not. I don’t know if I can pull it off. I’m working on something right now with that method — we’ll see how it turns out!

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