In his essay collection Zen in the Art of Writing, Ray Bradbury talks about writing his classic dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451. Distracted by his daughters at home (“Father had to choose between finishing a story or playing with the girls. I chose to play, of course, which endangered the family income”), he began visiting the university library to write.
At the time it cost a dime for every half hour to rent one of the typewriters, so he’d write like mad trying to cram words in. It cost him a total of $9.80—all in dimes—to complete the first draft, which he did in nine days.
I thought that was a pretty great story. I can picture the young father, desperate to make the most of his limited writing time, hunched over an Underwood in the basement of a university library, furiously pounding away at the keys. The end product turned out pretty well, wouldn’t you agree?
Bradbury was a big advocate for writing every day, and for having fun while doing it. He insisted we should write with joy:
If you are writing without zest, without gusto, without love, without fun, you are only half a writer. It means you are so busy keeping one eye on the commercial market, or one ear peeled for the avant-garde coterie, that you are not being yourself. You don’t even know yourself. For the first thing a writer should be is—excited. He should be a thing of fevers and enthusiasms.
I’ve written with joy, with love, and with gusto. I’ve also written with self-doubt, with despair, and with dread. I always felt like a whole writer, but it’s true that if you’re writing your story for anyone else besides yourself, you’re not really being you.
Not every writing project will be fun, but it should at least be exciting. Sometimes I get excited about an idea but then overthink it and lose that joy. I used to believe it was the actual writing I found laborious, the way Dorothy Parker described it when she said she hated writing but loved having written. But no—for me the frustration is not writing, but not writing, which inevitably happens when I’m overthinking.
Which would not be a problem, I’m sure, if I had to pay for the privilege of typing out my words. I guess with inflation that dime Ray Bradbury paid for every half hour of typing Fahrenheit 451 would be, today, about a dollar. And I imagine if it cost me two dollars an hour to write, I’d write a lot faster. Maybe I could even draft an entire novel in nine days.
Okay, probably not. But I’m sure I’d have more fun doing it.
Writers are writers whether they choose to write with misery or with joy; I’d much rather choose joy. And Ray Bradbury had the perfect advice for how to do that, summed up in two little words he kept on a sign by his own typewriter for decades: