Ray Bradbury, writer for The Twilight Zone and author of, among other things, The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man, Something Wicked This Way Comes, Fahrenheit 451, and the screenplay for the 1956 John Huston film Moby Dick (starring Gregory Peck), was the patron of my high school writing club.
That’s not to say that he and I, or he and the club, were intimate pals.
But I do remember the time that we had to go out to the west side of Los Angeles to pick him up for a talk. (He didn’t drive.)
And, most of all, I remember that evening’s talk.
He said that the main thing that kept aspiring writers from success was the fact that most of them didn’t write. Nothing more mysterious than that. There was no substitute, he said, for simply sitting in front of the typewriter and writing. (Yes, it was back in the age of “typewriters.” Look them up.) You can’t become a writer, he said, merely by wishing to be one. It takes — my word, not his — what the Germans call Sitzfleisch (literally, “sitting flesh”), the willingness and ability to actually put in the time.
If you want writing to be something like a job, he said, treat it like a job. Write. Set hours to write. Write even if no inspiration has come upon you. Inspiration, he said, is much more likely to descend if you’re actually writing. If you wait around for it to materialize at its own whim, it may never do so.
He told of hours spent writing furiously, only to throw it all into the waste basket.
He also told us that he had had to give up on the idea of writing at home.
Even though it was his rent-paying, food-buying job — and he began his writing career having to regularly churn stuff out for pulp magazines like Imagination!, Super Science Stories, and his own Futuria Fantasia — and to meet deadlines, people didn’t take it seriously because he was still in his house. They felt free to interrupt him, come over for visits, call for long phone chats, and the like. They treated his writing as if it were a dispensable free-time hobby.
Finally, he had to rent some office space, where he would write roughly 9-5 each day. Only then, when what he was doing looked something like the routine of a lawyer or a dentist or an executive, did his friends, kin, and acquaintances begin to take his time seriously.
And, by the way, I loved his work. I read it all. I almost didn’t mention that.