Monday 2 February 2015

Ray Bradbury's Bedtime Reading Diet

Today I welcome writer Ian Rose onto my blog. Ian's writing has appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Plasma Frequency and other venues. Ian's also the founder of QuarterReads, a site that offers readers the chance to buy a story for a twenty five cents. Ian talks about the Ray Bradbury Reading Diet. I've always admired a person who can stick to a diet. Little by little you can get the job done.

Readers, do you follow a reading diet like Ian?

In addition to giving us classics of science fiction like Fahrenheit  
451 and The Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury was never short of advice  
for budding and aspiring writers. Perhaps his most famous assignment  
is to write one short story a week for a year. He claimed that he had  
never met the young writer who could do this and produce 52 bad  
stories in a row. That one never quite landed with me. I’m a variable  
speed writer, sometimes producing three stories in a week, sometimes  
one in a month. But another one of his prescriptions always interested  
me, and a few months ago, I started doing my best to follow it.
Bradbury advised new writers to end their day by reading three things:  
a short story, an essay and a poem, as a way of generating new ideas.  
“At the end of a thousand nights, Jesus God, you’ll be full of stuff!”  
he said. Although idea generation has never been a huge problem for me  
(sorting and choosing, more so), I always kept this idea in the back  
of my head, and in November decided to give it a serious try.
These days, finding short stories is easier than ever. Selling them  
for a reasonable price - that’s a trick - but there are abundant  
sources of free online short fiction, whether you prefer genre  
(Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, etc.) or literary (McSweeneys, The  
Barcelona Review), more stories than ever are available to anyone with  
an internet connection. I tried to mix it up between screen and print,  
making use of my local library and bookstore for the latter, but often  
fell back on the multitudes of online fiction.
Essays are trickier these days. I would argue that where the internet  
has led to an explosion of available short fiction, the online medium  
has diluted the essay to a shadow of its former self. Where does one  
draw the line these days, between an essay and an article? Creative  
nonfiction in the traditional sense - and in more recent and  
interesting permutations - are out there, but they are surrounded on  
all sides by think-pieces and opinion blogs, and these are not the  
same thing. I struggled for a while to find sources of what I  
considered to be true essays, and that struggle has turned out to be  
one of the most worthwhile parts of this exercise.
Again, I turned to the library, checking out two books of classic  
essays. Though I don’t concede that the form of the essay is dead by  
any means, I wasn’t finding what I wanted in the new markets, and so  
fell serendipitously into the warm and comforting arms of some older  
ones I had previously missed. I read Chesterton and Booker T.  
Washington, Margaret Atwood and Thoreau. I supplemented these with  
some entries from the most recent “Best American Science and Nature  
Writing”, figuring that though many of these counted more as articles  
than essays, if that line really did have any meaning, at least they  
were excellent articles.
Bradbury was cleverest to add in essays, I think, because especially  
for a science fiction writer but really for anyone who writes, there  
is no limit to the value of reading nonfiction. The real world is  
either the place where we set our stories or the first and most  
complete template we have for creating worlds of our own. Aside from  
the value of understanding it as an educated human and citizen, the  
reward to better knowing it as a writer cannot be overstated.
Then came the poems. I must admit, I’ve never been a big reader of  
poetry. I’ve never argued that there are beautiful, wonderful,  
important poems, but my interest has always been firmly focused on  
prose. So the addition of a poem a night was maybe the biggest change  
to my reading diet. I discovered great poems by Oscar Wilde, Emily  
Dickinson and T.S. Eliot, while also digging into online markets like  
Goblin Fruit. My fallback, when I couldn’t find a new source for  
poetry on any given night, has been my fiancee’s copy of “The Treasury  
of American Poetry”, which should last me quite a bit longer if I  
don’t go back to it every night.
After a few months, I firmly recommend the Bradbury Diet, as I’ve come  
to think of it, to anyone who will listen. One of my worries about  
upping my short fiction, nonfiction and poetry reading was that it  
would cut into my limited time for reading novels, but my speed of  
getting through the big fantasy and science fiction doorstops that  
litter my house has, if anything, increased. And true to Bradbury’s  
promise, new ideas have flowed as freely as ever since starting the  
diet. I have a document I use to store ideas that aren’t yet stories,  
and it has been bursting. My short writing has improved, too, I think,  
with the infusion of a more crowded set of voices in my daily reading.
In short (if that’s possible at this point), give it a shot. You may  
not be able to write 52 stories in 52 weeks, but most of us have time  
for a few short reads as we settle down each night, and if you’re  
anything like me, the rewards will far outweigh the cost.


  1. Useful and interesting post. I will give the diet a try but my past history of diets is not that good. I find the BBC online features a helpful source of inspiration as it gives an in-depth insight into a topic with alternative views.

    1. Diets! Ah you start with good intentions. This one looks tempting, though. I do a lot of reading, but it's all over the place.

      And Thanks for the tip about the BBC, I will check them out.

  2. Gak, diet is such a bad word! But it's an interesting concept. My only problem is the poetry. Unless it's Dr. Seuss or Ogden Nash, poetry isn't my thing. Still, worth trying to feed inspiration.

  3. *laughs* all my women readers (including me) are like: Whoah! Did somebody say diet?

    I'm not a trained poet, but I do like writing it sometimes. And sometimes, a poem will expand into a bit of flash. So for me, everything feeds in. (not that we're all the same, of course). And I find that poetry helps me with the lyricism and the rhythm of my prose.