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.