Brain Pickings

Remembering Ray Bradbury with 11 Timeless Quotes on Joy, Failure, Writing, Creativity, and Purpose

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The literary hero in his own words.

What a tragic season it’s been for literary heroes who defined generations of readers and creators. Last month, we lost Maurice Sendak, and this week, Ray Bradbury — beloved author, champion of curiosity, relentless advocate of libraries — passed way at the age of 91. To celebrate his life and legacy, here are eleven of his most timeless insights on writing, culture, creativity, failure, happiness, and more.

On doing what you love, in this wonderful 2008 video interview from the National Endowment for the Arts:

Love what you do and do what you love. Don’t listen to anyone else who tells you not to do it. You do what you want, what you love. Imagination should be the center of your life.

On art, in Zen in the Art of Writing: Releasing the Creative Genius Within You:

We have our Arts so we won’t die of Truth.

UPDATE: Reader Dr. Karen Funt writes: “‘We have our Arts so we don’t die of the truth’ is really Nietzsche… [W]hether Bradbury realized that he was quoting Nietzsche, I don’t know, but it isn’t fair to Nietzsche to have the attribution of one of his greatest thoughts, given over to another, especially at that person’s death. I’m glad that Bradbury liked the idea, but that does not make it his.”

On reading as a prerequisite for democracy, from the same 2008 NEA interview:

If you know how to read, you have a complete education about life, then you know how to vote within a democracy. But if you don’t know how to read, you don’t know how to decide. That’s the great thing about our country — we’re a democracy of readers, and we should keep it that way.

On creativity and the myth of the muse, in Zen in the Art of Writing:

That’s the great secret of creativity. You treat ideas like cats: you make them follow you.

On creative purpose and perseverance in the face of rejection, in Snoopy’s Guide to the Writing Life:

[S]tarting when I was fifteen I began to send short stories to magazines like Esquire, and they, very promptly, sent them back two days before they got them! I have several walls in several rooms of my house covered with the snowstorm of rejections, but they didn’t realize what a strong person I was; I persevered and wrote a thousand more dreadful short stories, which were rejected in turn. Then, during the late forties, I actually began to sell short stories and accomplished some sort of deliverance from snowstorms in my fourth decade. But even today, my latest books of short stories contain at least seven stories that were rejected by every magazine in the United States and also in Sweden! So … take heart from this. The blizzard doesn’t last forever; it just seems so.

On signal and noise, in Zen in the Art of Writing:

Ours is a culture and a time immensely rich in trash as it is in treasures.

On curiosity and stimulating work, in his fantastic 2001 speech at The Sixth Annual Writer’s Symposium by the Sea:

I want your loves to be multiple. I don’t want you to be a snob about anything. Anything you love, you do it. It’s got to be with a great sense of fun. Writing is not a serious business. It’s a joy and a celebration. You should be having fun with it. Ignore the authors who say ‘Oh, my God, what word? Oh, Jesus Christ…,’ you know. Now, to hell with that. It’s not work. If it’s work, stop and do something else.

On joy in one’s work, in the same 2001 speech:

I’ve never worked a day in my life. I’ve never worked a day in my life. The joy of writing has propelled me from day to day and year to year. I want you to envy me, my joy. Get out of here tonight and say: ‘Am I being joyful?’ And if you’ve got a writer’s block, you can cure it this evening by stopping whatever you’re writing and doing something else. You picked the wrong subject.

On symbolism and self-consciousness, in a lovely 1963 project by a high school student asking famous writers to weigh in on symbolism:

I never consciously place symbolism in my writing. That would be a self-conscious exercise and self-consciousness is defeating to any creative act. Better to get the subconscious to do the work for you, and get out of the way. The best symbolism is always unsuspected and natural. During a lifetime, one saves up information which collects itself around centers in the mind; these automatically become symbols on a subliminal level and need only be summoned in the heat of writing.

On the beauty of life’s ephemeral nature, in his final piece in the New Yorker:

Even at [age eleven], I was beginning to perceive the endings of things, like this lovely paper light. I had already lost my grandfather, who went away for good when I was five. I remember him so well: the two of us on the lawn in front of the porch, with twenty relatives for an audience, and the paper balloon held between us for a final moment, filled with warm exhalations, ready to go.

On legacy, through a character in Fahrenheit 451:

Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there.

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