Robert Bloch’s Advice to Ray Bradbury: “The Danger Lies in Waiting Too Long”

Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury in 1975

I’ve been reading Jonathan Eller’s Becoming Ray Bradbury. Like Sam Weller’s fascinating books on Bradbury, Eller’s book contains a wealth of insight into the depths of Ray Bradbury’s great soul, intellect, passions, and writing process. During the 1940s, Bradbury mastered the short story and developed a creative process that focused entirely on emotion and intuition. He did not outline his stories in advance. In fact, many of his most famous tales began with a simple process of word association, summoning characters, scenes, situations, themes, and symbols from his subconscious mind.

Bradbury was the master of the “narrative push” approach to writing—setting off in search of a story with no idea where you’re going. This is what he meant when he advised fellow writers, “Take risks! You’ve got to jump off cliffs and build your wings on the way down.” Or, as he told Writer’s Digest interviewer Robert Jacobs in 1976, “The only good writing is intuitive writing. It would be a big bore if you knew where it was going. It has to be exciting, instantaneous and it has to be a surprise. Then it all comes blurting out and it’s beautiful. I’ve had a sign by my typewriter for 25 years now which reads, ‘Don’t Think!'”

Ray Bradbury’s intuitive approach, which served him so well in short stories in the 3,000 to 6,000-word range, proved less helpful when he attempted novel-length work. During the 1940s, he began three novels. Two of them, Masks and Where Ignorant Armies Clash by Night (whose title comes from a line in Matthew Arnold’s poem “Dover Beach”) led to dead ends. (Material from both unfinished novels later made its way into Fahrenheit 451). The third novel, which Bradbury called “the Illinois novel,” was stalled for many years, and was finally published in 1957 as Dandelion Wine.

Robert Bloch in 1976

In August 1947, as Bradbury was struggling to find a strategy for transitioning from a short story writer to a novelist, he received an encouraging kick-in-the-pants letter from his good friend and fellow writer, Robert Bloch (best known as the author of Psycho and “That Hell-Bound Train”). Bloch understood that Bradbury had a tendency, common to most writers, of approaching a novel-length work with sense of intimidation due to the importance and gravity of the undertaking. So Robert Bloch gave Bradbury a word of encouragement that we can all, as practitioners of the writing craft, take to heart. Bloch wrote:

“I urge you with all sincerity to get to work, write a book, write two—three—four books, just as a matter of course. Don’t worry about ‘wasting’ an idea or ‘spoiling’ a plot by going too fast. If you are capable of turning out a masterpiece, you’ll get other and even better ideas in the future. Right now your job is to write, and to write books so that by so doing you’ll gain the experience to write still better books later on. . . .

“Naturally, I have no right to preach at you, except the self-assumed one of interest in you and friendship for you. But I want you to do novels, and there is not the slightest doubt about your being able to do them successfully from both a commercial and an artistic standpoint. The danger—and I feel it is a real one—lies in waiting too long and developing an attitude about the importance or gravity of a novel-length work.”

The letter excerpt is from Jonathan Eller’s Becoming Ray Bradbury (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2011), 183.

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3 Comments

  1. I enjoyed this insight into Bradbury’s life, thanks for posting.

    Reply
  2. Thanks for your note, sir. I found Bloch’s letter to Bradbury to be personally challenging and inspiring as I’m working on new novels of my own, and I’m glad you enjoyed it. All the best!

    Reply
  3. Very interesting!

    Reply

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