Ray Bradbury’s Advice: Seek Mentors and Find a “Church” of Fellow Writers

The Bradbury Chronicles

In my current re-reading of The Bradbury Chronicles by Sam Weller, I came across an amusing little anecdote that makes a serious point that all writers (especially beginning writers) should remember. One of the reasons Ray Bradbury achieved so much at a relatively young age was that he was bold and gregarious, and he eagerly sought out mentors. One of those mentors was Robert A. Heinlein. In an anecdote that is only two sentences long, Sam Weller writes:

“Once, Ray visited Heinlein at his home and stood behind him and watched him type. Ray knew that just standing there as a witness he was privileged.”1

I love that mental image! Robert Heinlein pounding away at a new story, with young Bradbury breathing down his neck, reading over his shoulder as each new word appeared on the page. Ninety-nine out of a hundred writers would have told Bradbury to beat it.2 But Heinlein saw something in Bradbury, and he was willing to let the wannabe writer observe him in the act of creating a story.

At that time, Ray Bradbury was about nineteen years old and an unpublished fanzine editor. He had met Heinlein and his wife Leslyn at a meeting of the local Science Fiction Society, which met at Clifton’s Cafeteria in Los Angeles. Leslyn found the exuberant young Bradbury to be rather annoying, but Bob Heinlein liked him and took him under his wing. Heinlein even helped Bradbury make his first semi-professional sale, submitting Ray’s story “It’s Not the Heat, It’s the Hu . . .” to the Hollywood literary magazine Script, with his personal recommendation. Ray was “paid” three gratis copies of the magazine, and couldn’t have been happier.

The young Bradbury also sought out the friendship and mentorship of such experienced writers as Jack Williamson, Robert Bloch, Henry Hasse, Henry Kuttner, and Leigh Brackett. These seasoned, multi-published professionals read his work, gave him advice, introduced him to editors, and put in a good word for him now and then.

Of Leigh Brackett, Bradbury once said, “Leigh taught me pure story writing. Her stories were very simple, and well plotted, and very beautiful. I learned from her how to pare my stories down and how to plot.”3

One of Bradbury’s mentors, Henry Hasse, even collaborated with Bradbury on a few stories. Bradbury’s first true professional sale was “Pendulum,” a story he co-wrote  with Hasse. Bradbury split the $27.50 check with Hasse and their agent, Julius Schwartz.

Looking back, Bradbury credited his mentors for much of his success and growth as a writer. Sam Weller quotes Bradbury: “If I were to give advice to young writers, I would say, number one, they should start out writing every day of their lives. Number two, they should go out and seek other people in a similar situation—find an ad hoc church, you might say.”4

Ray Bradbury instinctively understood the importance of his mentors and his community of fellow writers, his literary “church.” Bradbury’s eagerness to learn from his mentors is one of the reasons he went so far, wrote so well, and lasted so long.

______________________

Notes

1. Sam Weller, The Bradbury Chronicles (New York: Morrow, 2005), 102.

2. In fact, somewhere in my files, I have a letter Heinlein wrote me in the 1970s, rejecting my request for an interview and asking me to not to write to him again.

3. Weller, 108.

4. Weller, 104.

Advertisements
Leave a comment

2 Comments

  1. I totally agree. I don’t know where I’d be today without my critique group. Not only did they helped me learn to write better, they also gave me support and encouragement at times when I doubted my writing skills.

    Reply
  2. Thanks for that real life affirmation of Bradbury’s insight, Annie. Camaraderie, encouragement, feedback, shared learning, accountability, networking, mentoring—so many advantages to group support! —Jim D.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: