Inspiration Monday: The Bradbury Version

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This month in the InMon library, something a little different. But first, let’s look at last month’s submissions. This was a particularly good run, I think. I really enjoyed this serial from Tara, this well-placed replay from Kim, and another from Tara.

Now. What’s going on?

I’ve been dipping back into Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing, a brilliant, short, not-really-zen gem about finding and sustaining your writing inspiration. Bradbury wrote 1,000+ words a day, every day, from the age of 12, but it wasn’t until his twenties that he really started to find his voice. He says:

“…along through those years I began to make lists of titles, to put down long lines of nouns. Those lists were the provocations, finally, that caused my better stuff to surface. I was feeling my way toward something honest, hidden under the trapdoor on the top of my skull. The list ran something like this: THE LAKE. THE NIGHT. THE CRICKETS. THE RAVINE. THE ATTIC. THE BASEMENT. THE TRAPDOOR. THE BABY. THE CROWD. THE NIGHT TRAIN. THE FOG HORN. THE SCYTHE. THE CARNIVAL. THE CAROUSEL. THE DWARF. THE MIRROR MAZE. THE SKELETON.

“I was beginning to see a pattern in the list, in these words that I had simply flung forth on paper…I discovered my old love and fright having to do with circuses and carnivals. I remembered, and then forgot, and then remembered again, how terrified I had been when  my mother took me for my first ride on a merry-go-round.”

That terror, he goes on to say, led him to write Something Wicked This Way Comes. He details several stories he eventually wrote based on most of the items on his list, including those that became The Martian Chronicles and Dandelion Wine. Then:

“In sum, a series of nouns, some with rare adjectives, which described a territory unknown, an undiscovered country, part of it Death, the rest Life. If I had not made up these prescriptions for Discovery I would never have become the jackdaw archaeologist or anthropologist that I am. That jackdaw who seeks bright objects, odd carapaces and misshapen femurs from the boneheaps of junk inside my head, where lay strewn the remnants of collisions with life as well as Buck Rogers, Tarzan, John Carter, Quasimodo, and all the other creatures who made me want to live forever.”

What strikes me about this (aside from, “good gravy, that man could write!”) is its similarity to the thing that originally inspired Inspiration Monday: the prompting method of my first true writing teacher, Miss Judy. She’d spout a list of phrases, long pauses in between, and we’d scribble ideas into our notebooks. They were simple phrases, not wordplay, but evocative. And (though in not quite as dark a way) they touched on the same wonder, intrigue and terror that Bradbury describes.

The magic is that the words are connected first with imagery and emotion. The scenes that get burned onto your brain, and the feelings deep down in your gut that, if you could only recreate them for your readers, might spark something equally familiar and hair-raising.

So here is my proposal

This month’s InMon assignment (and I don’t know if we’ll continue this, but let’s see where it goes), is to make our own lists. Reach back and find the things that frightened and fascinated us as children. Moments we loved and hated. Things that shocked us, stayed with us. Books and cartoons we were obsessed with, and were embarrassed to be obsessed with. We’ll keep each item as simple, short and evocative as the phrases above.

Post your list on your blog at the end of the month, and please leave me a link in the comments of this post. I’ll be trying the exercise along with you. Perhaps each list will only mean something to the person who created it. But I’m curious to see if the same words are evocative for the rest of us, maybe for different reasons.

The following month, we’ll each choose prompts from our own lists and write something. I’ll hash out the details as we get to them.

What do you say? Interested?

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Happy writing!

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  1. I’m in – I decided to come back and try InMon again after a long hiatus and found this so yes, I’ll be posting a list and sharing it with you well before the month is ended.

  2. I’m in too. Sounds interesting. Off to ponder my list.

  3. Hell, yeah! Woo!

    … or as we say over here, sounds like an interesting proposition.

  4. Hey!
    So this exercise got me super-excited and I’ve already made my list 😀
    BUT as instructed, not posting it yet.
    Have set it on auto-post/scheduled for the tail end of the month.
    For your info though, here’s the link and it’ll be up post the 20th.


  5. May I share this on my blog?

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