The Secret of Life and Love, According to Ray Bradbury (1968)

“Jump off the cliff and build your wings on the way down.” This—writes Sam Weller in his intro­duc­tion to a 2010 inter­view with sci-fi and fan­ta­sy lumi­nary Ray Brad­bury—was the author’s “life­long cre­do.” Weller writes of dis­cov­er­ing an unpub­lished Paris Review inter­view from the 1970s in Bradbury’s garage, with a note from edi­tor George Plimp­ton that read “a bit infor­mal in places, maybe over­ly enthu­si­as­tic.” The irony of this judg­ment is that it is Bradbury’s enthu­si­asm, his lack of for­mal­i­ty, which make him so com­pelling and so copi­ous a writer and speak­er. Brad­bury didn’t self-edit or sec­ond guess much—his approach is best char­ac­ter­ized as fear­less and pas­sion­ate, just as he describes his writ­ing process:

I type my first draft quick­ly, impul­sive­ly even. A few days lat­er I retype the whole thing and my sub­con­scious, as I retype, gives me new words. Maybe it’ll take retyp­ing it many times until it is done. Some­times it takes very lit­tle revi­sion.

It’s that unfet­tered expres­sion of his sub­con­scious that Brad­bury dis­cuss­es in the short clip above, in which he re-invig­o­rates all the sort of carpe diem clichés one hears so often by fram­ing them not as self-help sug­ges­tions but as imper­a­tives for a full and healthy life. Respond­ing in the moment, says Brad­bury, refus­ing to “put off till tomor­row… what I must do, right now,” allows him to “find out what my secret self needs, wants, desires with all its heart.” For Brad­bury, writ­ing is much more than a for­mal exer­cise or a spe­cial­ized craft—it is a vital expres­sion of his full human­i­ty and a means of “cleans­ing the stream” of his mind: “We belong only by doing,” he says, “and we own only by doing, and we love only by doing…. If you want an inter­pre­ta­tion of life and love, that would be the clos­est thing I could come to.”

Brad­bury doesn’t lim­it his phi­los­o­phy to the writ­ing life; he advo­cates for every­one an unabashed emo­tion­al engage­ment with the world. For him, the man (and woman, we might pre­sume), who can­not “laugh freely,” cry, or “be violent”—which he defines in sub­li­mat­ing terms as any phys­i­cal or cre­ative activity—is a “sick man.” Bradbury’s “over­ly enthu­si­as­tic” explo­rations of cre­ative pas­sion were almost as much a part of his out­put as his fic­tion. His inter­views, tele­vised and in print, are inspir­ing for this rea­son: he is nev­er coy or pre­ten­tious but push­es oth­ers to aspire to the same kind of authen­tic joy he seemed to take in every­thing he did.

By the way, the first per­son we see above is leg­endary Warn­er Bros. ani­ma­tor Chuck Jones (as one Youtube com­menter says, we get in this clip “two vision­ar­ies for the price of one”). Bradbury’s “vital­i­ty,” says Jones, “rubs off on the peo­ple who work with him.” And, he might have added, all of the peo­ple who read and lis­ten to him, too.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Ray Brad­bury: “The Things That You Love Should Be Things That You Do.” “Books Teach Us That”

Ray Brad­bury: Sto­ry of a Writer 1963 Film Cap­tures the Para­dox­i­cal Late Sci-Fi Author

Ray Brad­bury Gives 12 Pieces of Writ­ing Advice to Young Authors (2001)

Ray Brad­bury: Lit­er­a­ture is the Safe­ty Valve of Civ­i­liza­tion

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (4)
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  • Jason J Marchi says:

    Thanks for this, Josh Jones. It’s because of Ray Brad­bury that I became a writer. And going from being a fan to becom­ing a close friend of Ray’s was an amaz­ing life gift to me; an impos­si­ble dream come true.

  • Diana Reh Hunt says:

    I fell in love with Ray Brad­bury’s writ­ing decades ago, while in 7th grade. I col­lect­ed his books into my twen­ties. The images he wrote about; scents, sounds, tastes, even tem­per­a­tures, I expe­ri­enced through his com­pelling and col­or­ful tales.

    It is so very impor­tant to include all of the sens­es in writ­ing a believ­able sto­ry. He was the best!

    Now, I write poet­ry and chil­dren’s sto­ries of my own. Ray Brad­bury remains my favorite writer.

  • Josh Jones says:

    @Jason: You’re wel­come!

  • Shawn Stewart says:

    Love the thoughts on Brad­bury…

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