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The Lever #029: Ray Bradbury's Hygiene of Writing

Read Time: 6.2 minutes

Welcome to issue No. 29 of The Lever

The purpose of the newsletter is to help you develop Smart Systems that will make you Productive, Prolific, and Profitable.

Ray Bradbury was one of the most prolific authors of our time.

Adopt his writing hygeine practice and double your creative output today.


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In 2001 Ray Bradbury gave a keynote speech to a sold out crowd. Is was at the sixth annual Writer's Symposium by the Sea, hosted at Point Loma Nazarene University.

Although 81 years old at the time and walking with a came, he came to life when he started to speak. Passionate about the craft of writing he exclaimed "Writing is joy! I have never worked a day in my life." Driving his points home using stories rich with imagery you get to see a master storyteller at work. The video can be viewed here.

Mr. Prolific

Over the course of his life Bradbury published over thirty novels, more than six-hundred short stories, and countless poems and essays. He has won most every prize for writing that there is; from the Pulitzer to the National Medal of Arts. He even won an Emmy for his work in Hollywood. All this from a poor family man who couldn't afford to go to college. Instead, he would spend three to four days every week at the Waukegan Public Library for over ten years, reading and teaching himself to write.

“I lived at the library. I never went to college. I couldn't afford to do that.

But I went to the library three or four days a week for ten years.

And I graduated from the library when I was 28."

His focus was clear. For 2 years he sold newspapers on a street corner in order to provide for his family. Much like the bricklayer building the cathedral, when asked what he was doing Bradbury would answer "Becoming a writer."

The Hygiene of Writing

During the speech Bradbury shares his thoughts on the "Hygiene of Writing" which is his daily program for improving your skills.

It is a simple program, with only two steps, and could be completed as the bookends for your day. Step 1 in the morning and step 2 in the evening.

Then repeat for the rest of your life.

Step 1. Write a hell of a lot of short stories.

“If you can write one short story a week—doesn’t matter what the quality is to start, but at least you’re practicing. At the end of the year, you have 52 short stories, and I defy you to write 52 bad ones. Can’t be done.”

After maybe 30 weeks or 50 weeks a gem will appear.

This is the deliberate practice portion of the program. The 10,000 hours.

If you want to learn to write, then you must write.

Bradbury warns against starting out by writing novels, as you don't know the craft yet. Indeed he didn't produce his own first novel until he was 30 years old; a full 18 years into his writing career.

Instead, he considers short stories to be required training in the following skills:

1. Compacting Ideas - with a short story you don't have the space to ramble on. You need to trim the fat; get to the point. Your ideas need to be presented clearly and succinctly.

2. Completion - If you write a short story every week then you complete something every week. This is a powerful motivating factor and finishing what you start is not a skill that all of us possess.

On Writers Block

Can't think of what to write? Then you are writing the wrong thing.

Bradbury figures that writers block is your subconscious telling you to do something else.

If you really aren't sure where to start he recommends this:

• Make a list of 10 things you love. Write about them.

• Make a list of 10 things you hate. Kill them.

That should get you through the summer.

Step 2. Every day, read the following:

• One short story

• One poem

• One Essay

"Imagine if you do this for 1,000 nights, what kind of stuff will be bouncing around in your head!"

The aim of this reading program is to "cram yourself full of metaphors." He argues that to write well you must use metaphor, but to do that you must first be able to recognize them when you see them.

He writes by making new connections between disparate things, so reads wide and deep to fill his head with fodder for the subconscious.

To write something unique you must read a multitude of unique material.

Unique input = unique output.

Short Stories

Bradbury was clear, "Modern short stories have no metaphor."

He recommends instead to read short stories from the turn of the century, as they are thick with them. Some of the authors he recommends:

• Roal Dahl

• Richard Matheson

• Nigel Kniel

• John Collier

• Catherine Warden

• John Irving

• Herman Melville


This section was personally challenging as I've never been very poetically minded. I began to write a few trite phrases, but after some reflection I realized that this is exactly the reason Bradbury recommends reading a poem every night; to learn about it and educate yourself.

Starting with the classics of course.

Bradbury's go to's are Shakespeare and Robert Frost.

If you have any recommendations please leave them in the comments!


A well written essay will teach you something; either in the broad sense or in a very specific sense.

They can be factual or opinion, philosophy or personal experiences. And, as in everything, Bradbury recommends sticking to the classics.

The essays of George Bernard Shaw in particular are his top recommendation. In fact, he states that if he were stuck on a dessert island with only three items, these would be one of them (the others being the bible and the works of Shakespeare).

And speaking of Georges; George Orwell was another prolific essayist. His works can be found for free on Project Gutenberg.


While not part of his 3 part reading program, Bradbury also recommends watching old movies. You could start by working through the 100 Greatest Movies of All Time.

That's time well spent.

Final Thoughts

Bradbury made two additional points during his talk that are worth mentioning briefly:

Fire your friends

Anybody who doesn't support you, who doesn't believe in you. Get them out of your life. Damn the naysayers and get on with your business.

Good advice for anything, not just writing.

Live in the library, not on your computer

Harder to pull off these days, but worth considering nonetheless.

As we become increasingly "connected" we also become detached in other areas. Our ability to focus decreases. Our stress level rises due to the numerous open loops hanging over us, in the form of incoming emails, messages, and other electronic obligations. If any of this resonates with you then I highly recommend reading Deep Work by Cal Newport.

All you need is a pad of paper, a pencil, and a library card. With them you can move mountains.


The program is simple.

Write every morning. Read every evening.

Go make Ray proud.


When you are ready, here are a few ways I can help:

1. Subscribe to The Lever (if you haven't already)

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Smart systems to make you productive, prolific, and profitable | Find me on Twitter @SeanPHogue | Sign up here for the weekly newsletter, The Lever, and create some leverage in your life.


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