The Bradbury Challenge

 “Writing is not a serious business. It’s a joy and a celebration.”

– Ray Bradbury

 

Around 18 months ago, my writing buddy Joma and I were in a bit of a writing slump and we decided to do something to reinvigorate ourselves. We wanted to challenge our writing in a way we never had before based on something Ray Bradbury, one of our favourite authors, once said about writing one short story each week for a year.

Our goal was to reconnect with the pleasure of writing – to enjoy it again after taking it so seriously for so long. (If you’d like an idea of how seriously I took writing, then you should read my article The Fire.) Joma and I wanted to tap into the joy of writing that Bradbury spoke of in an interview:

“I’ve never worked a day in my life. The joy of writing has propelled me from day to day and year to year. I want you to envy me, my joy. Get out of here tonight and say: ‘Am I being joyful?’ And if you’ve got a writer’s block, you can cure it this evening by stopping whatever you’re writing and doing something else. You picked the wrong subject.”

So, buoyant with Ray Bradbury quotes and mutual support, Joma and I decided to do what Bradbury recommended, and write a bunch of short stories in short succession; the slight hitch in our plan was that we had misremembered Bradbury’s initial advice to write a short story once per week and were instead attempting to write a short story a day for two weeks. And with this earnest misunderstanding of Bradbury’s advice, The Bradbury Challenge was born.

 

The First Wave

The first time we tried The Bradbury Challenge (BC) we tried to do it for two weeks, but I couldn’t hack it and managed to convince Joma to allow us to take a break at the weekend, effectively making the BC Monday to Friday for two weeks, instead of the full 14 days. Throughout the first week, we worked out some of the finer details of the challenge:

  • Each day, we had to complete a short story of at least 1,000 words. But we mainly wrote stories over 2–3,000 words.
  • At the end of each day, we had to email each other our stories so that we felt accountable to each other. Another bonus was that we each read each other’s work each day. And although we didn’t give each other detailed edits (they would come later), we were able to give each other our immediate feelings about each other’s work – providing a kind of instant gratification few writers experience.
  • We had a few phone calls throughout the challenge to brainstorm ideas for stories; this proved invaluable in the beginning.

Joma wrote mainly brilliant first drafts throughout the first BC. I, on the other hand, hit a lot of bum notes along the way. Despite this, it was a thrilling experience, but very stressful as I was also working at the time. Most days, I would panic and write something a bit crap. However, I also stumbled onto the kernels of three stories that I would later draft and redraft until they were three of my best pieces.

 

The Second Wave

The second time we attempted The Bradbury Challenge, we only did it for a week. It was about eight months after the first time and I was in the middle of my Creative Writing masters but had a short hiatus from reading lists and hand-ins. We decided to only tackle five days and the entire thing was a joy. This wave didn’t have the sense of panic of the first BC, but it also didn’t bear the same fruit the first one had either. It wasn’t the fevered, delirious writing experience the first BC had been, but that was good and we got some decent material out of it.

 

The Third Wave

After the second challenge, Joma moved up to Glasgow and we became flatmates. In the last few months, we started our own writing group in Glasgow (made up of some of the best writers I know), and we were using that as an opportunity to get creative. It was tough, though; we were both in a rut and so we decided to undertake another BC to jumpstart our creativity. We attempted this Bradbury Challenge a few weeks ago. It was just for five days, like the second wave. We told our group about the BC too, and some of them also jumped into the challenge for a day or two, as did a pal of mine who lives in England.

Each day, we would send each other our stories, and there was an overwhelming number of stories to read. I was really happy that mine and Joma’s strange misinterpretation of Bradbury’s advice was inspiring other writers to attempt the difficult feat of writing one short story a day. My pal down in England even brought his own version of The Bradbury Challenge to his course mates on his Creative Writing MA. Here is a poster he made to motivate them:

I’m currently picking the better stories from the third wave and redrafting them. Time will tell if they are as good as the best stories from the first wave. However, I know already that I had the most amount of fun this time around and that it allowed me to get back into writing again after a long dry spell. I recommend The Bradbury Challenge to any writer who wants to bang out a bunch of raw first drafts and reconnect with the joy of writing again. Or you could take Bradbury’s actual advice and attempt to write one short story each week. Whether you try The Bradbury Challenge for yourself or not, I suggest you push yourself a little outside your comfort zone – this is often when the really great writing starts to come out.

 

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