This week past brought me the pleasure of completing Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, a short, terrifyingly prescient, and thoroughly enjoyable read. I could write tomes about the work itself – I’m sure others already have – but for what I might contribute you should instead read the novella itself as I nod and smile along. What spurred me to writing today though was not the work itself, but the afterword from its author. The thing I want to discuss is not the text itself, but the action of its creation.
In his afterword, written many years after the novella, Bradbury discusses how Fahrenheit 451 came to be: in leaps and bounds, an accumulation of ideas on similar themes around five short stories written over the course of years, finally brought together, ignited and burned by a spark of passion for nine days. I remember this was touched upon in the foreword, where I marvelled at the idea, knowing from his short stories the quality of writing I was to expect, that this entire book could have been composed in only nine days! But the foreword did not make so clear the extent to which this creation was informed by his previous works and experience – that this was the latest iteration and collation of ideas that had long been brewing.
I have been harried constantly in all aspects of my life by my own ambition and my own perfectionism – always aspiring to create great things, to create big things, always fearing failures, fearing missteps, fearing mediocrity. If I’m to write one thing on the actual content of Fahrenheit today it will be this: that for everything Bradbury feared and guessed correctly that technology would do to isolate us, it has done perhaps as much to connect us. That is to say, in our modern, fibre-optic world, a malcontent and recluse such as myself can say with surety that he is not alone in suffering these specific symptoms.
Here then, I will say stupid things, I will say obvious things such as “practice makes perfect” and “don’t try to run before you can walk”, but I will say them in far too many words, because the human mind is a stupid thing that often fails in understanding when given facts or common sense alone. Bradbury says “I am a passionate, not an intellectual writer”, and I realise, my palm affixed sorely to my forehead, the importance of that passion. The urge to withhold from creation, whether to preserve your reputation or to hold back what you deem your best ideas for fear you cannot do them justice, is an intellectual urge, often directly in conflict with the passion that churned up those ideas in the first place. That passion must be given a space to play, to grow and develop the idea, to graze its knee and bruise its lip and learn its place in the world.
My proposal to follow Bradbury’s example then, is this: Allow that passion to carry you for a spell – to shorter destinations at first than you might aspire to, but destinations none-the-less, not rest-stops. Write short stories, paint thumbnails, sketch studies, make maquettes not masterpieces. Do what you can do now and a little bit more. Then, when your passion has had its play engage your intellectual self: step to the side and look at what you’re done. Let it sink in. Appreciate and criticise it. Share it with the world if you wish, whether you’re proud of it or not.
Perhaps, as I, you fear that an idea, once used, cannot be reclaimed, repackaged and presented anew without mockery, in this fast-moving, all new, all now, modern world; this is proven false time and time again. Though my eyes were shut until a year or so ago I see it now in the works of writers, film-makers, musicians and more; in Bradbury and Tolkien and Carpenter, even in whole production teams and companies – especially in video games. Creators constantly reforge the same blade in the same old flame, each time learning the shape and temper of it, removing something, adding something new, presenting it in a new light informed by all their efforts before. The worst that comes of this is that perhaps the newer work is not so well received by those suffering from exposure to its predecessor, but if successful the work should stand on its own and find some new audience to surprise. Besides, you needn’t worry about that yet if, like I, you will tarry in obscurity for a time before producing anything that would garner much attention. Again, here, the internet is an unfortunately double-edged sword – on the one hand helping a burgeoning creator find their audience, on the other perhaps thrusting them too soon into the spotlight, undressed and clutching armfuls of unripe fruit. The choice of what to do with that fruit, as its gardener, is yours alone.
As I finish writing this, I sit here over a year since beginning the series of articles I promised on the NieR/Drakengard series of video games. I have completed only two of those articles, both concerning the first of five games, and have an extensive draft of the first article concerning the second game lingering somewhere in cyberspace. Those articles are considerably longer and more complicated things than this, and as such require numerous sessions and revisions to complete. I lead a relatively uneventful life and yet, for the reasons here discussed, it hasn’t been easy to find the time, energy, or self-assuredness for that. So given the subject of this post I am pleased to have succeeded in my effort to complete and publish this shorter work in a single, undisturbed sitting, with minimal revision. I hope that somebody finds it an interesting read and not overly flawed, but I make no apologies. Perhaps I’ll find a way to say it again, better, in a few years.