Many years ago, I read to you from author Ray Bradbury’s wonderful book of writing essays, ZEN IN THE ART OF WRITING. I especially remember his chapter about investing dimes. It was a chapter I used as a writing exercise with my high school students in the Writing To Publish class I taught. I loved what the chapter revealed about Bradbury, his priorities, and his writing habits.
In 1950, Ray Bradbury was a writer with a wife, children, and a mortgage. Although he sold many penny-pulp stories, he didn’t make a lot of money. He was easily distracted from writing by his children. When they wanted Daddy to come outside and play, he did. Good for the kiddos, but not so good for the writing.
Bradbury began making a daily trek to the typing room in the basement of the library at UCLA. He carried writing ideas in his head, notes on folded papers, and loose dimes in his pocket. He learned that when he put a dime in the slot of an electric typewriter, he had 30 minutes to write nonstop, without overthinking or agonizing over which words might be better. Write, write, write. He did it day after day, dime after dime.
It cost him $9.80 in dimes to write and finish the first draft of THE FIRE MAN…which later became the famous sci-fi novel, FAHRENHEIT 451.
I remember our discussion about the Writing On A Dime exercise. You liked to write in longhand on steno notebooks, especially in pencil. You liked the time to think and the feel and sound of a pencil scratching on the paper. You also liked to be able to erase words and write better ones. I was just getting started with an Apple IIe–oh, this was so many years ago!–but I admitted to you that sometimes it got crowded around the computer table with Jim and Molly waiting for their turns. Writing in notebooks was a nice, quiet, private change of pace.
During one of my visits while Dad was still alive, the caregiver stayed with him while I took you to the Ft. Scott Carnegie Library. We sat at a table in the corner of the quiet area. We each had notebook paper and sharpened pencils. I looked at the clock and said, “Go!” The plan was that we’d each write for ten minutes.
As a writing plan, it wasn’t very successful. I started strong, writing sentence after sentence for maybe a full five minutes before I couldn’t resist peeking at what you were doing. You had made a list of things Daddy might like to eat, or maybe it was just a short list of foods, and you were doodling little pictures in the margins.
I wish I’d kept that paper, Mom. I’d frame it and hang it over my big-screen iMac, to remind me of writing on paper, scratching ideas with pencils, smelling wood wax in a charming wide-windowed library, and spending time with my mom. We don’t always have to write something profound or publishable, do we? Sometimes it’s enough just to be with a friend on a sunny day and spend ten minutes putting pencils to papers. And doodling; doodles are good, too.
Last week I posted the winners of The February Poetry Contest. The idea came from a poem you wrote about fishing instead of writing many years ago, “My Great Hobby.” Last December, writers submitted their stories for another contest: “Christmas Memories With Mom.” That idea came from my time with you, too.
You probably don’t remember the stories or poems from the contests, but trust me, some really nice people and good writers met online and shared their writing ideas and talents because of you. During your life you watched things and people, jotted down ideas, doodled in the margins of your notebooks, and created poems, essays, stories and illustrated children’s tales that still trigger ideas in other writers today.
Good job, Mom!