Lessons Learned in Trying to Write Like Ray Bradbury for a Month…

Writing Experiment

It’s the end of the Ray Bradbury experiment! Rather than focusing on what I didn’t do (post weekly updates, ahem), I’m going to focus on what I did!

I wrote at least 28,000 words, read at least 30 poems and far more essays, and also realized that THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES by Ray Bradbury wasn’t for me, pivoted, and completed all of THE LOTTERY AND OTHER STORIES by Shirley Jackson.

The copy of this book I borrowed is also very small and adorable, thank you San Antonio Public Library.

I also learned to acknowledge when a story wants to be longer. For about a week, I worked on “Twilight Zone Inspired,” what I thought was a short story. I actually had this idea last year, a sort of weird horror concept, but hadn’t worked on it much. So it’s just been festering in my brain, occasionally screaming at me to scratch the itch and just freaking write it already. And this Ray Bradbury experiment seemed like the perfect time! Only the short story grew longer and longer and within 5 days I was staring down about 9,000 zero draft words, with at least another 3,000 or so needed to hit The End.

And Masterclass, by way of Google, tells me that this is, in fact, a novelette.

Which is fine and I’m very happy to have scratched the itch and started working on the project but it sort of defeats the purpose of the Ray Bradbury experiment. Being, in part, to write, revise, and edit a short story each week, in the hopes that eventually you’ll hit on something golden. Quantity will produce quality and all that jazz.

So, as you can see, I pivoted on September 16th:

I began working on “Superhero Supper,” which is at least a better working title than “Twilight Zone Inspired” bahaha. I won’t be sharing that one with you since I think I’d like to save it for something else – maybe a contest? – in the future, but after that story, I moved on to “Full Moon.”

And so, may I present to you, this cute funny story about some kids on a full moon:


Even though Vanessa’s neck ached, she continued staring up at the sky. She couldn’t look away. Dark gray clouds blanketed the night, hiding the stars. An eerie outline hinted at the moon’s presence, but it wouldn’t have mattered if the oncoming storm completely obscured it, Vanessa knew the moon was there. She could feel it.

“How much longer?” She called out, not looking away, not even blinking.

“Seven minutes!” Darrel shouted. He was the only one smart enough to bring his phone with him to the hill and it was the only light, besides the lanterns illuminating the village miles away, that the clouds couldn’t block out. 

“Does it still, you know, happen? Even if we can’t see the moon?” Evelyn asked. “Like, will we still…,” she trailed off. No one spoke for a bit. 

Their parents hadn’t exactly explained that part. Actually, no one had explained that part, or really much of anything. Not their teachers, not their counselors, not their big brothers or sisters or cousins or council leaders.

They’d been left in the dark, left to stare and wonder.

The autumn breeze cooled Vanessa’s skin, but drops of sweat still trickled down her temple, down her back. The anticipation was too much. Or maybe that was part of the change, the process. You get hot and then you…transform?

Vanessa heard Caleb’s loud gulp beside her. Without looking away from the sky, she reached out and grabbed his hand. His palm was clammy, but she squeezed it tightly. Everything was going to be okay. This was normal, natural even.

“Should we sit down or something?” Caleb asked the group, his voice cracking at “or something.” 

“I’m crouching,” Evelyn called. “Just in case.”

“Me too,” Darrel said.

For the first time since they’d wandered out of their houses, out of the village, and up the long, well-trodden path to the forest on the hill, Vanessa looked away from the sky. “How much longer?” She asked again, her voice frantic now. With a final squeeze, she pulled her hand out of Caleb’s embrace. She wandered a few steps away, the dewy grass soft beneath her feet, before placing her hands and right knee on the ground, anchoring herself to the earth, ready for anything.

“One more minute!” Darrel called, his voice a little farther away now.

Caleb’s feet stomped on the ground, squeaking against the grass. Still a little too close for comfort. What if they changed during the change? What if Caleb became someone…something…she didn’t know?

Now it was Vanessa’s turn to gulp audibly. Despite the breeze whistling through the pines and the rolling thunder following cracks of lightening, Vanessa could hear her heart thump, her breath hitch.

The war in her mind waged loudly and it was only when Caleb cleared his throat again that she knew she had to run. She kicked off her sandals and pumped her arms, trying to sprint faster and farther, but then a cry erupted from her throat. Hers wasn’t the only one. Darrel, Evelyn, and Caleb cried out too, in pitchy pangs of agony.

Her bones became brittle, grinding and crumbling together with each step she took. The muscles in her arms ached, as if twisted and contorted in ways they never had been before and never should be again. Her eyes burst and her nose broke and her skin felt as if it was being peeled off her body in long strands one by one by one.

Someone should have warned her. Someone should have warned all of them. To the moon and stars and all their ancestors all around them, why did no one think to tell them it was going to be like – 

The pain vanished instantly, the wails only an echo in the night. Then the hill was silent once more as Vanessa put another foot in front of the other in front of the other in front of the other and she now had four feet instead of two.

She glanced down at herself, long and lean, with the same black hair she was used to but that now covered her entire body, with a sheen that radiated the light of the moon. The storm had passed, there were no more clouds in sight, everything atop the hill illuminated in a beautiful golden white glow.

Vanessa slowed to a prowl before turning around and bursting again with speed – more speed than she’d ever known before – past her torn clothes and toward where her friends once stood. In the gleaming light of the moon, two large figures appeared, much, much larger than any human.

A werewolf…and a werehorse.

The werewolf crouched low, as if ready to pounce. Its growl was deep and guttural, and Vanessa slowed her approach. The werehorse whinnied, kicking itself up onto its back feet, its hooves displayed. Both had teeth long and shiny like daggers, though no doubt even more dangerous.

“You’re a fucking werepanther!” Evelyn’s voice came from the white wolf’s mouth. “That’s so cool.”

Vanessa’s tail swished and twitched as she got closer to her old friends, sneaking under Darrel’s belly and situating herself between them.

“I’m not mad at the hooves,” Darrel admitted. “I really just feel so…”

“Powerful?” Evelyn asked, as she lunged and jumped and rolled and lunged again, her target unknown to her friends but her display of strength impressive.

Darrel pranced around some more, circling the two of them, before finally settling down again. “Free. I feel free.”

Awestruck, Vanessa had no words other than to purr in agreement. As her friends leaped and ran and chased each other around, she reached out her front legs, claws digging into the dirt as she stretched. Maybe no one from the village told them because this first transformation was too beautiful to describe. No words could do it justice, the feeling of becoming the animal you always suspected was inside. The power, the connection to the rest of the spirit world, the absolute thrill of heightened senses. Vanessa almost wanted to cry. Instead, as if on instinct, she craned her neck up to the moon and let out a purr. A loud howl joined her and soon the neighs followed. Together they created a beautiful symphony of appreciation to the bright, full moon, until a disgruntled quack! interrupted.

 Immediately the howls, purrs, and neighs stopped. The large, magnificent animals all whipped their heads in the direction of the foreign noise, only to find a duck. A duck with fangs. A duck with fangs waddling toward them.

Quack!

Its face was tilted toward the moon still, seemingly eager to join. Vanessa looked back at Evelyn and Darrel, only just realizing that they had, indeed, been missing someone. She turned around again, her new eyes easily parsing through the darkness, but somehow still not truly seeing, not understanding. All she could focus on were the two large front teeth, almost unsettling in the way they hung from the duck’s beak. The duck flapped its wings as it approached, huffing and quacking a little, unable to close its mouth over the large fangs.

It nestled next to Vanessa, fluffing and setting a wing down over her paw. Realization settled in finally, forcing a choked chuckle-turned-chirp out of her. “Caleb?” She asked.

Quack!

“Look on the bright side,” Vanessa said, glancing up at the moon again to have something else – anything else – to focus on. “You’re probably the only wereduck in existence!”

“Better than Mildred being a werebeetle,” Darrel added.

In a low whisper, though not low enough that the rest couldn’t hear with their new abilities, Evelyn said, “Maybe this is why they didn’t tell us anything.”

Quack!


Tada! Anyways, I think with a little more time away from the story – say, longer than week – I could’ve wrapped that “surprise” ending up better, but I still love the heart of it. It’s silly and fun and fits in with Warlocks on the Boardwalk and my other yet-to-be-named goofy supernatural tales.

All that to say, I had a blast with this experiment. Even though the reading was the hardest part – because sometimes I just wanted to keep. on. reading. – I think that bit helped me the most. Especially poetry and short stories, which I don’t often read. I’m not sure this reflects in my own writing yet, but I can absolutely see how a whole year of following Ray Bradbury’s advice would help a writer grow by leaps and bounds.

(And I would hiiiiighly recommend Zadie Smith’s FEEL FREE, John Green’s THE ANTHROPOCENE REVIEWED, and Terrance Hayes’ LIGHTHEAD.)

But that’s it for this experiment!!!! WE DID IT. Thank you so much for joining me, whether you participated too or just followed along. Until next time, happy writing! ☀️

A screenshot of Kate's progress, tracked in Notion, for the first week of the Ray Bradbury experiment.

1 Week of Trying to Write Like Ray Bradbury

Writing Experiment

For my longest “I Tried Writing Like…” experiment yet, I figured check-ins were important!

(Quick edit to add in the video for my first couple days of the experiment.)

As a refresher, or for those of you who don’t know, Ray Bradbury’s ~practical advice~ to writers can be boiled down to:
1) Write 1000 words a day.
2) Read a poem each day.
3) Read an essay each day.
4) Read a short story each day.
5) Write one short story per week.

And to keep track of my progress on those 5 goals, I’ve been using Notion:
A screenshot of Kate's progress, tracked in Notion, for the first week of the Ray Bradbury experiment.

Which is all fine and good and my chart looks pretty, being mostly filled in.

HOWEVER.

This isn’t the type of accountability I need. Though the daily reading is both harder and easier than I expected — easier because it’s quite nice to sit down with a cup of coffee and flip the pages for an hour or so and harder because what I really want to do is just read all day instead of working — I was never worried about getting it done.

I wasn’t even worried about the 1,000 words. Even on weekends, when I half-ass taking time off and not writing, I still get 500, easy.

Nope! I was worried about the short story each week. In part because I don’t often write short stories, though I’ve been trying to flex that muscle more recently. (Which actually is the main reason I decided to try writing like Ray Bradbury in the first place…) Mostly my nerves were because I could so easily see myself completing the zero draft of the short story, forgetting about it amongst all my other Real WorkTM for the week, and then looking at what I’d done and calling it “good enough.”

But if I had to post about it on the blog…

And if I had to share the short story…

Well, look. I’m not saying this short story is perfect. No one but me has read it, and I had a very specific goal while writing it in the first place: not using any dialogue. (Because I’m a genius with titles, yes, that is why it’s called “No Dialogue” in the Notion screenshot.) This short story has gone through a couple revisions though! The zero draft was a mess (as always), the first draft was at least cohesive (though a little ham-fisted), and HERE is the 2nd draft (in which I don’t think I completely got rid of the ham-fistedness. Perhaps now bacon-fisted? I’ll see myself out…).

So may I present to you: No Dialogue.
(Seriously, I need a better title. Maybe this should be part of the challenge, to legitimately title my work. Alas, that’s a problem for next week and Future Kate.)


First came the stomps. Second, the shouts. Either way, the house rattled, the tiny crystals on the chandelier clinking together as they shook, overwhelmed by the noise. Trinity dropped her head slightly to look up the rest of the stairs. Even from behind two doors, muffled as they were, she could still make out the words. His. Hers. Shouts. Screams. Howls of misunderstood agony and accusations, not-so-idle threats. Always, always, always loud.

Trinity scaled the stairs slowly, a war waging in her mind as brutal as the one a few rooms away. She let her backpack slide off her shoulders and slump onto the white carpet next to the double doors. She lifted her hand, resting it on the doorknob. It was cool to the touch, a pretty bronze. Her parents had fought about that too. Her dad had wanted silver ones, something that matched the other appliances, but her mom won that fight. She often did.

Trinity’s breath shook as she finally twisted the doorknob, but she couldn’t push it open, not yet. She hadn’t decided what she wanted. To break up the fight? She didn’t know. Sometimes, if her parents knew she and Serenity were around, they’d stop screaming. Not for long. But they would, for a moment, pretend that everything was okay. Trinity liked pretending sometimes too.

After silently counting to five, Trinity pushed the door open, only to find she wasn’t the only one in her dad’s library. Her sister sat on the white loveseat, a book in her hand and a glass of sweet tea to her right, set on the side table constructed out of wood and carved to look like a hand flipping someone off. Another fight. Her mom thought it gaudy; her dad thought it novel. Dad won that round, but only because he’d snuck back to the shop and bought it, waiting until mom was out of town for Fashion Week to place it in his library. Even though her own office was connected to it by the bathroom, where their voices now echoed, she rarely entered “his space.” She had hers and he had his, and if they could divide the rest of the house that way, they probably would’ve tried.

Sometimes Trinity wondered if the table was more than just a metaphorical “fuck you.” A physical expression of how her dad felt. A picture of their “family vacation” to the Evergreens, framed in silver, sat next to the sweet tea. She and Serenity were eleven then and spent more time with their nanny, grandparents, and the photographer. With people meant to keep them busy while their parents were off doing who knew what for “the business.”

That was the first time Trinity remembered the “how dare you”s, the “I thought we talked about this,” the “shh, the kids are upstairs.” She also remembered how quickly the reminders to be quiet turned into accusations of silencing turned back into screaming, turned into the routine they all knew now so well.

Something smashed into the other side of the wall, and a few collectibles fell off the bookshelf, crashing onto the hardwood floor. A few more teetered, then fell, tiny crystals shattering. No more banging, no more shouting, as if everyone had realized something had gone too far.

Was it a bar of soap? 

Silence.

A blowdryer? 

Silence.

A person?

Trinity didn’t want to imagine. The impact played over and over in her mind, amplifying what might’ve been, favoring the worst-case scenario.

Without the shouting, the gentle whirr of the overhead fan filled the silence, as did Serenity’s finger as it brushed against the page. Even Trinity’s own heartbeat tried its best to be heard, thumping against her ribcage, repeatedly pounding, louder and louder, as the silence stretched on.

Taking a few steps forward, Trinity opened her mouth, desperately needing the words to find their way out, to stop the fighting, at least for today, at least for an hour. From her periphery, she saw Serenity’s arm-waving wildly. Already unsure, Trinity stopped. She glanced over. With a finger pressed to her lips, Serenity shook her head. So together, they waited. They watched. They wondered. The prolonged silence stretched, somehow more scary than the screams. Never before was Trinity thankful for the odd comfort of knowing they were home.

Eventually, Serenity’s arm outstretched, pulling Trinity down onto the couch. She sank into its plushness, instinctively wrapping the waffle blanket around herself. She needed comfort, what little she could find. And for a few eons more, time seemed to stretch, no one speaking, no one shouting. Not even a whisper. Trinity would have thought her sister was somehow immune to the clutches of discomfort except that her eyes continued to skim the same paragraph over and over. Not really reading, not really seeing.

When the low grumbles began from the other side of the door, Trinity sunk deeper into the couch, relief flowing through her that she’d have to question later. Grunts answered the grumbles, both sounds merging, becoming louder and louder as they fought to be the one heard, and soon the shouts were back. Trinity shuddered.

She glanced away from the door, more confident now that her parents wouldn’t come out for a while. They’d likely forgotten the time. Didn’t realize summer school was over. That it had been for hours.

The bookshelves were littered with novels of all genres, research papers from several fields. Still, Trinity’s eyes instead focused on the abundance of family portraits. The ones their parents bought specific outfits for, matching, of course, up until they were about ten. The ones they posed in for hours, changed locations, plastered smiles on their faces that melted as soon as the lens pointed elsewhere.

Pinstripe overalls when they were five, Hawaiian shirts on vacation when they were seven, tie-dye and sparkles and tutus and tuxes. All the same smiles, none too wide, mostly perfected.

Fingers tapped at her palm, and Trinity looked down at her hand, her sister intertwining their fingers together. Trinity looked up to see Serenity’s face mirroring hers. No fake smile there. Her glass was empty, her tea gone, and a bookmark stuffed between the pages. The screams and shouts waged on, but they’d faded into the background again. Just the sound of coming home, the sound of her parents, the sound of family.

Serenity squeezed her hand once. Twice. Three times.

A chuckle escaped Trinity’s mouth and she slammed a hand over her face. That only made her giggle harder, and soon Serenity was stifling her laugh too. Trinity’s own eyes began to well, at the pain of trying to stop her laugh and also from keeping that fake grin on for so, so long.

Once upon a distant time, their parents had taught them that squeeze, what it meant. When they were forced to pose together, often hand-in-hand, they’d take turns squeezing, reassuring. Sometimes they’d squeeze too hard, and they’d start fighting, and it was always the nanny or their granny that stepped in.

Then their granny passed, and grandpa moved away, and they grew too old for a nanny, or their parents could no longer afford one. Trinity was never sure who won that fight or truly who was arguing what. Sometimes she wondered if her parents knew what they were arguing about. The words themselves never seemed to matter, so much as who could make the other hurt more.

Trinity’s giggle died in her throat, the few tears that sprung still trickling down her cheek. She stared into her sister’s eyes, not welling with tears but sad and disappointed and unsure all the same. Trinity squeezed Serenity’s hand three times, an echo of the unspoken words that their parents no longer said. I love you.


Tada! At 1,294 it’s my “completed” short story.

I want to reiterate again that this hasn’t been beta read or edited or seen by anyone but yours truly. (And you now, I guess! Bahaha.) I only want to emphasize this because of how much better stories are once they’ve been beta read, once people question your work, once they point our where they were confused or where they think you were bacon-fisted (sorry, again, so sorry), or any number of other things.

In Ray Bradbury’s challenge to writers, he basically says that if you write one short story a week for a whole year – 52 short stories! – there’s no way they’ll all be bad. He thinks eventually you’ll stumble upon a thing of greatness. One or two or three out of the fifty-two.

So while my personal challenge is only four weeks long, I’m kiiiiiind of hopeful I’ll stumble upon a hint of greatness. That I’ll find a short story that I’ll want to submit to a magazine or journal.

This one isn’t it though. But it was fun! I challenged myself not to use dialogue and to post it up for people to see and by those measures, I feel successful. 🙂

Please do let me know if you’re also participating in this challenge, and if you’ve decided to post your short stories for others to read, leave me a link! Thanks everyone and happy writing!

30 Before 30 (or the big things I want to accomplish before turning the big 3-0)

Goals

Maybe this is a cheat. Maybe it’s actually “3 Before 30.” But I was inspired when I found my old laptop from when I was in college. It’s cobalt blue, weighs about ten times what my current computer does, and has three inspirational NaNoWriMo pressed into it near the keyboard.

Hello ancient computer, my old friend.

To my surprise, I found several stories I thought I’d lost, and several more I don’t even remember. I also found this list, “25×25,” which I wrote about in a previous blogpost on The Other Website Which Shall Not Be Named.

(I’ll give you a spoiler now: I accomplished about 8 of the 25 goals on that list.)

So now that I’m older and wiser, I want a do-over. I’m going to try this whole list thing again, only I’m going to focus on three main goals I want to accomplish, and ten small subgoals that will act as benchmarks along the way.

You ready?

Goal 1: Be conversationally fluent in Spanish (and to celebrate this milestone, take myself on a 30th birthday trip to Argentina).

  1. Complete Duolingo
  2. Write a short story entirely in Spanish.
  3. Read an old favorite series in Spanish.
  4. Read a new novel or series in Spanish.
  5. Watch my favorite movie in Spanish.
  6. Watch a telenovela from start to finish.
  7. Reach out to (and watch!) some Spanish-speaking authortubers or booktubers.
  8. Make a video where I speak entirely in Spanish (and translate my own subtitles!).
  9. Translate one of my own published works into Spanish.
  10. Travel to Argentina and speak Spanish there!

Goal 2: Feel healthy and strong. (Maybe celebrate with a triathlon or one of those obstacle races?? TBD.)

  1. Complete Couch to 5K (….again).
  2. Complete Couch to 10K.
  3. Be able to hold a (freestanding) handstand for 20 seconds.
  4. Run a 5K under 30 minutes.
  5. Run a 10K under 1 hour.
  6. Easily complete 10 push-ups without stopping.
  7. Successfully run an entire half-marathon (without stopping to walk).
  8. Complete 1 unassisted pull-up or chin-up.
  9. Be able to touch my toes.
  10. Be able to do the splits (either left, right, or middle!).

Goal 3: Become a confident cook (and to celebrate, invite friends or family over for a six-course dinner party!).

  1. Finish working through the “Be Our Guest” menu items.
  2. Try one different type of food from each of my favorite cuisines.
  3. Trial and error to find a “starter” course that I love and can make without a recipe.
  4. Trial and error to find a “main” course that I love and can make without a recipe.
  5. Trial and error to find a “dessert” course that I love and can make without a recipe.
  6. Learn the basics of bartending.
  7. Create my own signature cocktail.
  8. Attempt a new recipe each week of 2021.
  9. Try at least 5 recipes from Nadiya’s cookbook.
  10. Invite friends or family over for a six-course meal that I make.

WHEW. Okay. I think that’s it.

It’s funny because if you could look through all the goals and resolutions I’ve ever made – scribbled in notebooks, taped to walls, saved onto Google Docs – you’d notice that these three have always been the theme.

This may be Too Much, but I like the fun of setting my goals high. Let me know if you notice a pattern in your resolutions or goal-setting! What’s something you want to accomplish by X age?

Okay, off to play around on Duolingo! Wish me luck! 🤞

Kate at computer, writing goals

The Year of Finishing

Goals

Welp. I finally did it. If you’re reading this blogpost it means I completed one of my big goals for 2020: publishing my new website. Did it take an entire year of trying, crying, failing, avoiding, and then trying again, only to not accomplish the task until the calendar year turned?

Yes. Yes it did.

But it got done! And that’s the energy I’m bringing forth into this New Year.

That’s right! I’m doth decreeing 2021 as the Year of Finishing.

Where I’ll be spending 85% of my time this year, if I hope to finish everything on my To Do list.

What, you might be wondering, am I hoping to finish this year? (And how much of it, like the website, was I supposed to complete last year? Okay, I’m not going to answer this one. Just know that I acknowledge your side-eye.)

  1. The Meridian Maps (Book 1)
    • I zero drafted the entire series so now I need to put what I learned from Books 2 – 5 into Book 1. Then, complete at least one more round of beta readers (maybe two!), then sensitivity readers, then it will be off to the editor with hopes of publication late this year!
      • Honestly, I’d like Book 2 (title decided but ~not yet announced~) and Book 3 (currently no title because I’m bad at titles) to be seen by beta readers this year as well. Fingers crossed.
  2. Project Death
    • My next book baby to be queried! Do I still need to remove the prince character entirely and finish my rewrite before this happens? YES. But I’m hopeful this will be accomplished this year.
  3. 52 Recipes
    • I’ve decided to take on the very exciting task of learning to cook. It’s been a goal of mine since I reached adulthood but I’ve mostly subsisted on baked sweets (I love baking…), grilled cheese, and fruit. NO MORE. The goal is one new recipe a week and, ideally, at the end of 2021, I’ll feel much more confident in my cooking chops.
      • Currently I’m working through the food from the song Be Our Guest! (I just made beef ragu yesterday and it. was. divine.)
      • A lifelong goal of mine is to be able to comfortably make a six-course meal. “Comfortably,” meaning that I don’t even have to look at a recipe! One day. One. Day.
  4. Achieve a pull-up. Lift my entire body off the ground unassisted.
    • What a long journey this has been. 2020 did see a wonderful year of fitness for me, but the pull-up is ever elusive. The work I put in last year will undoubtedly help but I still have a ways to go…

The route on these 4 goals has taken longer than expected, but it is happening. It’s the Year of Finishing and I’m ready.

(Plus, like, if I finish all these projects, I just get to add new ones! That’s the best gift I can give myself!)