Ray Bradbury wrote a foreword for a new edition of Fahrenheit 451 in 1993, 40 years after the novel was finished. His comments on the creative process are as wonderful as the book itself.
Bradbury wrote the first draft in just nine days in 1950. Ideas from five previous short stories blended together to form the plot of Fahrenheit 451. With inspiration having struck but with no office of his own, he used a rented typewriter at a university, surrounded by students writing their assignments and dissertations.
“I cannot possibly tell you what an exciting adventure it was, day after day, attacking that rentable machine, shoving in dimes, pounding away like a crazed chimp […] I was, like Melville’s hero, madness maddened. I had no way to stop. I did not write Fahrenheit 451, it wrote me. There was a cycling of energy off the page, into my eyeballs, and around down through my nervous system and out through my hands. The typewriter and I were Siamese twins, joined at the fingertips.”
These words gave me chills. Anyone who writes knows that feeling. Those moments when you’re absolutely in the zone and the words flow effortlessly.
Bradbury wrote 25,000 words in those nine days and it was a complete story. Publishers weren’t interested. It was the era of Joe McCarthy and the investigations into UnAmerican Activities; no-one wanted to risk publishing a story about censorship and subversion. In 1953, one publisher did see potential in Bradbury’s novella and asked him to double its length to 50,000 words.
“I feared for re-firing the book and re-baking the characters. I am a passionate, not an intellectual writer, which means my characters must plunge ahead of me to live the story. If my intellect caught up with them too swiftly, the whole adventure might mire down in self-doubt and endless mindplays.”
Again, any writer will empathise. Those moments – the opposite of the ones above – where you overthink, overedit, and make your work progressively worse.
I admire Bradbury hugely. Fahrenheit 451 is superbly written. The fact that he describes himself as a fast, instinctive writer is all the more incredible given his succinct, precise and beautiful prose. The fact that he did go back to it and extend it, doing so so well that no reader would realise it had started life as a significantly shorter work, is amazing.