Passion for writing. How do we get it? Where does it come from, and where, sometimes, does it go? I’ve been thinking about this question for a while, and it seems fitting to talk about it now in light of hearing that one of the most passionate writers of our time died last week. Ray Bradbury.
Early in his career Bradbury set himself the task of writing 1,000 words a day and reportedly banged out the first draft of his famous book, Fahrenheit 451, in nine days on a rented typewriter. His books have sold over eight million copies in 36 languages and he’s thought of as one of the major science fiction writers of our time.
But where he most touched and influenced me as both a reader and writer is through his semi-autobiographical 1957 novel Dandelion Wine. Reading about 12 year old Douglas’ childhood in Dandelion Wine is to be transported. It’s evocative, sensual language stirs you up and lands you smack back in childhood, replete with all its wonders and fears.
And it begs the question for those of us who love to write for the young, is childhood the realm where passion truly lies, and never dies? Is that why we seek to recreate it on the page?
On his 91st birthday, Bradbury was working on a screenplay for Dandelion Wine with Phoenix Picture’s producer Mike Medavoy (of “Black Swan” fame). Knowing this book would be made into a film Bradbury is quoted as saying, “(this) is the best birthday gift I could ask for. Today, I have been reborn! Dandelion Wine is my most deeply personal work and brings back memories of sheer joy as well as terror. This is the story of me as a young boy and the magic of an unforgettable summer which still holds a mystical power over me.”
How could it not? As children everything sparkles, because we’re experiencing our lives for the first time. And as Bradbury himself noted, as a boy his imagination was “hungry. It was one frenzy after one elation after one enthusiasm after one hysteria after another. You rarely have such fevers later in life that fill your entire day with emotion.”
Mystical power, a kindling of the imagination, hysterical fevers, high emotion. Oh for the joy, pain and yes, passion of childhood!
Can we truly ever get it back? Can we, as Bradbury suggests, be reborn?
I recently spoke at a writer’s conference in California alongside musician Mark McKinnon, guitarist-vocalist-songwriter and founder of the California Celtic band, Ha’penny Bridge. A few years ago Ha’penny Bridge released its first studio CD album of original songs titled “The Awakening.” And, as its title suggest, “The Awakening” is the result of a journey of rebirth of passion for artist McKinnon.
Listening to McKinnon talk about “The Awakening,” it struck me how many similarities his musician’s journey has to the writer’s journey. Not that he particularly knew he was on a journey until he found himself in the middle of it. But a trip to Ireland in 2001 transformed his music, and his life. Seemingly overnight, he went from years of performing rock, folk, and world style music to becoming a Celtic musician and songwriter.
McKinnon had traveled to Ireland reluctantly, cajoled by his wife. But as anyone who’s been there knows, there’s a moment when the plane banks and the clouds part and you’re offered the first glimpse of endless, enchanting green. For McKinnon that glimpse told him he’d come home.
He fell in love with Ireland, its traditions and its music, and never looked back. It was a moment that gave him renewed passion for his art. “The first Celtic song I wrote I started to cry,” he admits. “My ancestral ghosts were talking to me.” At this point, all he had to do was show up and listen. And listen he did. He’s since returned to Ireland many times, studied Gaelic, changed his approach to music, and found a new passion for his songwriting.
“I have no idea how I wrote the songs on this CD,” he says of the bands’ new release “At Fiddlers Green,” and the magical inspiration now stirring his soul. “But the journey of my songs are the journey of my life. Never give up hope,” he adds, “never close down doors, or shutter any windows. I kept walking through doors I didn’t know existed and I didn’t know I was even looking for this.”
The result is a beautiful, melodic tapestry of songs that have garnered Ha’penny Bridge an enthusiastic following, and showcases McKinnon’s storytelling, and keen instinct for the arc of a song.
Still, we can’t all be Ray Bradbury, and write 1,000 pages a day. As McKinnon says of the muse these days, “I’m no longer a short order cook. I’m a chef. I have to trust it’s okay to let something be on the back burner. That when you return to it, your connection will still be there.”
Passion, it seems, can be both fevered, and simmering. And sometimes, when you think you may have lost it altogether, or are watching it eek away, passion can sneak back up on you.
Falling in Love
Is passion then, the newness of falling in love with a thing, no matter what age you are? I fell in love with writing my novel The Lucky Place. I fall in love with each novel I write, or else I couldn’t write it. Not well, anyway. But to fall in love you have to pay your dues. You have to show up and sit down and plunk.
That was Ray Bradbury’s advice to writers. Keep plunking. Let your plunking sweep you away, awash in the fevers that fill your day. Burn with a thousand pages. And look with surprise from a banking plane, to know you have come home.