If you’re a writer, or know a writer, you are probably all too aware of how obsessed that particular brand of human being is with their daily routine. From writing in bathtubs to locking oneself in a black-walled room filled with antique lamps, writers will try anything if it means it’ll help them meet that daily word count. And when our routine finally does take us to the keyboard, there are the writers who struggle to keep themselves there in front of the page, and there are the lucky ones—the ones who struggle to keep themselves away. Please enjoy what I hope is the first Nerd Profile of many—’The Routines and Habits of a SciFi Writer,’ featuring Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, and Kurt Vonnegut!
Nerd Profile #1
NERD PROFILE #1
WHO: RAY BRADBURY
(August 22, 1920–June 5, 2012)
WHAT: Ray Bradbury is widely known for Fahrenheit 451 (1953) and the short story collections The Martian Chronicles (1950) and The Illustrated Man (1951), but his legacy gifted us with 30 novels, 600 short story masterpieces, and a number of poems, essays, plays, and screenplays.
WHEN: Bradbury began his journey as a SciFi writer when he was just 11 years old, scribbling out short stories and poems on butcher paper (which he’d unroll slowly as the story progressed). He penned his first published short story, titled “Pendulum” (co-authored with Henry Hasse), for Super Science Stories, published in August 1941—just in time for his 21st birthday. By 1943, he made the leap and started out as a SciFi writer full-time, and in 1945, his short story “The Big Black and White Game” was selected for Best American Short Stories. From there, his seemingly magical writing abilities took him to the moon (and, perhaps more frequently, to Mars).
WHERE: Bradbury often wrote in a world of cluttered chaos, with the above portrait of him at his desk demonstrating just a fraction of Bradbury’s eclectic knick-knack collection. However, the location for his most famed nine-day writing streak was the Lawrence Clark Powell Library at UCLA. Hunched over a basement typewriter, rented at 10 cents per half-hour, Bradbury alternated between furious bursts of activity and brief breaks amongst the very thing his rapidly forming new world was forbidding—books. He’d run back down to the basement, picking up an inspirational quote or two along the way, to spew out the rest of “Fireman,” which later transformed into Fahrenheit 451.
HOW: In a 2010 interview with The Paris Review, Bradbury eschews the idea of struggling to keep a daily routine:
“My passions drive me to the typewriter every day of my life, and they have driven me there since I was twelve. So I never have to worry about schedules. Some new thing is always exploding in me, and it schedules me, I don’t schedule it. It says: Get to the typewriter right now and finish this.”
“If you did not write every day, the poisons would accumulate and you would begin to die, or act crazy, or both. You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.”
― Ray Bradbury
Nerdy Nugget: According to his official website, every Christmas Bradbury asked his wife to give him toys instead of any other gifts. Because of this, the Bradbury abode was an overflowing childhood dream-land: ray guns, wind-up robots, stuffed T-Rexes, and even a severed head floating in a glass jar (the last, a gift from Alfred Hitchcock).
NERD PROFILE #2
WHO: ISAAC ASIMOV
(January 2, 1920–April 6, 1992)
WHAT: Isaac Asimov is best known for his Foundation Series—Foundation (1951), Foundation and Empire (1952), and Second Foundation (1953)—as well as several collections of robot stories (famed in their advent of the Three Laws of Robotics), but he wrote or edited more than 500 books and over 380 short stories on a wide range of topics in his time with us.
WHEN: Asimov was born Isaak Yudovick Ozimov in Petrovichi, Russia, to his mother, Anna Rachel Berman, and father, Judah Ozimov. He was a bright light from the get-go, having taught himself to read at age 5, and later earned a Doctor of Philosophy in Chemistry from Columbia University at the age of 28. Despite being steeped in the jargon of higher-level education from a young age, Asimov maintained a vision for becoming a SciFi writer. With an emphasis on the accessibility of his writing, he cultivated a style that suited the understanding of the general public. His first short story sold, “Marooned Off Vesta,” was published in Amazing Stories in 1938, and his first novel as a SciFi writer, Pebble in the Sky, debuted in 1950—the same year his famed short story collection, I, Robot, would change the world of SciFi forever.
WHERE: In West Newton, Mass., Asimov kept a tidy office on the second story of a middle-class home, allowing him to avoid familial distraction as best as possible. His writing room had over 1,000 volumes (organized by genre), neat filing cabinets for his work, and a second typewriter lest the first fall unexpectedly into disrepair. There is a window to the outdoors, and, should he be so inclined to look, Asimov would see a willow tree shadowing an overgrown lawn. But he doesn’t look—because a glance (let alone taking the time to mow) would mean the willful sacrifice of words on paper.
HOW: On Dr. Asimov’s morning routine, this New York Times article remarked, “The neatness of Mr. Asimov’s day is as neat as his office.” At this time in his life, the routine was as follows: 7 o’clock to wake up and have breakfast, 8 o’clock to collect the mail and make his responses, and off to writing between 9:30 and 10, where he averages about 90 words/minute, “sometimes” takes a coffee break, and pauses for dinner around 5 PM (often subsequently returning to the shop where he remains until 10PM). According to his memoir, In Memory Yet Green, there were periods in his life when he’d start his writing routine even earlier.
“Science fiction writers foresee the inevitable, and although problems and catastrophes may be inevitable, solutions are not.”
“I write for the same reason I breathe … because if I didn’t, I would die.”
Nerdy Nugget: According to this article, Isaac Asimov had extreme acrophobia and aviophobia (fear of heights and flying), originating from two terrifying experiences on roller coasters in his early twenties. But that’s not the worst part—on both occasions, he was with a date! In his memoir, Asimov writes: “From what I had seen of it in movies, it seemed to me that my date would scream and would cling to me, something which, I thought, would be delightful,” but he later laments, “I screamed in terror and I hung on desperately to my date, who sat there stolid and unmoved.”
NERD PROFILE #3
WHO: KURT VONNEGUT
(November 11, 1922–April 11, 2007)
WHAT: Best known for his time-warpy, one-part WWII memoir, one-part alien abduction novel, Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut wrote 14 novels, a couple of novellas, three short story collections, five plays, and five works of non-fiction.
WHEN: Vonnegut started his writing career in the world of journalism. At his high school in Indianapolis he wrote for the student paper, The Echo, and continued this thread throughout college, writing as the managing editor for Cornell’s The Sun. In 1950, Vonnegut had his first professional piece titled “Report on the Barnhouse Effect” published in Collier’s, solidifying his then underground pursuits as a SciFi writer, and promptly quit his job as a publicist at General Electric to plunge himself into the far more financially agreeable career of freelance writing (at least, far more financially agreeable when you’re Kurt Vonnegut). Vonnegut’s first novel as a SciFi writer, Player Piano (1952), would act as the birthplace for Vonnegut’s signature themes and literary devices.
WHERE: Though Vonnegut stood at 6’2”, he elected for a writing table that was low to the ground, causing him to sit forever hunched over his blue typewriter, a Smith-Corona Coronamatic 2200. He had a lamp with a bright red rooster, a candy box filled with old rejection slips, and a giant quote carved into his desk from the Walden, announcing: “BEWARE OF ALL ENTERPRISES THAT REQUIRE NEW CLOTHES.”
HOW: After taking a teaching job at the University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop in 1965, Vonnegut wrote a letter to his wife detailing the following schedule:
“I awake at 5:30, work until 8:00, eat breakfast at home, work until 10:00, walk a few blocks into town, do errands, go to the nearby municipal swimming pool, which I have all to myself, and swim for half an hour, return home at 11:45, read the mail, eat lunch at noon. In the afternoon I do schoolwork, either teach or prepare. When I get home from school at about 5:30, I numb my twanging intellect with several belts of Scotch and water ($5.00/ fifth at the State Liquor store, the only liquor store in town. There are loads of bars, though.), cook supper, read and listen to jazz (lots of good music on the radio here), slip off to sleep at ten.”
“People need good lies. There are too many bad ones.”
Nerdy Nugget: In this interview, Vonnegut reveals that he gave all of his novels grades, reporting that Cat’s Cradle, Mother Night, and SH5 all get A+ ratings, in his book. But he insists he’s a fair grader when it comes to himself, not hesitating to give Slapstick and Happy Birthday, Wanda June D ratings for their abysmal critical reception.
Check out another Nerd Profile HERE!