**Update: This post was written a few months ago in late 2011. Ray Bradbury died last night, June 5th 2012 in Los Angeles at the age of 91. Rest in Peace.**
“You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.”
"Stuff your eyes with wonder,' he said, 'live as if you'd drop dead in ten seconds.”
The following is what I think, and is not necessarily endorsed by Ray Bradbury or anybody else, except as implied in the awesome video below.
Writers see gatekeepers everywhere. We are faced with a lot of advice and many choices about what we should write and who we should be writing for. Unfortunately, much of that advice, and all but one of those choices are traps that can sap creativity and lengthen the road.
There are agents to attract with commercial viability, contest readers to wow with something they've never seen before, editors, publishers, and brothers-in-law of famous authors who might just open the door to the big time. Targeting your work toward many of these people seems like a no-brainer. Yet, in all cases, it's probably a mistake.
None of these people are your real audience. Your real audience is out there somewhere waiting for you to write the story they've been dying to read. And the only way to write that special just-for-them thing is to write one for yourself. Write what you have been dying to read. Make your own heart swell or skip a beat. Make an observation that you think is hilarious. Bring tears to your own eyes. Write from the inside and you're halfway there. Because in order to be successful, you're going to have to be good. There's no way around that. There's no formula or door to knock on that can make that happen for you. Writers must dig for that kind of gold because it can only be found in one place.
But what about rules? Learn the rules and follow them. Rules are good. But disregard any rule the instant it gets in the way of something great. Keep writing and reading until you know what something great is. Then trust that above all rules.
But what about "what agents are looking for?" Agents are looking for something great. Never write with the intention of navigating through the slush pile. You worry about things you can't control at the expense of your own creativity. Be bold, be aggressive, and feel it.
But what about crafting a perfect opening sentence? Craft a great story that speaks from your own heart. Write with real emotion and then great sentences, opening or otherwise, will come on their own.
And finally, feel free to wear a neck-tie and a white wind-breaker with your swim trunks. Because if you do all those things, you'll be a lot like Ray Bradbury. And Ray Bradbury is Awesome.