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A story Ray Bradbury tells about the story behind one of his stories:
“Hemingway. “The Parrot Who Met Papa.” One night in 1952 I drove across Los Angeles with friends to invade the printing plant where Life was publishing their issue with Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea in it. We grabbed copies, hot off the presses, sat in the nearest bar and talked about Papa, Finca Vigia, Cuba, and, somehow, a parrot who had lived in that bar and talked to Hemingway every night. I went home, made a notation about the parrot, and put it away for sixtenn years. Prowling my file folders in 1968 I came upon just the note for a title: ‘The Parrot Who Met Papa.’
“My God, I thought, Papa’s been dead eight years. If that parrot is still around, remembers Hemingway, can speak with his voice, he’s worth millions. And what if someone kidnapped the parrot, held it for ransom?”
If you ever need a boost from a writer who just loves, loves, loves to write, isn’t at all angsty about it, and has some great advice to share, you can’t do better than Ray Bradbury. His guide, “Zen in the Art of Writing,” is just the ticket!
I just adore this story about the parrot. Think about it! He scrawled a one-line note somewhere after a night of boozing it up over Hemingway’s last novel and sixteen years later — sixteen years!!! — that one line exploded into a story. Isn’t that amazing? It makes me feel so hopeful about files of mine filled with the scraps and scratchings of story ideas that popped into my head just as the parrot popped into Ray’s.
Who knows where that idea came from? Why Ray took the time to catch a wispy moment of inspiration and stick it in a file? Why it took sixteen years for him to turn it from a scrap of paper into a story? There’s no explaining these things is there? Inspiration is mysterious. And I’m so glad it is, aren’t you?
Sometime soon, you, too, might have a flight of fancy that will hit you about of the blue. You might hear a conversation that intrigues you or a story that seems like it should be set down on paper and shared. The same might happen to me — in fact, I know it will. So when it does, let’s be smart — let’s catch it before it flies away and put it in a notebook or a file, so it can be ready and waiting for us when we’re ready to turn it from straw into gold. Write on!
That’s what I do, Karin. Including song lyrics, recipes, photographs. That’s why my quarters are full of Stuff. When I was very young I thought a writer started off with a bare sheet of paper. I found this intimidating. Then I saw a photo of John Updike’s desk. A big wicker basket on it. Full of Stuff!
Thanks so much for your wonderful comment! Yes, it’s so comforting to know that we’re all just squirreling away bits and pieces of ideas, isn’t it? And that being messy is just being creative!
Love the image of Updike’s desk full of Stuff — very inspiring!