Ray Bradbury Wrote the First Draft of Fahrenheit 451 on Coin-Operated Typewriters, for a Total of $9.80

Image by Alan Light, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

It sounds like a third grade math prob­lem: “If Ray Brad­bury wrote the first draft of Fahren­heit 451 (1953) on a coin-oper­at­ed type­writer that charged 10 cents for every 30 min­utes, and he spent a total of $9.80, how many hours did it take Ray to write his sto­ry?” (If you’re doing the math, that’s great, but you might be in the wrong class.)

Bradbury’s com­po­si­tion of Fahren­heit 451 demon­strates two of the pro­lif­ic writer’s most insis­tent demands among his many prac­ti­cal nuggets of writ­ing advice: 1. Always write, all the time; a short sto­ry a week, as he told a writer’s sym­po­sium in 2001. And, as he told the same group, 2. “Live in the library! Live in the library, for Christ’s sake. Don’t live on your god­damn com­put­er and the inter­net and all that crap.”

Grant­ed, the library—and the school, and the office, and all the rest of it—now lives in the “god­damn com­put­er” for many of us. But Bradbury’s elab­o­ra­tion of why he end­ed up in the library in the ear­ly 1950s, specif­i­cal­ly the base­ment of UCLA’s Pow­ell Librarywill be relat­able to any work­ing par­ent. As he wrote in 1982he found him­self “twice dri­ven; by chil­dren to leave at home, and by a type­writer tim­ing device…. Time was indeed mon­ey.”

This was a dif­fer­ent time, so you’ll need to adjust the cur­ren­cy for 21st cen­tu­ry infla­tion. Also, Brad­bury had the 50s’ writer-husband’s pre­rog­a­tive to beg off the child­care. As he explains:

In all the years from 1941 to that time, I had done most of my typ­ing in the fam­i­ly garages… behind the tract house where my wife, Mar­guerite, and I raised our fam­i­ly. I was dri­ven out of the garage by my lov­ing chil­dren, who insist­ed on com­ing around to the win­dow and singing and tap­ping on the panes.

Devot­ed father Brad­bury “had to choose between fin­ish­ing a sto­ry or play­ing with the girls. I chose to play, of course, which endan­gered the fam­i­ly income. An office had to be found. We couldn’t afford one.” Brad­bury did not write all of Fahren­heit 451 in the library base­ment. “He end­ed up with the novel­la ver­sion,” notes UCLA Mag­a­zine“orig­i­nal­ly called The Fire­man and did not come back to it until a pub­lish­ing com­pa­ny asked if he could add more to the sto­ry.”

The speed at which Brad­bury wrote, both to save mon­ey and to get home to his chil­dren, did not cause him to get care­less. He looked back on the book 22 years lat­er with pride. “I have changed not one thought or word,” wrote Brad­bury in his intro­duc­tion. He did­n’t notice until lat­er that he had named main char­ac­ters after a paper com­pa­ny, Mon­tag, and pen­cil com­pa­ny, Faber.

Brad­bury told the mag­a­zine in 2002, “It was a pas­sion­ate and excit­ing time for me. Imag­ine what it was like to be writ­ing a book about book burn­ing and doing it in a library where the pas­sions of all those authors, liv­ing and dead, sur­round­ed me.” When it came to find­ing the book’s title, how­ev­er, sup­pos­ed­ly the tem­per­a­ture at which books burn, not only did the library fail him, but so too did the university’s chem­istry depart­ment. To learn the answer, and fin­ish the book, Brad­bury final­ly had to call the fire depart­ment.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

When François Truf­faut Made a Film Adap­ta­tion of Ray Bradbury’s Fahren­heit 451 (1966)

Ray Brad­bury Reveals the True Mean­ing of Fahren­heit 451: It’s Not About Cen­sor­ship, But Peo­ple “Being Turned Into Morons by TV”

Ray Brad­bury Gives 12 Pieces of Writ­ing Advice to Young Authors (2001)

Why Should We Read Ray Bradbury’s Fahren­heit 451? A New TED-Ed Ani­ma­tion Explains

Ray Brad­bury Explains Why Lit­er­a­ture is the Safe­ty Valve of Civ­i­liza­tion (in Which Case We Need More Lit­er­a­ture!)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness.


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