'Fahrenheit 451' On HBO: The Surprising Way Ray Bradbury Wrote the Book

The cautionary science fiction classic was written quickly and quirkily. 

On Saturday, one of the most legendary science fiction cautionary tales of all time — Fahrenheit 451 — will hit HBO. This adaptation of the 1953 Ray Bradbury novel stars Michael B. Jordan in the role of Guy Montag, a “fireman” in the future tasked with government-mandated book-burning. For over half-a-century, this novel has been a classic for a reason. Because it deals with themes of censorship, technology, and the importance of free information, Fahrenheit 451 feels more and more relevant every day. But, did you know Bradbury basically wrote the book in a week?

In 1982, Bradbury was asked to write a new introduction to Fahrenheit 451 and what resulted was the essay “Investing in Dimes.” In it, Bradbury revealed that the way in which he wrote the book was insanely fast. The first draft (originally called “The Fire Man”) was written in just nine days. How did he do it? Turns out, Bradbury created an insane time limitation that forced him to finish the first draft of the book quickly: he was working on rented typewriters in a library, meaning, as he was typing, the clock was literally ticking.

Ray Bradbury's most famous author photo.


In the essay, Bradbury explains that at the time he was trying to write the book, he was forced to stop writing in his usual spot: the family garage. And that’s because his children would often swing by and cajole him into coming out to play. “Father had to choose between finishing as tory or playing with the girls,” Bradbury writes. “I chose to play, of course, which endangered the family income.”

Bradbury needed an office to write, but didn’t have the money. And, because this was the Fifties, he couldn’t just take his laptop to the nearest Starbucks and hang out all day. And so, he relegated himself to the basement of the library at the University of California in Los Angeles where you could rent a typewriter at a rate of 10 cents per 30 minutes.

“You trust your dime in, the clock ticked madly, and you typed wildly,” Bradbury explained. “Time was indeed money. I finished the first draft in roughly nine days.” Bradbury also revealed that writing a book about the grim future of books was suddenly appropriate since he created the bulk of the narrative working in a library; a place he adored and hoped future generations would preserve despite his fears to the contrary.

You can read the entire essay in Bradbury’s book Zen in the Art of Writing. The new HBO movie adaptation debuts on Saturday at 8pm eastern.

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