"Zen in the Art of Writing," Ray Bradbury

Pros: Wonderful advice beautifully written; inspirational
Cons: None
Rating: 5 out of 5

First published 1/15/2002

Many writers have tried to put ways of writing into two boxes. Either you write when the inspiration strikes you (and not before) and do beautiful work, or you write as work and your writing is therefore uninspired and hackneyed. I see this argument all the time – write as a job, every day, and your work cannot be beautiful or inspired; it must be drudgery. I think that too many writers use this argument as an excuse to approach their writing without any sense of professionalism or responsibility (which is fine when you’re writing for yourself or you submit unsolicited writing to magazines, but not so fine when you’re a freelancer working on contract).

I’ve never held with this dichotomy, however. I believe that you can treat your writing professionally, edit your work into better shape, live by contracts if you’re a freelancer, and yet create writing that is beautiful and inspired. It’s simply a matter of learning how to make yourself be inspired, rather than simply waiting for this divine state to mysteriously bestow itself upon you.

Recently someone recommended Ray Bradbury’s “Zen in the Art of Writing” to me. Yes, this is the same Bradbury who authored “Fahrenheit 451” and so much other wonderful material over the course of many years. What thrilled me the most was to see, finally, someone who also believes that work and inspiration are not at all mutually exclusive. This is a man who gets up every morning and writes 1000 words a day. He has described a process by which he gets up on Monday, writes a story, and then does a new draft of it each day during the course of the week until he sends it off on the weekend.

Yet, if you read his works (particularly this book, which truly does read like a prose-poem), I don’t think anyone could honestly argue that Bradbury is some hack plunking out tired words for money. I don’t think you could really read these words and say that he has no inspiration, no beauty. Bradbury has single-handedly proven my point, and for this alone I adore him!

I’ve tried to teach my writing friends that there are two arts: number one, getting a thing done; and then, the second great art is learning how to cut it so you don’t kill it or hurt it in any way.

So many great ideas!

There are so many other reasons to love this book and the man who wrote it, however. While it might not separate out into easy bullet-lists of suggestions, there are a lot of great ideas here. Word associations, letting things percolate through your mind, honestly editing your work… Bradbury couches everything in examples from his own life and work. He loads everything up with context. Perhaps most importantly, he lends his words a vibrancy, a poetry, a life that speaks far louder than any dry essay on writing ever could! He talks of love and hate, and how emotions drive good writing. He speaks of work and relaxation, and how both are necessary at once. All of this in beautiful, easy-to-read language that you can easily cruise through in a day.

It’s hard not to come away from this book without a sense of this man: a whimsical, driven, fire-breathing soul of wit and humor and great understanding. I normally have little interest at all in meeting famous people, but I wish that I could meet Mr. Bradbury. Certainly his work has inspired many a dreamer, and all writers of the fantastic owe him and his work a great debt.

If you’re not happy with the way your writing has gone, you might give my method a try. If you do, I think you might easily find a new definition for Work. And the word is LOVE.

I cannot recommend this writing book highly enough. It isn’t just helpful – it’s inspiring. The passion that flows through the words is contagious. The energy and enthusiasm are catching! I cannot imagine a single author that could not be improved by reading this book.

Posted in Reviews, Writing

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