Book Review: Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury

I typically finish a book in a day or two, and although my reading time was limited when I was reading this book, it wasn’t the only reason it took me longer to finish Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t get past the preface before I was marking sentences that spoke to me and rereading them. I think if you have the soul of a writer, this book will speak to you too. Here is an excerpt:

“I have learned on my journeys, that if I let a day go by without writing, I grow uneasy. Two days and I am in tremor. Three and I suspect lunacy. Four and I might as well be a hog, suffering the flux in a wallow. An hour’s writing is tonic. I’m on my feet, running in circles, and yelling for a clean pair of spats.”

If you’re looking for a how-to manual on writing, this is not the book for you. There seems to be a consistent message among great authors who publish books on writing. There is no magic formula. You must simply have the desire to write and determination to see it through.

Bradbury’s book is a collection of essays written over a thirty year period. Here is a sampling of some of his advice about the craft of writing:

Write with zest. Writing is meant to be a joyful experience. Write what you are passionate about and then it will be.

Feed the Muse. We feed our bodies by ingesting food and water. We feed the muse by ingesting life experiences through our senses. Seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, and feeling give sustenance to the Muse.

Read everything you can get your hands on. It doesn’t matter if the author writes like you or not. Read it anyway and reap the benefits of an expanded mind.

“These are the stuffs, the foods, on which The Muse grows. This is the storehouse, the file, to which we must return every waking hour to check reality against memory, and in sleep to check memory against memory, which means ghost against ghost, in order to exorcise them, if necessary.”

Surround yourself with supportive people and get rid off (no, put the gun away, silly) those who aren’t.

Write every single day. Ray Bradbury wrote 1,000 words per day from the time he was twelve, and finally discovered his unique story at the age of twenty-two. Do this exercise and your voice will eventually emerge.

When it comes to first drafts, just put your thoughts down on the page. Don’t stop to analyze what you’ve written. Don’t let Left Brain spoil the party.

“The faster you blurt, the more swiftly you write, the more honest you are. In hesitation is thought. In delay comes the effort for a style, instead of leaping upon truth which is the only style worth dead falling or tiger-trapping.”

Make lists. That’s right. Make lists of topics that interest you, things that you love or hate, things that exhilarate or terrify, things that have left an impression on you. The stories that live within you–from your unique thoughts and life experiences–will take their first breath from the words on your list.

“I leave you now at the bottom of your own stair, at half after midnight, with a pad, a pen and a list to be made. Conjure the nouns, alert the secret self, taste the darkness. Your own Thing stands waiting ‘way up there in the attic shadows. If you speak softly and write any old word that wants to jump out of your nerves onto the page…

Your Thing at the top of your stairs in your own private night…may well come down.”

I highly recommend this book to anyone who wishes to be a writer.

4 of 5 stars

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6 thoughts on “Book Review: Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury”

  1. I recently made adjustments in my own life to make time for reading but I never give real life the attention it deserves. I forget that being strictly an observer all the time isn’t the key to good writing, but knowing how to live is.

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