Monday, February 12, 2018

Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury

You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.

For writing allows just the proper recipes of truth, life, reality as you are able to eat, drink, and digest without hyperventilating like a dead fish in your bed.

In one essay from Zen in the Art of Writing, Ray Bradbury describes his method: Write a story on Monday, a second draft on Tuesday, a third on Wednesday, a fourth on Thursday, a fifth on Friday, and then send it off on Saturday.  And unlike some other advice-givers, Bradbury doesn't seem to be one of those who says you must do it mechanically, even when inspiration isn't striking.  To the contrary, he writes, "[I]f you are writing without zest, without gusto, without love, without fun, you are only half a writer."  The impression these essays ultimately give is of a writer so full of gusto and zest you hope that some of it will rub off on you.

If you're looking for practical advice, you might be disappointed by the collection.  Bradbury credits most of his successful work to a single list of nouns he jotted down one day in his twenties.  (THE LAKE, THE BABY, THE OLD WOMAN, THE RAVINE.)  Over several decades, Bradbury returned to this same list--or so he claims--to inspire him.  ("The Old Woman" and "The Ravine," for sure, I remember as some of the most outstanding sections of the story-collection-as-novel Dandelion Wine.)  Who can imitate that?  No one, I expect.  But the essays themselves are so full of life and good feeling that they give you the impression that you might just be able to, especially if Bradbury believes in you--and they also give the impression that, somehow, he believes in you.

Zen is a collection of essays written at various points throughout Bradbury's life, and as with a lot of these compilations, you hear the same stories over and over again.  Bradbury is especially fond of talking about how, as a kid, he tore up all his Buck Rogers comics in an effort to fit in, and the guilt he felt at betraying Buck was so strong that he vowed never to turn his back on his childhood loves again.  "Since then," he writes, "I have never listened to anyone who criticized my taste in space travel, sideshows, or gorillas.  When this occurs, I pack up my dinosaurs and leave the room."  It's such a charming aside that you don't mind hearing it again.

Zen in the Art of Writing won't change any aspect of how or what I write.  But it did give me some classic snippets that I'm going to share with my students.  And as I find myself striving, slogging, to finish a book of my own, it was a nice inspirational kick in the pants.

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