Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury is one of the most enjoyable call-to-action type books I’ve flipped through. I know, I say that a lot. But heck, it feels like Bradbury is slapping you on the back while you read this and whispering, “you got this,” from the grave. Before I get into the meat of the book, you can give it a glance on [Amazon] or [goodreads] if you would like.
A quick aside. I purchased this book on Amazon, but purchased a used version. It came to me from some small bookstore. When I flipped it open…jackpot! There was a message written on the inside cover. I don’t know about all of you, but I love stuff like this. Here is the message:
Bradbury shares well, and with wit, the timeless creative spirit, objective and true. This work reminds me of the eternity I see in your eyes, in you. May it find and inspire your creative self well.
Joe, if you are reading this, I’m sorry man. It looks like Erin was not impressed by Bradbury and sold the book despite your inspiring words. I enjoyed the book though.
Erin, if you accidentally misplaced this book, shoot me a message and I’ll get it back to you. I hope you did find your creative self. If you did sell this book, I hope you fall off your bike and knock out your two front teeth! Okay, I hope nothing that bad happens, but sheesh, have a heart.
*Corey considers deleting the previous insanity then shrugs his shoulders instead*
Back to the book! Bradbury’s book was very different than most call-to-action type books I’ve read. There is a surge of energy behind his words and a contagious optimism. Yes, he is realistic about some of the challenges, but there is still an undertone of positive lightning.
Bradbury offers a ton of takeaways and recommendations. Some of them seem insane, and some of them make a lot of sense to me. I’ve listed a spattering of them below. They have been ordered from least insane to most.
- Write every day.
I like it. Doesn’t have to be a WIP, but at least keep your fingers moving. I even count these blog posts as part of my writing regiment.
- Read every day.
Right on Ray! You’ve got to eat your greens and gorge on desserts every now and then.
- Get out in the world and experience life to enrich your writing.
As a hermit, this is hard to digest. But I wasn’t always a hermit. There was a time I sailed the oceans, traveled the world, spied on terrorists, and chased criminals. I wrote a post a while back about how Herman Melville’s style and voice changed after he signed up to be a crew member on a whaling boat. It worked out well for him when he wrote Moby Dick.
- Utilize word association to generate interesting ideas.
This is my kid of weird, literary science. Bradbury has a list of crazy words and phrases he used to help generate fun ideas and concepts. He encourages the writer to choose things that resonate with them on some level and play with the concepts.
- Activate the readers senses.
This is great advice. It could have populated any of these first spots on this list.
- Make the skeletons in your childhood closet dance.
This is probably great advice for some, but I had an awesome childhood. Growing up on a farm and playing in the woods. For me, this is a well with no water to pull out. But for some of you, this might be an exploding geyser.
- Write a short story every week for at least five years.
For some of you, this is no sweat (I’m looking at you, Andrew and SDS). For me, this seems a little intimidating, but hey, I can’t argue that it wouldn’t be effective.
- Play with story ideas for years before you bother trying to write them.
This one is a bit harder for me. Bradbury talks about twenty to thirty years being an okay amount of time to let a story marinate in your brain. I guess because I write post-apocalyptic fiction I assume the world will have ended by then…
- Write like a man/woman possessed by the gods.
At first I thought, heck yeah Ray—write the words, all of them! Then he talked about how he would write the first draft on a Monday, the second on a Tuesday, and so on until the story was ready to mail out on Saturday. While this was likely regarding short stories, and not full-length novels, this is still a tremendous pace. I’m not sure I will ever be confident/skilled enough to pull this off even for a short story.
I know I almost always say, “This is a great book,” but this has become one of my favorites. Between Ray’s shout-outs to his cats, to his infectiously positive prose, it’s hard to not find yourself giving him high-fives from beyond the grave while you flip through it. If I am feeling cynical and need a boost, I’ll read On Writing, Bird by Bird, or Writing Past Dark. If I’m feeling good, but want a couple extra jolts of inspiration—this is the book.
That’s it for today. If you are curious about some of the other writing books I have read you can check out a listing of them I made by clicking right here. I’m constantly eating my greens, and I encourage you to do the same. If you have a book recommendation, I would love to hear about it! I’m always looking for more books to devour. Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!