Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing

Where did I find the courage to rebel, change my life, live alone?

Ray Bradbury is among the most prolific writers that went on to write his own how-to book on creative writing. Wow, that last sentence had a lot of versions of “write” in it, LOL. But, there you have it. He’s a big proponent of putting it all down on paper no matter what. What’s the point of keeping it in your head? What good does it do there? I think the refining process begins once you put something down on paper. Interestingly enough, he is also one of a few very successful commercial writers that used a typewriter. Hmm… maybe I should use one for my next book and see if that works.

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First and foremost, it reminds us that we are alive and that it is a gift and a privilege, not a right. We must earn life once it has been awarded us. Life asks for rewards back because it has favored us with animation.

Bradbury is one of those writers that speaks of writing like a spiritual calling. You cannot turn your back on it once you’ve discovered the talent. It would be sacrilegious. It even informs the title for goodness sake. I think part of it is that within the dedicated writer is also a need to capture something essential about life, some zeitgeist … however painful. It may not do us any good in this life or bring us fame or fortune, but I guess that’s also why scriptures of many religions were written. No?

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Not to write, for many of us, is to die.

Something that I really enjoy about Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing are the glimpses of his very normal life. The struggle was real, and he caught it on paper. I cannot imagine having a full-blown family and trying to make a living as a writer. It just seems like the toughest decision to dedicate yourself 100% to it. It always reminds me of Alan Rickman deciding to be a graphic designer first because being an actor was not the “practical” thing to do in society.

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Remember that pianist who said that if he did not practice every day he would know, if he did not practice for two days, the critics would know, after three days, his audiences would know.

Another reason why I love this book is because it corroborates quite a lot of what Stephen King says in his book On Writing. Practice is key! After mastering a few grammar and style rules, of course. Funnily enough, there isn’t much to it aside from that. There, that is the grand mystery to writing! If I were to give the biggest difference between King and Bradbury in these two books is the voice and organization of the books. King’s got that smooth, styled voice. Bradbury is all California dude. And, whether by the talents of the writer or his editors, King’s book has a better structure. He divides his book into sections while Bradbury makes the reader feel like he’s just having a long winded conversation with someone.

What is The Subconscious to every other man, in its creative aspect becomes, for writers, The Muse.

Bradbury does talk about the Muse. He thinks of it in subconscious terms which would lend itself nicely to a psychoanalytic reading. So many creatives talk about the muse, inspiration, or “channelling” something beyond them, even Beyonce has admitted to having an entirely different alter ego. As a Mexican, sometimes I tell myself sarcastic and wry jokes about possession and having some muerto with flavor take over you. Because, we really do go into a zone, the zone in which nothing but the next word matters.

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Let’s say that each of us has fed himself on life, first, and later, on books and magazines.

Bradbury reminds me a little of those method actors because he seems to feel like the writer embodies his writing, the creative story in many ways. And, that inspiration breeds inspiration. While King for example, he speaks of it as something that is disciplined. When you’ve mastered the craft, you don’t need inspiration when you can give yourself prompts to begin. For Bradbury, one that works is word association or lists of interesting words. They both have a point, gotta say. Start with whatever floats your boat, but remember it’s only a start and the ending may be somewhere else entirely.

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Poetry is good because it flexes muscles you don’t use often enough. Poetry expands the senses and keeps them in prime condition. It keeps you aware of your nose, your eye, your ear, your tongue, your hand.

I love poetry, okay. It’s a fine art, a craft. It’s a craft to write it, and it’s a craft to read it. You know those new parenting tips on how to help your infants develop their motor reflexes and learn physical coordination. Well, poetry does the same freakin’ thing. I’ve been saying it for years, and Bradbury backs me up. Simply put, it’s like a puzzle your brain needs to put together. The brain is a muscle people! And, not to be cheeky about the quote above, but Voldemort must have not read poetry because he lost his nose completely. Poor sucker.

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Literary history is filled with writers who, rightly or wrongly, felt they could tidy up, improve upon, or revolutionize a given field. So many of us plunge forward where angels leave no dustprint.

Talk about making my choice to try to get a PhD a moot endeavor! Oh, thanks Ray. Insert sarcasm here. I wonder if he was a fan of E.M. Forster’s Where Angels Fear to Tread. Ah! To be an angel or not to be, that is the question. One final note about Zen in the Art of Writing, readers should really get familiar with some of his work before diving into this book because he does reference his own writing and it helps connect the dots better. Did you know he used the typewriters at UCLA for a lot of is drafts? Fun fact.

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Work Cited

Bradbury, Ray. Zen in the Art of Writing, Rosetta Books, 2017.

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