by Renee Kimball
“Your intuition knows what to write, so get out of the way.”
― Ray Bradbury
“. . . And what, you ask, does writing teach us? 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 reward back because it has favored us with animation…Secondly, writing is survival. Any art, any good work, of course is that. Not to write, for many of us, is to die…”
Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing
In 1994 , Ray Bradbury published Zen in the Art of Writing; he was 74 years old. Bradbury began his writing life at twelve years of age and committed the rest of his life to writing one thousand words a day, if not more.
Only 176 pages, Zen is a succinct and instructive work. The book deftly uses autobiographical material to lay the groundwork as a guidebook for writers; but more, it is an instructional manual for creating a rich, productive, and happy life.
Finding Bradbury’s Zen was an unexpected pleasure. It is doubtful I would have known of it if it had only been available in hardback. Because the electronic edition just “happened” to come up on my E-reader, I downloaded and began reading. (Photo Courtesy of Amazon).
Zen’s language is reminiscent of the 50s, 60s, and 70s, but that takes nothing away from his message. In an interview with Futurism Magazine five years before his death in 2012, Bradbury had reached a pinnacle of success known by “living authors.” Some critics have named him the “greatest science fiction author of all time” but he was more than a science fiction author; he was also a “humanist-philosopher” (Futurism).
Bradbury’s career began as a short story writer during the 50s. He became a novelist, evolved into writing poems, as well as theatre and movie screenplays.
A collection of Bradbury’s short stories became the basis of his first novel, The Martian Chronicles. The Illustrated Man followed in 1951, and Fahrenheit 451 in 1954, both still read in high school English classes today. Bradbury is credited with bringing the science fiction genre into mainstream literature. The move to writing television screen plays was a natural progression. Gene Roddenberry, Bradbury’s friend and the creator of Star Trek, invited Bradbury to write for the popular show. Bradbury became the primary writer for the show for many years; the series became a monumental success, spawning sub-culture worship status still going today.
Engaging thoughts found in the slim volume of Zen:
The need to write every day. . .
“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. . .An hour’s writing is tonic. I’m on my feet running in circles. . . Zen (p. ixx).
On writing with enthusiasm, and finding ideas:
“. . .If you are writing without zest, without gusto, without love, without fun, you are only half a writer.” (p.4).
. . .But I wanted to show what we all have in us, that it has always been there, and so few of us bother to notice. When people ask me where I get my ideas I laugh. How strange—we’re so busy looking out, to find ways and means, we forget to look in.” (p. 35.
Bradbury’s “formula for writing”. . .
“. . .So, simply then, here is my formula. . .
“What do you want more than anything else in the world? What do you love, or what do you hate?
“Find a character, like yourself, who will want something or not want something, with all his heart. Give him running orders. Shoot him off. Then follow as fast as you can go. The character, in his great love, or hate, will rush you through to the end of the story. . .” (p. 6).
When he was twenty-two, after ten years of struggling, Bradley finally wrote what he believed was his first good short story, “The Lake.” He earned twenty dollars. For years afterwards, “The Lake” was continuously published in a variety of magazines; while he was surprised, Bradbury was infinitely pleased.
When reading Zen, if you are a certain age, the reader can believe that being with Ray Bradbury would be comfortable, undemanding, enjoyable—he is the model for a “good friend.” Bradbury is the ultimate family man, devoted to his wife and four daughters. He had strong life-time friendships —not only in business, but in life. He writes about his gratefulness to his wife and his daughters and joy they brought him and the loving home they shared. He never shies away from sentimental feelings of family and friends that seem to escape modern writing, he acknowledges his missteps and successes with humor and truth.
“Read poetry every day of your life. 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. . .” (p. 36).
. . .
“You say you don’t understand Dylan Thomas? Yes, but your ganglion does, and your secret wits, and all your unborn children. Read him, as you can read a horse with your eyes, set free and charging over an endless green meadow on a windy day… (p. 37).”
. . . “Read those authors who write the way you hope to write, those who think the way you would like to think. . .” (p. 38).
“. . . The constant remains: the search, the finding, the admiration, the love, the honest response to materials at hand, no matter how shabby they one day seem, when looked back on…” (p. 41).
“. . . By living well, by observing as you live, by reading well and observing as you read, you have Your Most Original Self.” (p. 43).
In Zen, the reader will find a template for a full life, a joyful life. Bradbury did not just give advice, he lived what he told others to do: work with passion and creativity, write every day with enthusiasm, find joy in whatever you do, and nourish your inner self, your inner muse. Read everything, and experience the wonder of the people in your life, the world around you, and most importantly sprinkle everything you do and say with Love—success will follow.
“You must write every single day of your life… You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads… may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.”
― Ray Bradbury
Bradbury, Ray. Zen in the Art of Writing.
Bradbury, Ray. 1990. Zen in the art of writing. Santa Barbara, Calif: Joshua Odell Editions, electronic publication 2012, Amazon.com Kindle Edition.
Ray Bradbury. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Ray-Bradbury
Full Cycle Publications. Interview with Ray Bradbury. 07.20.2019. https://www.fullcyclepublications.com/interview-with-ray-bradbury/
Goodreads. Bradbury Quotes. https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/1630.Ray_Bradbury
A former paralegal, Renee Kimball has a master’s degree in criminal justice. Among her interests are reading and writing. She is an active Animal Advocate and fosters both dogs and cats and works with various organizations to find them forever homes.