I selected this title because I’ve just finished Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury which is a collection of his essays on writing and a few short stories. I don’t know much about Zen, and probably never will, but this book is essential for any writer who is aching for inspiration. If you are caught in the writing Sahara and need an oasis that will fill your creative well and propel you back to the page with a clear head and impassioned desire to write, this is your cool drink of water.
The articles collected in Zen are full of words like: Gust, Zest, and Love. You can almost hear Mr. Bradbury punching the keys of his typewriter as his articles form on the page. There are people you’ve met in life that were full of, well, life. They glow and pour themselves in everything they do. It is clear that this man loved writing and loved life. Writing was not work for him anymore. It was rhythm, beat, song.
The last essay, Zen in the Art of Writing, highlights three words/phrases. Work, Relaxation, and Don’t Think.
Work – Mr Bradbury admits, as do we, that writing is hard work. You not only need to learn the rules of grammar, but those of pacing and timing, plot and character construction, and many more mechanics of a good story. However, there comes a time where you are familiar with your surroundings, like a year or two after starting a new job, and your daily activities become less thought driven. They are natural, almost comfortable. You don’t have to look at the keys any more or learn the “in’s and out’s” of the basics.
Relaxation – It is at this point where relaxation comes in. You have a construct to work inside of and can easily sit down and run through five hundred words that are moderately well written. You’ve paddled out to sea and can now ride the wave inland. You don’t have to think about pacing or what drives your character because it is already there in your mind. But there is more.
Don’t Think – More is truth. We’ve all had the unfortunate experience of being on the receiving end of someone’s unapologetic thoughts. However, this is where good writing lives. You are done paddling out to sea. You are riding the wave. You can now show off your moves. At this point your characters may pull you along like a five year-old at an Easter Egg hunt showing you where all the good stuff is. You don’t have to look for the eggs anymore. Soon enough, you have three short stories and the beginning of a novel you can be proud of.
Now, by no means is writing a simple step program. Mr. Bradbury admits that if you write one short story a week, having 52 completed in a year, maybe there is only one good one. But this is the work part. Soon enough you figure out how to write a story and intrigue an audience by your tale.
So writer, stop hoping for that magical time. Stop trying to be perfect or imitate. I ask you, like Mr. Bradbury, to roll up your sleeves and see what happens. It’s time to renew the commitment to your work, to hole yourself up and get a short story completed and submitted. By writing over and over again we can indeed come to something grand.
Let’s start that process today.