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.
Every writer has come to the point where things become muddy, sticky, and possibly monotonous. Is it writer’s block? Sure. Is it becoming bored with your own story? Maybe. Is it the dullness of life or a perpetual northern winter or a life event that arrives like a stray lightning bolt and saps you of any motivation to get to the page? Of course.
As a writer I admit I have been there. All of us have. But what can you do to get out of that funk? How can you rise above yourself and this particular situation with your friend or family member that just won’t leave you?
I believe the answer lies in what can be called a Muse. It’s the age old question. What can the artist (in this case writer) do to keep, well, doing? It’s not a sudden burst of energy that finishes a great work but coming back to the project day after day after day. The great writers of the past may have written amazing things because of the epic lives they lived. But more likely they became great writers because they pulled up their sleeves and wrote.
But this work requires energy. And yours is sapped remember?
In the article, How to Keep and Feed a Muse by Ray Bradbury, he explores a thread which holds the “fuel your writing idea” together and it is this twofold:
“I believe one thing holds it all together. Everything I’ve ever done was done with excitement, because I wanted to do it, because I loved doing it.” (Bradbury, Zen and the Art of Writing, pg 40). This means, obviously, doing things you love. I have children and a full time job yes. But I haven’t stopped watching hockey or finding time for that good book or going on a walk or stopping by a library during lunch break.
What do you love?
“Do not, for money, turn away from all of the stuff you have collected in a lifetime. Do not, for the vanity of intellectual publications, turn away from what you are – the material within you which makes you individual, and therefore indispensable to others.” Bradbury, Zen and the Art of Writing, pg 42).
So, writer. It’s time to unlock the broom cupboard you’ve put yourself into. The key, after all, is right in your hand. Take it and unlock the door. Don’t cast away responsibility but be sure to remember who you are and do something you love.
I love listening to an author read their book. Now some of you might recall an author who gave an awfully monotone rendition leaving you wondering how they could have composed such a beautiful story. So, let me rephrase that. I like to listen to MOST authors read their books.
The reason for this might be as simple as they know the characters and thus know how they might sound in conversation. Another reason is because you hear the intended inflection of each sentence as it was supposed to be heard, unlocking the story even more.
For the last few years I have been on a classic binge. This romp has taken me through most of Dickens’ work, Graham Greene, Thomas Hardy, C. S. Lewis, and Ray Bradbury. Thus, one of my most recent library borrows was William Goldings’ Lord of the Flies.
Mr. Golding, though terribly old at the reading, can deliver a story. His introduction was spectacular and his ability to deliver a line was clear from the first sentence. He painted word pictures effortlessly and just listening to the first few chapters left a vivid impression of the story he wrote.
Recently, I was instructed to work on pacing. Working on structure or verb agreement is much easier. Pacing seems ethereal, like trying to investigate something in a spirit world using scientific instruments. So, besides getting critiques from my writing friends, listening to audio books is the best way I know how to glean this part of the writing craft.
Listening to audio books has helped me more than I expected. It has given me perspective and a glimpse of pacing. It has also given me something to do on the way to and from work each day.
Do you like to listen to audio books? If so, why? Do you use it as a tool to become a better writer?
This is a short piece from YouTube about the late great Ray Bradbury. He talks about his passion for writing, how he wrote a short story a week, and slowly became a published author.
He discusses the turning point in his career – a short story titled The Lake which is based on a true story. At the end of the piece he says it took him ten years to write something beautiful. I realize now, at times, how impatient we are with our inner authors and how passion and persistence pays off.
I have been a whining moaning writer. Time has been my Enemy. Outside, I have been calm and collected. Inside, I am frustrated, tired, and utterly spent. Which made me reflect, why am I even blogging? I could be working on my novel! I want to be a writer and it is hard to both build a platform and work on a novel.
However, the question much closer to the heart of all of this is: When you strip all of the craziness of life away, if you could stop for a moment and evaluate what is important, what is worth the precious currency of time we all carry in the pocket of our days?
I am a writer I tell myself, that is why I am writing. I am building my platform. But, I am married and have young children. Cindy and I have been married for seven years and I wish that to continue for the rest of my life. Clara is eight months, soon to be nine months, and June is capable of conversation. Do I want to be one of those distant husband or father figures so virtuously engrossed in my own little writers’ world that I put my dreams above them?
True, the answer is obvious. My kids and wife mean more to me than my job and my writing and even my life. But, I still want to write. There’s just too little time for it in this season of life.
When I heard about Ray Bradbury’s death and some of the things he used to do, like write for hours at a time EVERY. SINGLE. DAY., it made me wonder what his life was like. He had children. He was married. With all of the other obstacles that come up in life he still found that minute morsel of time for his dream.
Every person’s life has seasons. Perhaps this is my writer’s Winter. I cannot wait for the writer’s Spring!
Find some time this weekend to write my friends. I shall try and do the same.
My friend Andrew handed me a book nearly six years ago. He said, “Here, this is by one of my favorite authors, you should read it,” (or something like that). It was titled Fahrenheit 451 written by Ray Bradbury.
I am a person who tends to view science fiction or fantasy in an unfriendly light. It is Ironic because that is what I love and write. However, I believe the reason is one in the same with my aversion to anything self published, because it tends to be poor. There are many authors “published” on Smashwords, but that does not mean they are good, though I’m sure there are some very good ones.
Another reason I struggle with fantasy is because I don’t find the main plots and drivers to be culturally relevant.
I’m not saying it has to have a financial crisis or political gridlock as plot lines, sometimes you need something to aspire to and Bradbury with his forward thinking mind provided this. He wrote of far flung places like Mars, other galaxies, and dystopian earth, however he, could not have been more prophetic about our society and our technological dependence. He wrote, mastered, and solidified Science Fiction as an art form.
Ray Bradbury anticipated iPods, interactive television, electronic surveillance and live, sensational media events, including televised police pursuits — and not necessarily as good things
The man wrote feverishly. What I mean by that is he wrote every day for nearly his entire life. He died at ninety one so I suspect he wrote every day for about seventy years and his desire to write burned bright even unto death. Can you imagine that? Based on what I have read, he never had a day off, he merely plunged again and again in the well of his creativity as if he had his own private ocean of it.
What would happen if you and I wrote like he did? What would happen if we wrote every day? I am sure I would have a lot more than one novel finished.
To Ray Bradbury though, writing was never about the money. He was about the craft and if there is any advice he would echo from the grave it would be to write and burn bright and long as you do so.