Quick Review: ZEN IN THE ART OF WRITING by Ray Bradbury (Voyager)

bradburyr-zenintheartofwritingukA collection of articles and essays from the author of Fahrenheit 451

In this exuberant book, the incomparable Ray Bradbury shares the wisdom, experience, and excitement of a lifetime of writing.

The first thing a writer should be is – excited

Author of the iconic FAHRENHEIT 451, THE ILLUSTRATED MAN and THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES, Ray Bradbury is one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century.

Part memoir, part masterclass, ZEN IN THE ART OF WRITING offers a vivid and exuberant insight into the craft of writing. Bradbury reveals how writers can each find their own unique path to developing their voice and style.

ZEN IN THE ART OF WRITING offers a celebration of the act of writing that will delight, impassion, and inspire.

I picked this up on a whim the other week, while enjoying a books-about-writing binge. The prolific Bradbury seemed like a good bet for an interesting book about writing, and I wasn’t disappointed. This is a lively (perhaps almost hyperactive, in some sections) about the joy of fiction and writing. It is not a how-to book, although there is plenty of general advice.

That synopsis is probably the most honest and accurate I’ve read in a while. This book overflows with Bradbury’s enthusiasm about writing, fiction and scripting. His enthusiasm for storytelling in all of its media — fiction, movies, television, theatre productions… He loves them all, in all of their various genres. He is disdainful of those who write only for money, or only for prestige. A writer must work, certainly, but they must also have a passion and enthusiasm for what they are writing. The end goal, he writes, is not enough.

“I have never listened to anyone who criticized my taste in space travel, sideshows or gorillas. When this occurs, I pack up my dinosaurs and leave the room.”

There are some great phrases and passages, of course. In lieu of a regular review, I thought I’d share just a handful. First up, this short introduction to an interview included in the book, conducted by Mitch Tuchman:

“It started as The Black Ferris a 3,000-word story, published in Weird Tales (1948), about two youngsters who suspect there is something peculiar about the carnival that comes to town. The story became a seventy-page screen treatment, Dark Carnival (1958), a project for Gene Kelly to direct. Unproduced, the treatment became a novel, Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962); the novel, a screenplay (1971), then a second screenplay (1976), and now, at last, a film. The author of the story, the treatment, the novel, and the screenplays is of course Ray Bradbury. Lucky that Bradbury feels, ‘I have always been a good editor of my own work.’”

I thought this was a good example of how good writing never has to die. If you write something you love, but isn’t clicking with audiences and/or editors, then time could very well allow you the space to re-work it into a format that does, or repurpose some of what you’ve created in another work.

For new writers, or those hesitating at the edges of beginning, Bradbury bluntly (accurately) writes…

“You will have to write and put away or burn a lot of material before you are comfortable in this medium. You might as well start now and get the necessary work done.”

He continues, later in the titular essay:

“Quantity gives experience. From experience alone can quality come.

“All arts, big and small, are the elimination of waste motion in favor of the concise declaration. The artist learns what to leave out. The surgeon knows how to go directly to the source of trouble, how to avoid wasted time and complications. The athlete learns how to conserve power and apply it now here, now there, how to utilize this muscle, rather than that. Is the writer different? I think not.”

I particularly appreciated Bradbury’s advice about writers finding their own voices, and urging that they should not be chasing what they think they should be writing, or who they should be mimicking. This is often something that jars me, as a reader, when an author has so obviously channeled their idol(s). It is also something I have struggled with, myself, finding my own voice, and not thinking too much about what appears to be working in the marketplace today.

It is very difficult to read this and not be swept up by Bradbury’s enthusiasm. I think I found inspiration in passages that others may miss, or passages that maybe weren’t even intended as advice or guidance. If you’ve ever thought genre writers take themselves and their craft too seriously, I’d recommend you read this to see that passion and enthusiasm are just as important as hard work. After all, if you’re not enjoying what you’re doing, why do it?

Definitely recommended. Just remember that it’s not so much a how-to-guide; but rather a love-letter to writing and storytelling, with some advice thrown in for good measure. At least, that’s my reading of the book.


Zen in the Art of Writing is published in the UK by Voyager.

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