Published in 1990, Zen in the Art of Writing is a collection of essays written by Ray Bradbury about his love of writing. The essays were written over the course of thirty years, not all at once for this collection. But they echo the same truths behind one’s writing.
Ray Bradbury is the writer behind many classic works of fantasy, science fiction, and horror, including Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man, and Something Wicked This Way Comes. He wrote twenty-seven novels, and he also wrote for movies. He won multiple awards, including the Emmy award, the National Medal of Arts, and the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.
There are many practical advantages here, especially in what he discusses in the early essays. Some practical pieces of advice he gives: number one is to write 1,000 words a day, every day (kind of like Stephen King’s rule!), he recommends that you don’t think so much when you write and try to be free, the usefulness of reading more poetry to understand how to use more senses in your writer, and he also recommends we write from a place of truth.
The primary audience here is writers of fiction, particularly short story writers, since, as a speculative fiction writer, he discusses in depth strategies to strengthen your plots and characters. The secondary audience is anyone who loves to read, because he goes into not only strategies in writing but backstories of how some of his most famous books came to be.
Ray Bradbury is one of the most popular and important authors of the twentieth century, and this, his one and only non-fiction book, is worthy of study by all who are interested in writing, because he offers sound advice on how to better your writing, produce more writing, always write from a place of truth. Ultimately this book makes you fall in love with writing all over again.
Bradbury recommends you run fast when writing, and stand still when you need to observe. One or the other, and nothing in between. He goes on to give biographical details, telling how in the beginning he imitated writers he liked and only occasionally wrote something worthy of interest. He wrote out a list of nouns, picked one at random, and wrote a story. THE BABY. THE CROWD. THE LOCKET. THE BEACH. Had a story called THE THING where he wrote down the noun in 1926 and finally wrote the story in 1986.
He recommends you not just sit around and wait for the muse to show up. He says to read a lot of poetry. Every day! Also, essays. Any collection you can find. He wants you to find books that help your senses, in the way you describe things in your writing. The one thing that holds it all together? Excitement! You have to be excited about your writing, or it will die a quick death on the page.
He says that he writes 1,000 words or more every single day, and would average at least one story a week, if not more, since he started writing in his teens. It took him years to write something good, but it was all about practice, practice, practice. When he turned twenty-five, he sold three stories in three days!
In the last major chapter, Bradbury discusses the importance of work and relaxation as a writer. The work must be done, but the writer also needs to relax. We can’t do it just for the money, or the fame and fortune. We have to write from truth. We have to write what speaks to us, what makes us unique. If we can find our truth, we can really start saying something.