Ray Bradbury’s ‘Zen in the Art of Writing’ chapter ‘How to Feed and Keep a Muse’

For those of us who are writers, the description of a muse can be as diverse as how world cultures and religions define God(s). For some, a muse is an English teacher with some crisp British accent admonishing us to not waste time but to get down to business and to write. Others think of a muse as a gentle encourager. (“Come on, you don’t really need to watch another rerun of Frasier, do you? Hmmmm?”). For those who like to write stories delving into seedy or sassy subjects, perhaps their muse is some sort of dominatrix who cracks the whip anytime they’re not diligently putting words on paper. (“Get writing! WOO-PSSSSSSH! Now!!!)

The muse’s job is simple: to encourage us to write and to inspire us to write. In some cases, such as looming deadlines or story ideas that began to fade or grow too stale if neglected too long, to order us to write.

No, this Papermate Dynagrip isn’t my muse, but it is my favorite of the non-click Papermate pens.

Mr. Bradbury talks about muses and how to feed and keep them. It’s a very difficult task. His view of a muse is of some painfully shy Greek goddess. Hold her too tight, and she’s gone. Hold her too loosely and she zooms away. A writer needs a happy balance.

He believes it’s a mistake for a writer to focus excessive attention on the muse themselves, comparing a muse to specks in an eye membrane that can cause vision to become a little cloudy. Instead, a person should focus on the big picture and see things clearly.

How does one feed a muse? Mr. B suggests doing things that should come across seasoned writers as very obvious: read as much as possible; write as often as you can (at least 1,000 words of fiction writing a day). Besides these two things, become a sharp observer of the world. Take in sights, smells, sounds, tastes, touches. Use these to become a better writer and to make your writing come alive.

We have originality, Mr. Bradbury reminds us. No two people see the same event in exactly the same way. I suspect this applies even to identical twins to a strong extent.

When we write, our muse wants us to write in passion and in truth. Mr. B recalls his father’s stories of traveling in Arizona (back when it was a U.S. territory) and Minnesota and how his dad spoke truthfully and passionately. It really makes me think that when creating a story character, you should do your best to describe the world from their viewpoint–even if you normally would disagree with that person. Show their drive and their determination. And when you describe a story, do so in a determined way that gives the reader (who may have never traveled to that location) a great idea of what it’s like.

In short, Mr. Bradbury says, the muse is a fantastic storehouse of our complete being where we store our memories, interests, observations, interactions–all the tools we need to become a great writer.

Furthermore, he suggests these also to feed a muse:

1) Read poetry daily. In fact, some of Mr. Bradbury’s stories come from poetry he’s read. I remember the short story The Exiles, published in The Illustrated Man, begins with witches reciting a poem as they brewed a concoction inside a cauldron.

2) Read books of essays. We presume this would be books beside the one I’m currently blogging about. Mr. B believes these can help the sense of smell and hearing when writing.

3) Novels, short stories

4) Comics

These are all designed to help you learn the tools you’ll need to become a good writer.

Mr. B also says a person should: “Do not, for money, turn away from all the stuff you have collected in a lifetime;

“Do not, for the vanity of intellectual publications, turn away from waht you are–the material within you which makes you individual, and therefore indispensible to others.”

Furthermore, feeding a muse means taking long walks at night in the city or town, or walks in the country at day and long walks through libraries and bookstores.

Mr. Bradbury believes that writing a thousand words daily will help your muse to take shape and will exercise your creativity and storytelling muscles. By doing this, by living well, and practicing close observation, you will have fed your muse well. Just as an athlete frequently exercises to stay in shape, a writer must write frequently.

Finally, what’s my idea of a muse? At this stage of life, she looks a lot like my wife, Jennifer, and she gently but firmly encourages me that getting published as a writer helps pay the bills and is a step closer to my dream job: fiction writer.

Richard Zowie’s been a writer for 10 years and has several unpublished fiction short stories. Post comments here or e-mail richardzowie@gmail.com.

‘Zen in the Joy of Writing’ chapter ‘Run Fast, Stand Still’

Actually, this chapter had a much longer title, but I didn’t want to cause my blog to crash due to too long of a title.

As a writer, there are times to run very fast and other times to stand very still. Running fast is what you have to do when you get a great story idea. In fact, that’s why I almost always have a pen and notebook on me at all times–even when I shower.

Ok, I’m kidding about having those in the shower.

You do get what I’m saying: nothing stinks worse than to be some place, observe something and come up with a great idea for a story, book, magazine article, column or blog posting. When this has happened to me and I’ve been without pen and paper, more times than I care to admit I’ve forgotten them later.

When you have the idea, Mr. Bradbury says, write down everything you can. Omit nothing. Assume everything’s vital, even thoughts that make no sense.

I like to visit the FBI’s website and study the 10 Most Wanted list. A year ago, I started wondering what would happen if one of the men on the list were ever recognized during their ventures of trying to live off the grid. Then Writer’s Digest had a prompt about a tragedy happening at a local swimming hole. Writing down a few notes about a character loosely based on Robert William Fisher, I came up with the short story Final Swim at Poesta Pond. It didn’t win, but it was an enjoyable story to write.

Mr. Bradbury adds that when taking things slow, use it to observe and develop a style. Read, read, read. Read what’s popular, read what’s not, read what you don’t necessarily like. Read heavily in the genres that interest you and work to develop your own style. Pay close attention so you can see how good writing’s done and why bad writing’s bad, and also to avoid doing what’s already been done.

One must wonder if actor Darryl Hannah loves to write. Rumor has it, she loves to sit in public places and observe people. Actually, not only is there nothing wrong with this, but Hannah’s habit is one a good writer should also do. Observing people, what they say, how the say it, how they look, how they dress, their mannerisms, is an excellent way to sharpen your description skills as you write. Of course, you must do this in a way where the police or an overprotective boyfriend doesn’t come up and demand to know what you’re doing!

Sometimes, Mr. Bradbury notes, good–perhaps even great–writing stumbles upon you. You write and you’re done before you even know it. He remarks that a few stories took hours to write. Wow. Considering this was in the day before word processors, this is remarkable. It makes me wonder if one of my favorite Bradbury short stories, Marionettes, Incorporated, was one of these: the story flows so well and reads so fast it seems like it must’ve flown from the typewriter. It can be as easy as one to four thoughts that are written very quickly. Write it fast and worry about revisions later.

Mr. B also encourages prospective writers to read the greats of literature and from that to develop their own style. Shakespeare, Coleridge, Poe, Hawthorne, Cather, Alcott, Lovecraft, Bradbury (he doesn’t mention his own name, but I’d certainly throw it in there), Asimov, Pohl, Turtledove, Milton, Faulkner, and, more recently, King, Crichton and one of my new faves, Bova.

Finally, in this chapter Mr. Bradbury observes that life experiences can make great story ideas. A terrifying ride on a merry-go-round when he was a child eventually led to his masterpiece novel Something Wicked This Way Comes. A childhood fascination with skeletons led to his short story Skeleton (a fascinating mix of suspense, thriller and dark humor).

Next, we’ll blog about Mr. Bradbury’s observations on muses.

Richard Zowie’s a writer who hopes to add this book to his collection someday. Post comments here or e-mail richardzowie@gmail.com.

Thoughts on the ‘Zen in the Art of Writing’ chapter ‘The Joy of Writing’

Please keep in mind that this is not a critique of Mr. Bradbury’s book Zen in the Art of Writing. This blog posting is simply what I’ve gathered from the book and how I think I can apply it to my own fiction writing career. It’s also my motivation to finish this book and to move onto others.

I’ve often wondered how to best describe Bradbury as a writer to those unfamiliar with his work (my two favorite Bradbury books are The Illustrated Man and Fahrenheit 451). Perhaps Stephen King said it best: with Mr. Bradbury, everything’s green and wondrous and seen through a lens of nostalgia.

“The Joy of Writing” chapter

Mr. Bradbury believes it’s imperative to write with zest and gusto. Writing should be pleasurable, so have fun with it. This type of mentality helps a person put out 2,000 or so words a day. If you find it a burden, then you may have a problem. The same rings true for other professions. To be a successful chef, Gordon Ramsay has said you must a passion for cooking. Actors have told me that getting in front of a camera or on stage requires a love for performing; if your motivation is fame or fortune, forget it.

What should a person write about? Things that you love or hate. One example Mr. Bradbury references is seeing a photo in Harper’s Bazaar that used Puerto Ricans in the background as “props”. Upset by this, Mr. Bradbury wrote a short story where a Puerto Rican man taunts such a photographer by always appearing in his photographs and making some type of gesture that ruins the picture. In his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, King recounts working at a mill and hearing a crazy story about how giant rats lived in the cellar of a decrepit building. Wheels spun and soon King wrote the creepy short story Graveyard Shift.

Sometimes we write about our fears. One short story I’m working on focuses on one of my worst fears: having an automobile breakdown in the summer heat in the middle of nowhere. The main character is on the run from the police but has his car break down in one of the more rural areas of the country: West Texas.

Sometimes, Mr. Bradbury feels writing a story can be as simple as finding a character who wants or doesn’t want something with all their heart. Give them orders, let them go and follow them and write what you see happening. Darn the outlines and character profiles, full speed ahead!

Writing also requires a person to read voraciously and diversely. Books, magazines, anything you can get your hands on. Myself, I suspect much can be learned even by reading bad prose. You learn how not to write and what doesn’t work. For me, what comes to mind is one particular sci-fi novel written by a scientist who simply wasn’t a good writer. Another involves a curious delve into trasy western paperbacks where the methaphors are so bad they’re comical. Obviously, this is best kept at a minimum while energies should be focused on good writing and what does work.

Finally in this chapter, Mr. Bradbury reminds us that life is indeed very short. Write. A writer writes now. Procrastination is the death of writing. This is indeed something I can relate to: my twenties flew by and now, at 37, I’m beginning to wonder what happened to my thirties. If only we lived on a planet like Pluto, where the days are six days long instead of a measly 24 hours.

Up next, the chapter “Run Fast, Stand Still”.

Richard Zowie is a professional writer. He’s worked as a journalist and columnist and also blogs and writes fiction. Post comments here or e-mail him at richardzowie@gmail.com.

‘Ozymandias’ by Percy Bysshe Shelley, one of my favorite poems

I had to recite Mr. Shelley’s poem about a long-gone, once-powerful king for Speech 101 at Pensacola Christian College. It fascinated me and reminded me a lot of what Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes about how people who are powerful rulers in their time eventually will be all but forgotten by future generations. It also reminds me of Amsterdam Vallon’s words at the end of the 2002 Martin Scorsese film Gangs of New York lamenting that while the gangs of New York fought in 1863 for control of the city, eventually to future generations it would be as if the gangs never existed.

Richard Zowie’s a professional writer who, perhaps, at times has too much time on his hands to think strange thoughts. Post comments here or e-mail him at richardzowie@gmail.com.

‘Moonrise’ by Ben Bova

It took me longer to finish this book than it did Jupiter, but it was time well spent.

Moonrise is an interesting branch inside the science fiction genre, one that focuses on the business aspect of space exploration, colonization and mining. Whether future generations try to mine ore from an asteroid, set up a colony on the moon, harvest hydrogen and ammonia gas from Jupiter or water from Pluto’s moon Charon, it all boils down to one thing: can money be made off of it?
 
So, in Moonrise, veteran astronaut Paul Stavenger is convinced that moon colonization is the future of mankind. The earth is getting far too overpopulated, and being able to colonize the moon and harvest previous elements from the moon are key to our survival. He has to deal with much corporate bureaucracy from the Masterson Aerospace, which, by the gross financial mismanagement of its boss the egotistical Gregory Masterson, is slowly teetering towards bankruptcy. Even with the hot-selling Clippership and even with Paul’s vision of how Moonbase could easily be turned into a profit.
 
Tensions arise as Gregory Masterson II, Greg’s son, uses manipulated nanotechnology to kill Paul months after Greg commits suicide and after Joanna Masterson marries Paul (who had been her lover). Paul, realizing nanobugs are in his suit, chooses not to head to the next station to prevent infecting them with the nanobugs also.
 
Paul’s son, Doug, 18 years down the road tries to continue what’s been going on with Moonbase as Greg II ends up in charge in what is, without question, the worst personnel move in the history of science fiction novels (something we can attribute to Joanna’s overprotective ways as a mother rather than Dr. Bova’s storytelling). Doug is determined to make Moonbase profitable for more than one reason: due to a sabotage attempt by a disgruntled employee, Doug is exposed to radiation and must depend on nanotechnology for the rest of his life. Since the earth has all but banned the research, manufacturing and selling of nanotechnology, Doug must stay on the moon indefinitely.
 
Greg II, who is Doug’s half-brother, finally snaps when he sees his mother favors Doug and when he realizes he will finally be held accountable for an old murder. The climax ensues and the book ends with Doug looking at the moon and realizing it’ll take many generations to do what needs to be done.
 
What I liked about this book: The storyline was very interesting as it wove business with science and exploration. The characters came from all walks of life (such as the short, pudgy, half Italian and half Korean astronomer Bianca Rhee, who’s attracted to Doug). Once you sit down and read and devote time to it, it’s not easy to put down. Again, I liked Jupiter better, but Moonrise was a very good read. It’s a prelude of what’s to come in future generations: whether or not a profit can be made will be a major factor in whether or not to explore space and whether or not to try to harvest products for use on earth.
 
The book also opens up ideas for the future: how about space crafts made out of pure diamond? If diamonds can be found in asteroids or terrestrial planets like Mercury or Mars, perhaps it could work.
 
There were a few love scenes in this book but Bova kept the details to the bare minimum. We are spared from cheesy, Longarm-style metaphors for breasts, legs, and genitalia (such as “fleshy orbs”). Bova tells you just enough to let you know sex took place, whether it was enjoyable, what it accomplished, and leaves it at that. Too much information diverts from the storyline.
 
Also, there is very little profanity in this book, something else that impresses me greatly.
 
We read in this book about New Morality and their attempts to quell nanotechnology. I don’t know what Dr. Bova’s spiritual beliefs are (two websites say he’s an atheist), but I feel he’s pretty fair with his depiction of Christians. To me, he’s the antithesis of Carl Sagan, whose treatment of Christians in Contact could be described as an amateur caricature at best.
 
What I didn’t like about this book:  It didn’t seem as fast-paced as Jupiter. Paul’s death and then Doug’s life seemed like they could’ve been separate books of their own. Other than these, I had no complaints.
 
What’s in store for me now? Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing: Releasing the Creative Genius Within You. Brent Curtis and John Eldredge’s The Sacred Romance: Drawing Closer to the Heart of God. A few weeks ago, though, I visited a used book store in Lapeer, Michigan and bought two more of Dr. Bova’s books and will no doubt be reading them in the next few months. It’s time I consider very well spent.
 
Richard Zowie’s been a professional writer for 10 years and is working on selling some of his fiction stories and writing others. He spends ample time assuring people that, yes, Zowie is his legal surname (howbeit Americanized from the German surname Zahnweh). Post comments here or e-mail Richard at richardzowie@gmail.com.

Ten years as a writer

From A to Zowie

Ten years as a writer

By Richard Zowie

Ten years ago, as I drove down to Prime Time Military Newspapers near Lackland Air Force Base on San Antonio’s southwest side, I was nervous. For months, as I prepared to leave the Army, I’d occasionally e-mail the publisher ask if any journalism positions were open. Each time she’d tell me they didn’t have any but that my writing samples looked very good. As my discharge drew closer without a job lined up, I worried what the future held. A few days before the publisher had called, and I interviewed with her.

Now it was time for the second interview with her and the publisher and editor of the Kelly Observer. That interview went very well, and just a few days after my Army enlistment officially ended on February 21, 2000, I began my writing career as a staff writer for the Observer. And then, a year later, as a columnist for the Beeville Bee-Picayune.

That was then: today I work at the Genesee County Herald in Clio, Michigan (a small town about 20 miles north of Flint). It’s actually two newspapers: one edition covers the northern Genesee County areas of Mt. Morris and Clio and the other edition covers the southern Saginaw County areas of Birch Run and Bridgeport.

When not doing that, I also work on freelance assignments and try to refine my fiction. Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of being published in a few places: Air Force News, the San Antonio Express-News, and Recreation Management magazine.

Over the years as a writer, I’ve had a chance to work with many wonderful people, along with some who have taught me a lot by teaching me how not to do something. Along the way I’ve stepped on my share of land mines.

Over these 10 years, here are what I consider the Three P’s of Journalism: Be Professional. When talking to someone, stay with the topic at hand unless perhaps a side comment can somehow lead to the person revealing great information for your article or information that could lead to a future article.

Be Polite. Treat those you deal with in a respectful, friendly manner. It goes a long way, especially if the person has had bad experiences with the media in the past.

Be to the Point. Assume the people you deal with are very busy. Once you introduce yourself, get down to business. When done talking to them, thank them for your time and leave it up to them to leave the door open for further comments.

Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of writing some memorable stories. Among them…

…During Air Force Day at Dallas Cowboys training camp in San Antonio’s Alamodome in 2002, I got to briefly interview Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. Was I nervous? Does it get hot in Texas summers? …

Earlier in 2000, I wrote an Express-News Memorial Day feature article of an Army buddy whose father posthumously received the Medal of Honor in Vietnam by throwing himself onto a grenade.

I’ve also in my ventures met a kidney transplant recipient who, after 15 years, needed another kidney and learned his medical insurance wouldn’t cover the cost. Then there was the 102-year-old lady, whose secret to longevity was dipping snuff (I kid you not).

Sometimes I’ve even met a few famous people. For one unpublished feature article about his minister-at-large position at San Antonio’s Oakwood Church, I interviewed San Antonio Spurs star and NBA Hall of Famer David Robinson. (Being 5’8”, I barely came up to his waist). About a year ago, I interviewed and took pictures of Marlon Young, the lead guitarist for Kid Rock’s Twisted Brown Trucker band. Young was very friendly.

Years ago in the Bee-Picayune, I wrote about writing and said this: writing is an art, not a science. As I’ve continued to grow as a writer, I feel that’s a comment that must be modified. Writing is a science in that you must learn the fundamentals, grammar rules and spelling. But it’s also an art in that you must develop your own individual style. It’s difficult to practice your art if you don’t have a grasp of grammar or if you can’t spell words.

Where would I like to see my writing career go in the future? In a few directions: journalism, blogging (which I suspect is where journalism’s slowly going) and fiction writing. Perhaps I’ll have those things to report on in 2020 when I write about 20 years.

In closing, here’s my favorite story in the past 10 years: While working at a newspaper in Comal County, we had a weekly question we’d ask of local residents for our Word on the Street segment. One week it was asking if people voted, the other week whether they planned to buy former President Bill Clinton’s then-recently-published autobiography, and so on. Some residents would decline to pose for a head shot while others would give their first name only.

One lady gave a great answer to one of the questions but then declined a photo or to even give her first name.

“Are you just shy?” I asked her.

She laughed. “Not really, but I do have a few outstanding warrants for my arrest, and the authorities don’t know I’m here in Canyon Lake.”

Richard Zowie grew up in Beeville and now works in Michigan as a writer. Post comments here or e-mail richardzowie@gmail.com.

What I’m reading right now

I am almost done with Ben Bova’s novel Moonrise and will write about it when done. Next up will be Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing. A few other books on deck after that, but I’d rather not get into them yet out of fear I’ll shift gears and pursue something else to read.

Years ago, I read that British poet Percy Bysshe Shelley read 16 hours a day. Wow! I wish I had time like that.

Richard Zowie is a writer, blogger, columnist, journalist, who wishes the eight hours of sleep he needs each night could be spent reading instead. Post comments here or drop him a line at richardzowie@gmail.com.

Poem: Who are they to judge?

Poetry is not my strong suit, but I like to dabble into it. Quentin Tarantino once said you can’t write poetry with a computer; the poem below was written earlier today with pen and paper (with a few modifications as I type them in now). Read and tell me what you think. I promise this–if you don’t like it, you won’t hurt my feelings. Honest.

Who are they to judge?

“This movie’s bad,” Roger says

“This book’s bad,” The Times says

“This person cahn’t sing,” says the shooter of cripples

If there are no absolutes

No right or wrong

No good or bad

No tasteful or distasteful

If beauty is in the eye of the beholder

Who are Roger, the newspaper and Simon to judge?

Richard Zowie is a writer, blogger, columnist, journalist. Post comments here or drop him a line at richardzowie@gmail.com.

Case solved

Most recently, I blogged about the case of the missing byline. I called, left a message and received a voice mail message back. The problem’s been attributed to a computer glitch. The explanation makes sense, so for the time being, I consider the case solved and the issue a closed matter.

Richard Zowie’s been a professional writer since 2000. Post comments here or e-mail him at richardzowie@gmail.com.