Well, except for the segment called …On Creativity. Perhaps I’ll read those poems someday when I purchase a copy of Zen in the Art of Writing. At this stage, the poems just didn’t work for me.
It’s only fitting that the last essay on writing in this book is called “Zen in the Art of Writing”. Mr. Bradbury says he chose the title for the shock value, as a way of getting more readers. Until recently (he wrote this essay in 1973), he didn’t know what zen meant. I imagine that in 1973 (the year of my birth), people were far less open to the idea of Zen Buddhism than what they are now in 2010.
I’m not a Buddhist, nor am I a follower of far eastern religions. While I hear the word “zen” frequently used I still had to look it up since I didn’t really know what it meant. From what I gather (and this is subject to change based on what a few friends who’ve studied Far East cultures might say), zen is the idea of enlightenment following a period of study or concentration. Hence, Zen in the Art of Writing is about studying writing and meditating on what you’ve gathered and coming to a period of enlightenment.
For many, Mr. Bradbury believes they have writing all wrong. Writing is not about writing solely to make money or to appease snooty critics (please, oh please do NOT get me started on how some filmmakers worry about whether or not they’ll get Roger Ebert’s coveted “Thumbs Up”). It is about learning the science of writing (grammar, spelling, punctuation, story structures) and then the art of writing (developing your own style).
In Bradbury’s experience, writing is a three-step process: Work. Relaxation. Don’t Think.
First, you work.
This, no doubt, is a major letdown for those excited by writing. I’ve been writing for most of my life, professionally for the past 10 years. Let’s face it: it takes work to write. Mr. Bradbury notes that surgeons practice on countless cadavers to prepare for an operation on a live person. An athlete will run miles and miles to prepare for a 100-meter race. A sculptor will practice chiseling countless rocks to prepare for that masterpiece on one slab of granite. Myself, I’ve written many short stories over the years (most of which are unpublishable) and am working on short stories and a novel in hopes of achieving a fiction writing career someday. For every column I write, there are the countless ones I’ve started and thrown away. There have even been those I wrote, completed and then didn’t publish.
We never quit learning to be writers (I imagine Mr. Bradbury would admit that at 88, he’s still learning how to write), but once you’ve put in enough countless hours of blood, sweat and tears and have worn down enough keyboards, pens, pencils and have cut down enough trees to produce paper and notepads, you finally reach the stage of relaxation. This is when writing evolves to where you can put it out without having to put in so much rudimentary work. Specifically, it feels natural and fluid, not so laborious.
Remember the first time you rode a bike? It felt awkward. But as you rode more it grew to where it was easier, and you could relax rather than worry about falling off all the time.
After work and relaxation, you reach the “Don’t Think” stage of writing. This is an advanced stage of Relaxation. At not thinking, it doesn’t mean you put things on autopilot and watch the words magically appear on your screen, out of your typewriter or on the piece of paper as your hand magically writes. Instead, it means you’ve written for so long that you can let the ideas flow and you can write using the basic principles and styles you’ve learned without having to think of them all the time.
Using the bicycle principle, how many of us really think of how we pedal and maintain balance? We’ve done it for so long that it’s almost automatic.
Mr. Bradbury recalls when he first began writing, he wrote for quantity. As he became a better writer and started to write publishable work, he evolved from producing quantity to quality. Experience yields good writing.
How do writers lose their way? Mr. Bradbury believes it’s from pursuing fame and fortune. The same rings true for other professions: one professional actor once told me that if a person’s motivation for becoming an actor is for fame and fortune, don’t bother.
A writer, Mr. B, should see themselves as a prism and should focus on beaming a new light into the world. Develop your own style that’s different from others.
This book, hence, is “zen” in that these essays are what Ray Bradbury has learned about writing. Someday, I hope to read it a few more times and add it to my library.
Next, I’ll be splitting my time between three books: short story collections by Isaac Asimov and Ben Bova and the book The Sacred Romance. I will probably blog about the latter on my Richard’s Two Shekels blog.
Richard Zowie is a writer, blogger and aspiring fiction writer. Post comments here or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.