Ray Bradbury’s ‘Zen in the Art of Writing’ chapter ‘Drunk and in charge of a bicycle’

Zowie! Lots of fascinating information in this chapter. I will write as I understand. Once again, faithful reader, please take it for what it’s worth: me, a writer, writing about the great Ray Bradbury and writing how Mr. Bradbury’s wisdom applies to my own life.

Mr. Bradbury starts by talking about a letter he received at 33 from Italy from 89-year-old American art historian Bernard Berenson. The historian, who would pass away five years later, commended Mr. B for his ability to put “flesh” into writing and how much he enjoyed its fascinating nature. This letter made Mr. B realize writing doesn’t have to be difficult, agonizing, dreadful or terrible. Those who view writing these ways and only these ways, no doubt, lack the talent and passion to be great writers. Myself, I love to write. I can’t explain it, but I’ve always loved putting words down on paper or (right now) onto a computer screen. I love to create stories and characters.

What of the title of this chapter, Drunk and in Charge of a Bicycle? Mr. B describes it as something once put in an Irish police report. By being drunk and riding a bicycle, you have no idea where you’ll go next. The trip is one half terror and one half exhiliration. Building on this idea, Mr. B’s career stemmed from childhood fascinations with monsters, skeletons, circuses, dinosaurs and, not surprisingly, the planet Mars. Hence the short stories like The Fire Balloons (another favorite of mine) and the short story collection The Martian Chronicles.

Mr. B’s love of science fiction (which, granted, isn’t necessary the often-incredibly-boring “hard” science fiction that frequently focuses far too much on technical details and not enough on great story lines) originated from his love of Buck Rogers comics. Under peer pressure he got rid of his comics and then feeling empty, built up his collection again.

Mr. B then talks about stories he’s written and how, under enough inspiration and with enough keywords, images to work with. It took him two hours to write The Veldt, the very first short story in The Illustrated Man. The lions from that story? They came from library books Mr. B read when he was 10, from circuses he attended when he was five and from a 1924 Lon Chaney film he saw in his youth.

Mr. B then talks about his memory and how he remembers a) being born, b) being circumcised, c) nursing at his mother’s breast. Wow. My earliest memory? I was three and I remember being on a porch, sticking something into my mouth that tasted sweet (I’d later learn it was sugary) and crying as two girls (whom I’d later learn were my older sisters) walking into the woods. My own birth? My own circumcision? No memory of them whatsoever. From his earliest memories became the basis of a short story The Small Assassin that Mr. B wrote when he was 26.

It was at a carnival in 1932, around 14 years earlier, that Mr. Bradbury began his writing career. While at a carnival, he sat in on a performance of Mr. Electro, who took his Excalibur sword and tapped various children on the shoulders. He got to the young Bradbury, did the same and said, “Live forever!”

This lit a fire of inspiration within Bradbury that has never been quenched. Mr. B even got to talk to Mr. Electro a great deal.

With this, Mr. B spent the ages 12 to 23 often writing well past midnight in a day when computers didn’t exist. I imagine he must’ve used pencil and paper and typewriters, writing countless odd themes. Many of these stories would later appear in the short story collection Dandelion Wine and The Martian Chronicles. It reminds me of the long hours I’d spend writing stories on a computer. Most of them unpublishable, but the more you write the more you develop creative and literary muscle.

Bradbury’s hard work paid off. He became noticed and worked for the director John Huston on a screenplay and later did work for Disney and even wrote an essay to reintroduce the book 20,000 Leagues Beneath the Sea. What made all this possible? His love of things that fueled his imagination.

Furthermore, Bradbury talks about the 1-2 times he’s based on story on something that actually happened to him: The Next in Line (a trip he took to Mexico) and McGillahee’s Brat (a trip to Ireland).

At the time of his meeting Mr. Electrico, Mr. B liked to write 1,000 words a day and found this rate would allow him to write one short story per week. Things finally started to click and his story writing turned into professional-grade writing.

The motivation? Having a wife and kids. Living a very modest lifestyle. It was once said that he and his wife, Marguerite, had occasions early on where all they had in the bank was change. Man, I’ve been there. I can’t tell you the times I’ve told my wife the financial news: our checkbook is balanced but we have very little in the account.

It’s interesting how some stories evolve. Bradbury’s short, short story Black Ferris turned into a screenplay which became the iconic thriller Something Wicked This Way Comes.

In short, Mr. Bradbury’s stories reflect his growth through life. Some take years to write and some have taken mere hours.

Makes me hope for the day I can make my entire living writing fiction. I can think of no greater joy in life.

Richard Zowie’s a professional writer and has one published short story to his credit: Love, Solomon. To read this story or to make a comment, post here or e-mail him at richardzowie@gmail.com.

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.

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.

Richard works on fiction

I’ve gone through about 10 drafts so far of my Writer’s Digest 750-word short story about the woman who travels through time. As I write, I wonder what’s the best way to approach the assignment: write, edit to 750 words and then work with what you have to create a great story or write a nice story, polish it and then edit down to 750 words.

These assignments are indeed challenging. James Cameron, who directed sci-fi classic The Terminator, once said he was forced to cut scenes he was “in love with” in order to get the movie down to a desired length. I see the same rings true in short fiction.

But of course, short fiction can be a great exercise in whittling away needless words and creating a nice, tight story. I’ve read books before and have thought afterward that they were 50 pages too long. I remember a sci-fi novel, where the author goes on for about 20 pages about creatures flying through the Saturnian atmosphere when five would’ve been sufficient. And then there’s the whole space opera where one astronaut’s wife divorces him and shacks up with her divorce attorney while one female astronaut tries to bed just about every man on the ship.

You get the point.

So, as I work on this story, I remember the stern but helpful advice Stephen King gives in his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft: to write well, you must read a lot. I find myself reading Harry Turtledove and Ray Bradbury-style fantasy along with suspense, sci-fi and Christian-themed books since these are the types of fiction I would someday like to write.