Post by Jenny
In a nod to the late Ray Bradbury, this month’s Last Monday Book is his Zen in the Art of Writing. The book came out in 1990 and is a collection of essays that date back to 1960, so it’s not the reference to turn to for advice about e-books or internet resources or the current state of the publishing business. In fact, I don’t remember even a single mention of computers.
Likewise, it’s not a style how-to or a grammar primer. The subtitle, Releasing the Creative Genius Inside You, has a good inspirational ring to it, but there are no specific step-by-step guides or writing exercises for that, either.
Having said all that unhelpful-sounding stuff, let me reassure you that this is a worthwhile read for writers. The essays reveal much about the beyond-prolific Bradbury’s writing life, including personal and specific events in his past that were later shaped into stories: how his mother sneaked him into the movies “once or twice a week” beginning when he was three (The Hunchback of Notre Dame was his first); witnessing the aftermath of a fatal auto accident; an encounter with a carnival showman named Mr. Electrico.
And they show how Bradbury found inspiration everywhere—a snippet of overheard conversation, a picture in a magazine, drawing in the sand with a Popsicle stick. I think this is true of writers in general, but Bradbury made it his mission to turn inspiration into a finished product. Many times, I’ve said to myself, “Ooh, (fill in the blank) would make a great story.” The trouble is, that’s often where my inspiration ends. I get busy, I get distracted, I add the idea to my “to be written” list, or I simply forget. One of the lessons of this book is that the best story idea in the history of language is no good if it doesn’t get written down.
The tone of the essays is warm and conversational, which makes the wisdom they impart feel simple and accessible. For example, from the titular essay: “Quantity gives experience. From experience alone can quality come.” That is the underlying lesson of the book: writers must write. A lot. When they’re not writing, they should read. Everything. And above all, have fun and never lose the sense of wonderment.
Have you read Zen?