My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Most books on writing are a variation on a theme: they explain several techniques to improve writing; they give examples of those techniques; and then they supply exercises for practice.
Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing provides almost none of that sort of writing advice. The closest thing to that sort of writing instruction is a section in which Bradbury talks about how he makes lists of nouns and then reviews those lists as a source for ideas.
In this collection of essays, Bradbury, using personal anecdotes about how he wrote and found inspiration for some of his most famous short stories and novels, spends most of his time not instructing on technique, but talking about how writers can tap their creative spark, their subconscious creative mind, their Muse by writing what they love and by writing with gusto and joy.
The lead essay’s opening paragraph sums the theme of the book:
Zest. Gusto. How rarely one hears these words used. How rarely do we see people living, or for that matter, creating by them. Yet if I were asked to name the most important items in a writer’s make-up, the things that shape his material and rush him along the road to where he wants to go, I could only warn him to look to his zest, see his gusto.
And how do you do this? As Bradbury digs deeper, he suggests you approach writing perhaps as a Zen master might approach it — through work, through relaxation, through nonthinking, and through further relaxation.
To work, of course, is a common piece of advice given by writers in writing advice books. Bradbury suggests a standard of setting a regular daily schedule, and a set amount of words.
But unique to his advice are the parts about relaxation and nonthinking.
Relaxation, as Bradbury uses the word, isn’t kicking back at the beach; it’s achieved through work. As you work, as you build quiet confidence in your self and your writing, you relax, your body responds to natural rhythms. And as you relax, you stop thinking and you create.
The essays are for the most part inspiring, in particular the lead essay “The Joy of Writing” and the title essay “Zen and the Art of Writing”. In fact, to writing, Bradbury adds a spiritual dimension lost in books solely concerned with technique, a spiritual needed to truly be creative.