While visiting my daughter in Vancouver last summer (2012), I noticed a book on her shelf and asked if I could borrow it. She'd found it in a used bookstore. By Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing, is a collection of essays first published in 1990 in which he "shares the wisdom, experience, and excitement of a lifetime of writing."
I read most of it on the 90-minute ferry ride home. Bradbury's enthusiasm for writing so fired me up that I began a short story that very day, triggered by something I saw at the ferry terminal. Although not a "how-to-write" book, Bradbury shares what works for his writing life, and much can be extrapolated to anyone's schedule.
Bradbury advocates writing a lot - every day. But rather than a "stick-to-the-chair-no-matter-what" approach, he confesses to getting out of bed each morning filled with words. And so, he plays. He practices word association and from these associations come stories. His exuberant approach to writing is illustrated in the following excerpt:
"The history of each story, then, should read almost like a weather report: Hot today, cool tomorrow. This afternoon, burn down the house. Tomorrow, pour cold critical water upon the simmering coals. Time enough to think and cut and rewrite tomorrow. But today - explode - fly apart - disintegrate! The other six or seven drafts are going to be pure torture. So why not enjoy the first draft, in the hope that your joy will seek and find others in the world who, reading your story, will catch fire, too?"
Read widely. Bradbury's favourite authors are a motley crew, ranging from Shakespeare and Molière to Shaw and Gerard Manley Hopkins. Poetry, essays, novels, songs, music, and art all act as influences upon ideas. The more we take in, the richer our writing is.
When I did a search for the book while writing this post, I discovered that it's available on-line as a pdf. Free.
Read it. Fall in love with writing again.
Oh, and Ashley, I'll return your book someday. Maybe.
by Lorrie Orr