Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity by Ray Bradbury is a book I’ve read a few times in the last couple of years. It’s easily one of the most influential books on writing I have read. Bradbury’s knack for creating winding, nostalgic, out-of-left-field metaphors is uncanny. Every story of his that I read thrusts me into another world as if I’m riding a twisty tube slide on some giant misty playground. Because his writing has affected me so strongly I thought it only right that the first book I blog through should be his. So, what can you teach us, Ray?
You know a book is good when you want to blog about the preface…Bradbury’s preface is entitled: “How to Climb the Tree of Life, Throw Rocks at Yourself, and Get Down Again without Breaking Your Bones or Your Spirit. A Preface with a Title Not Much Longer than the Book.” In it Bradbury makes two great points about writing I think we as storytellers should remember:
“First and foremost, [writing] reminds us that we are alive and that it is a gift and a privilege, not a right. We must earn life once it has been awarded to us. Life asks for rewards back because it has favored us.”
And then a few sentences later…
“Secondly, writing is survival. An art, any good work, of course, is that.” (both quotes from p. xii)
Writing as Gift
My first reaction after reading these things is that I should tape a note to my laptop that says “writing is a gift, not a privilege.” Sometimes, writing feels like a chore. It’s like a job. I come home from work, drained of ideas and energy. I pour what else I have into my family. I clean the house, prepare for tomorrow, and then shortly before bed I have time to write again. Those minutes, those few before bed, are for me, the most critical writing minutes of my day. Not only might they be the only minutes I have, but they are the minutes I can most easily argue myself out of writing.
Have you argued yourself out of writing before? I find it easy to do.
“I’ve been staring at computers all day…”
“I’m tired and I just want to read. Reading is good for writers, right?”
“And my laptop makes my covers too hot.”
“I’m out of ideas anyway.”
“I’m going to bed.”
Writing is a gift. It’s that simple. Gifts are to be treasured and used well. Not ignored and not broken. Thanks for the perspective, Ray.
And more than that, he says “Life asks for rewards back because it has favored us with animation.”
We are storytellers. We have something to say. Like it or not, if you find yourself dreaming of writing a novel, or jotting ideas down on paper about characters, or sketching out plot lines, or whatever… you are a storyteller. Bradbury asserts that you need to give it back. You need to write because you can. Because it’s a gift that not everyone has.
Sort of makes my arguments not to write seem pretty lame, eh?
Writing is Survival (or how being a drunk writer is actually a good thing)
“What would happen [if you didn’t write] is that the world would catch up with and try to sicken you. If you did not writ every day, the poisons would accumulate and you would begin to die, or act crazy, or both. You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” (p. xiii, emphasis mine)
Ain’t that the truth. I consider myself incredibly blessed to work at a publisher. I have a leg-up that so many other storytellers don’t. I’m not trying to brag, but rather, publicly acknowledge the great blessing that I have.
But that said, sometimes my job can be a real buzz kill when I come home to write. Just like in any industry there is a light side and a dark side to publishing. Bad books get published for one reason or another. Meetings go poorly. Projects fail. Plans and strategies under-perform, etc. etc. etc. Sometimes I come home to write and instead of losing myself in a story I get tied up in “work stuff” and lose my ability to focus on writing. Bradbury’s words here, “You must stay drunk on writing,” while a bit crass, are right on the money. If I don’t love writing, despite whatever happens in my day, I’ll stop telling stories. And that leads us back to point number one, writing is a gift.
So, bottoms up.
Writing as Cure
Near the end of the preface Bradbury mentions that writing can also be a cure. He doesn’t go into a lot of detail and so I won’t either. I will mention that I’ve found this to be true when keeping a personal journal. My journal is filled with scribbled entries that were written mostly because I needed immediate salve on a wound.
Have you found any of these ideas to be true? Do you write to survive, to heal, or because it’s a gift?