Zen in the Art of Writing was actually one of the first books I read on my educational journey (click here to learn more). It is a book of essays about creativity by Ray Bradbury, one of the fathers of modern science fiction, and I have to say I enjoyed his ramblings quite a bit. They were less useful than, say, Steering the Craft by Ursula K leGuin, and less loquacious than Stephen King’s On Writing, but it was definitely worth the read.
As my assignment for this book, I wrote three responses to three of his different essays, and I’m going to share those as well as a few of my favorite quotes from it. I’ll start with the quotes.
Quotes from Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury
In his essay titled, “How to Keep and Feed the Muse,” Bradbury talks about what the muse is, how to find it, and how to use it create beautiful works of fiction.
He says, “And when man talks from his heart, in his moment of truth, he speaks poetry. I have had this happen not once but a thousand times… Oh it’s limping crude hard work for many, with language in their way. But I have heard farmers tell about their very first wheat crop on their first farm after moving from another state, and if it wasn’t Robert Frost talking, it was his cousin, five times removed. I have heard locomotive engineers talk about America as they ride it in their steel. I have heard mothers tell of the long night with their firstborn when they were afraid that they and the baby might die. And I have heard my grandmother speak of her first ball when she was seventeen. And they were all, when their souls grew warm, poets.”
And a bit later, in the same essay, he writes:
”The Feeding of the Muse, then…seems to me to be the continual running after loves, the checking of these loves against one’s present and future needs, the moving on from simple textures to more complex ones, from naive ones to more informed ones, from nonintellectual to intellectual ones. Nothing is ever lost… Do not, for the vanity of intellectual publications, turn away from what you are—the material within you which makes you individual, and therefore indispensable to others.”
This next quote is from his essay titled, “Drunk and in Charge of a Bicycle.” This essay is about some of his life experiences and how they influenced the stories that he wrote. Mostly, I just loved this quote because of the lyrical language and the image it evokes.
“I was in love, then, with monsters and skeletons and circuses and carnivals and dinosaurs, and, at last, the red planet, Mars.”
And the last quote comes from an essay titled, “The Secret Mind,” about his foray into script writing. He says, “We are all rich and ignore the buried fact of accumulated wisdom… We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.”
Responses to Zen in the Art of Writing
The Joy of Writing
The first essay in Zen in the Art of Writing is called “The Joy of Writing.” In it he gives a couple of childhood anecdotes and explains how his joys and fears as a child influenced him to love writing and to take it up as his career. In response, I simply wrote a list of my own joys and fears from various points in my life.
A List of Joys and Fears
Mattress. Beaver skull. Dumpster divers. Boisterous strangers that swear loudly. Chainsaw. 7th grade English class. What’s under the ocean. Tree branches. Stretching. Pond. Hunters. Bears. Buttercups. Porcupine quills. The tiger. You bitch. Sunsets. Being chased. Trapped. Pebbles. Raindrops. Green grass. Rock turtles. Rats. Rat tails. Cat tails. Fresh herbs.
I’ll let you decide which ones are joys and which ones are fears ;)
Run Fast, Stand Still…
In his essay titled “Run Fast, Stand Still, or, The Thing At the Top of the Stairs, or, New Ghosts From Old Minds,” Bradbury discusses honesty as a writer and his strategy of writing down ideas based off of his loves and hates using word association. In response, I wrote a list of things I love, which I will share with you, but not until after another quote from this chapter:
“Run fast, stand still. This, the lesson from lizards. For all writers. Observe almost any survival creature, you see the same. Jump, run, freeze. In the ability to flick like an eyelash, crack like a whip, vanish like steam, here this instant, gone the next—life teems the earth. And when that life is not rushing to escape, it is playing statues to do the same. See the hummingbird, there, not there. As thought arises and blinks off, so this thing of summer vapor; the clearing of a cosmic throat, the fall of a leaf. And where it was—a whisper.”
List of Things I Love
When the leaves turn upside down
Water droplets on the window
A crunchy leaf
Lettuce and strawberries
Octavius’ droopy cheek flaps
When Josh laughs
Ripples on the pond from the wind
The way ice in a field smells
A snow wind
When you can’t hear cars or airplanes
Riding on boats
Sitting in the sun, on the grass, specifically
The way bees feel crawling on your hand
Beekeeping with Dad
Colors in planed lumber
Orange soda and ice cream
Skeletons of dead things
Root systems, particularly of trees
The way gardenias smell
The Long Road To Mars
The first sentence of Bradbury’s essay, “The Long Road To Mars,” reads, “How did I get from Waukegan, Illinois, to Red Planet, Mars?” This is the essence of the essay, how he first began making money at his writing and got to the current point in his life. In response, I wrote my own list of firsts.
First injury: when my umbilical cord broke
First friend: Gary, Sarah, and Evan
First novel: The Mystery House
First airplane ride: to New Hampshire to visit my ailing great grandmother
First pet: Ginger
First country besides the US: Jamaica
First car: Hyundai Elantra, she was a good car
First accident: with Ryan and Nick (I wasn’t driving)
First time driving through rural West Virginia, dinosaurs; and the garden upstairs with a lilac tree where Sarah always got stung by bees; water lapping against the beach as we drifted towards Blueberry Island; and the musty smell of kindling and tobacco as I learned how to light the smoker and bring the wood stove back to life from red hot coals; noticing the spidering cracks in the sidewalk and the way ducks fly and the shape of a heron from below; the smell of the earth after the rain.