Monday, August 25, 2008

Zen in the Art of Writing: Releasing the Creative Genius Within You

Zen in the Art of Writing: Releasing the Creative Genius Within You by Ray Bradbury

Book Review by Kathy Kulig (

“Zest. Gusto. Curiosity. These are the qualities every writer must have, as well as a spirit of adventure.” From the back cover of Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury.

If you didn’t know Bradbury has published over 500 short stories, novels, screenplays, television scripts and poems, you would discover the master storyteller after reading Zen in the Art of Writing. The magical and emotional resonance of his prose will make you look at the world and your writing with a new sense of wonder - and enthusiasm. Okay, the secret’s out. I’ve been a fan since I was a kid.

Bradbury’s delightful and thought-provoking essays cover tips and topics dealing with brainstorming ideas, developing your voice, style and imagination, enticing the muse and autobiographical insights.

One of his methods for brainstorming begins with word association by collecting nouns. He writes down things, people, images, emotions and sets them aside until the subconscious stirs them up and shapes them into amazing stories.

In one example: “…THE NIGHT TRAIN. THE CARNIVAL. THE CAROUSEL. THE DWARF. THE MIRROR MAZE…” He noticed a pattern to his lists and remembered his childhood fear of carousels and fascination for carnivals. Decades later he wrote Something Wicked This Way Comes.

Some of his works were inspired by other writers. The idea for “The Shoreline at Sunset” was sparked after reading Robert Hillyer’s poem about a mermaid near Plymouth Rock. A chapter for his novel The Martian Chronicles came from Byron’s poem “And the Moon Be Still as Bright”.

And what about the Zen thing in the book? Bradbury simply states, “Work, Relaxation and Don’t Think.” When in balance, these three aspects can maintain creativity, sanity, and avoid boredom. The philosophy is explored further and he even gives a surprisingly new definition of work. No, I won’t give it away.

Imagination, the Muse, the subconscious — where do ideas come from? Focus beyond the obvious and what’s directly in front of you. Bradbury says, “As we can learn from every man or woman or child around us when, touched and moved, they tell something they loved or hated this day, yesterday, or some other day long past. At a given moment, the fuse, after sputtering wetly, flares, and the fireworks begin.”

In one of his essays, Bradbury revisits a seedy, two-bit carnival when he was 12. During a sideshow, he stared in amazement as Mr. Electrico sat in his electric chair, the man’s white hair standing on end, sparks flying as he waved an Excalibur sword over the heads of the stunned children. Mr. Electrico then stood and approached the young Bradbury, tapped each shoulder with the sword. Lightning danced in the air and leapt into the young Bradbury as Mr. Electrico shouted, “Live forever!”

What a great idea! And with Bradbury’s 500 time machines, I’m sure he will.

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