Literacy 2021: Book 12: Zen in the Art of Writing

A collection of essays combining Bradbury’s philosophy of writing along with some victory laps for his best work

Book
Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury

Synopsis
A collection of essays and poems from throughout Bradbury’s career, with a common theme of Bradbury’s philosophy about and process towards writing.

Pros
Offers more insight into the ideas that led to books like Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles, and the novel and screenplay of Something Wicked This Way Comes. Gives a better picture of Bradbury as a man, beyond his often bombastic prose, who seems to have been blessed with a lack of self-doubt without being arrogant. Describes flow state without using the phrase “flow state,” years before the concept became common enough for me to hear about it. Includes accounts of writing for different media, such as plays and screenplays. Repeats his assertion that the value of writing is entirely in the writer’s unique voice, an invaluable reminder for those of us filled with self-doubt or imposter syndrome, paralyzed into inaction for fear that we have nothing original to contribute. Has an interesting description of his working with Disney on the Spaceship Earth attraction, which I got to read from poolside, right before riding it.

Cons
Heavier on the memoir side than the guide-to-writing side. Not much in the way of practical advice, apart from the most practical advice there is: put in the time and effort, write a lot, and don’t overthink it. Contradicts some of his earlier assertions, as he muses on the idea of revising the novel Fahrenheit 451 with some of the revelations he had while making a stage adaptation of it. Unclear whether Bradbury felt that the actual craft of writing is innate, or just beyond the scope of these essays. Repeats some of the claims from his other essays, forewords, and afterwords — such as his assertion that he could remember being born — which are inevitable for an author as prolific and long-lived as Bradbury, but which make his work seem smaller and more finite.

Verdict
Good supplemental material for fans of Ray Bradbury, but as a guide to aspiring writers, the content can be summed up simply as “keep writing, and your unique voice will manifest itself.”

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