Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Writing on Wednesday

Ray Bradbury's Other Book

by Sheila Webster Boneham

“You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.”
― Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing

Ray Bradbury died last week. Perhaps best known for his dystopian masterpiece Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury wrote across genres during his career, venturing into sci fi, horror, mystery, scripts for stage and screen, even children's books. And he also wrote on terrific little book one writing called Zen in the Art of Writing

Bradbury packs a lot of pizzazz into his svelte little book. I hate to admit it, but Zen in the Art of Writing has been stuck between my Peterson’s guide (Eastern birds) and an ancient copy of Lonesome Dove since about the time they turned the latter into a mini-series. I forgot it was there until recently, and decided a few days ago that I should probably read it. Sweet serendipity – Bradbury’s funny, enthusiastic, no-bullshit comments were exactly what I needed this week. I’ve been in a bit of a funk brought on by having half a writing project too many, an elderly dog with some problems, travel and teaching plans to smooth out, and a bad-hair month.

In a sense I think Bradbury’s title is unfortunate and no doubt a big part of the reason the book languished on my shelf for so long. The Zen part didn’t put me off – I find Zen Buddhist philosophy and practice fascinating. But the allusion to Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, beloved classic though it may be in some circles, made me want to run screaming as far from combustion engines as I could get. (Truth be told, I enjoyed the travel portions of Pirsig’s book, but not the long philosophical passages.) I was in no danger.

Bradbury’s Zen is not so much a book of craft as a book of attitude. Writing, he says repeatedly and in different ways, is all about joy, enthusiasm, energy, pleasure. The moment I started the first essay, "The Joy of Writing," I knew I was (thank you, Buddha) on the right path. It’s astonishing how becoming successful as a writer – if we define success as published and acknowledged in certain quarters – can take the joy out of the writing itself. Bradbury reminded me, in that essay and throughout the book, why I started writing and why I love writing: for the visceral pleasure that comes with pulling a silver-scaled bon mot from the sea of words, dropping it into a sentence, a page, a whole tank of beautiful words to create a world, a meaning, a living thing. Not to filet the metaphor too finely, but something fishy is going on when we lose the joy and pleasure of creating with only the words in our heads something expressive and maybe even lovely.

Zen in the Art of Writing will not be returning to my bookshelf. No, it will be living on my night stand so that I can catch a bit of zest and gusto when I need it.


Writing Prompt: Pull out a book on writing or creativity that you haven't read in a while (or ever). Scan the contents and pick a section that resonates. Read for ten minutes. Write your response to what you just read for as long as you like. See where it takes you. Report back, if you like! I'd love to hear.


Come back on Artsy Fartsy Friday for the second part of professional writer and photographer Helen Peppe's pieces on photographing dogs - complete with more of Helen's wonderful shots. (That giggling in the background is Helen's daughter, who loves "artsy fartsy.")


  1. What a great reminder that Bradbury wrote that book and that it is writing, just like breathing, is an answer unto itself.

    I dedicated my first book of short stories to Ray Bradbury. From Light TO DARK comes out in July. I e-mailed him several months ago to tell him of the dedication, but his daughter, Alexandra, e-mailed me back and said her dear father could no longer see to read, but that he thanked me for the dedication.

    He was such an inspiration and I will always treasure the times I heard him speak at the opening of his plays at the Fremont Theatre in Pasadena.

    1. Gayle, that's wonderful. Congratulations on the new book, and thank you for the personal glimpse of the man.

  2. I have always loved this book, and Bradbury's other works as well. His wit and common sense will be missed.

    1. But Joyce, that's the thing about great writers - their voices remain.