I pulled Ray Bradbury‘s “Zen in the Art of Writing” out of my legendary read pile this week and now I understand what all the fuss is about.
First, there’s a lot of his career history in it. He talks about how he wrote some of his most famous works like Something Wicked This Way Comes, The Martian Chronicles, and, of course, Fahrenheit 451. Bradbury explains how they were sold and what happened when they were adapted and interpreted for the screen.
If I were ever to teach a writing class of any genre, Bradbury’s essay, “How to Keep and Feed a Muse” would be required reading. In this essay, he isn’t talking about some magical fairy sprinkling pixie dust on our revisions while we sleep — he’s talking about him, you, and me and how we care for ourselves as wide awake writers in the world because as he says in the first sentence, “It isn’t easy.”
His advice throughout the essay could prevent some heartbreak and encourage more excitement because that’s “the pattern that holds it all together.” Excitement isn’t a one-time thing, it’s something we sustain throughout our practice. And this isn’t because we need to appear cheery as a counterpoint to the stereotype of the writer riddled with angst – it’s because that’s where the honesty is. Bradbury explains, “…the search, the finding, the admiration, the love, the honest response to the materials at hand, no matter how shabby they one day seem, when looked back on.” He recalls being a kid sending away a wrapper from a box of macaroni for a toy and the reception that gorilla received.
This “daring to love silly things,” along with an “ever-roaming curiosity,” this is “to be a child one’s time” – this is the challenge that Ray Bradbury gives to us, this is how we care for our writer selves.