“Zen in the Art of Writing” by Ray Bradbury

Lots has already been written about Ray Bradbury this week, looking back at one of modern science fiction’s most recognizable primogenitors. But I wonder if there isn’t much to be said that Ray Bradbury hasn’t already said himself? That’s what made me decide to revisit “Zen in the Art of Writing.”

What I loved about the short essay collection, then and now, is the sheer enthusiasm about a life of writing: “Every morning I jump out of bed and step on a landmine. The I landmine is me. After the explosion, I spend the rest of the day putting the pieces together. Now, it’s your turn. Jump!”

The part I still like best is Bradbury’s thoughts on reading books (or “Feeding the Muse”). It’s pretty good advice for writers and non-writers alike: “In your reading, find books to improve your color sense, your sense of shape and size in the world.”

It’s a somewhat funny admixture of autobiography, thoughts on America, poems, writing about writing — but the sincere and abiding respect for his subject matter and his reading audience are in some parts really touching. Give it a read. You might just like it.

Some other favorite topics —

On Writing.

“And what, you ask, does writing teach us? First and foremost, it reminds us that we are alive and that it is a gift and a privilege, not a right. We must earn life once it has been awarded us. Life asks for rewards back because it has favored us with animation.”

On a Reading Diet.

“If we are going to diet our subconscious, how prepare the menu? Well, we might start our list like this: Read poetry every day of your life. Poetry is good because it flexes muscles you don’t use often enough. Poetry expands the senses and keeps them in prime condition. It keeps you aware of your nose, your eye, your ear, your tongue, your hand. And, above all, poetry is compacted metaphor or simile.”

“The Feeding of the Muse then, which we have spent most of our time on here, 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.”

On Science Fiction, and Truth.

“The children guessed, if they did not whisper it, that all science fiction is an attempt to solve problems by pretending to look the other way.”

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I run the ThinkLab at the University of Cambridge, and research digital habits, productivity, and wellbeing.

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