“This is a delightful collection of essays on writing by one of the masters of the craft, the late Ray Bradbury. In this short book, Bradbury provides insight into why he writes and how he became an author. Writing reminds us that we’re alive and allows us to survive and to keep the “poison” from accumulating in our bodies and reality from destroying us (xii-xiii). In his opening essays, Bradbury writes about a list of nouns he’s collected and kept over the years. Each noun represents a place or a thing that has been frightening to him and as he ponders the list stories come. It seems that most books I’ve read on writing encourage the use of importance of strong verbs (which is important) but I found it refreshing that Bradbury began discussing nouns and confronting fears. Bradbury advises his readers to write quickly. “The more swiftly you write, the more honest you are.” (13). He also encourages excessive writing, noting that through quantity (or practice) comes quality. (145) Bradbury encourages the would-be author to be well-read, especially encouraging the reading of poetry which “flexes muscles we don’t use often enough.” (36) The writer also needs to be quick, jotting down thoughts when they are fresh in the mind. (43) Finally, Bradbury encourages us to be free of the need for a plot, suggesting that comes last and is nothing more than the “footprints left in the snow after our characters have run by…” (147)
I was especially impressed with how Bradbury spoke about the need of kindling the awe we all had as children. In one essay he wrote about the excitement of a circus and how, after a certain age they become “loud and vulgar and smell” and lose their “fun, zest and flavor.” It helps for the writer needs to see the circus (life) as a child. (51) “Let us remain childlike and not childish in our 20-20 vision, borrowing such telescopes, rockets, or magic carpets as may be needed to hurry us along to miracles of physics as well as dream.” (107) Reading Bradbury’s insistence of child-like awe reminded me of Jesus’ warning that unless we come as children, we’ll never enter the kingdom of God.
As an author known for writing within the horror genre, Bradbury also chided authors who write but not to heal. Don’t inflict sickness on me unless you show me to the “ship’s rail,” he advises. (117) He reminds his readers that poison can destroy, but also that we have to know how to be sick so we can once again “walk in the fields and with the wise and smiling dogs know enough to chew the sweet grass.” (117-118)
Bradbury notes that we’re constantly being filled, but we must learn how to let the “beautiful stuff out.” (120) He also reminds his readers the necessity of compression in writing and how he learned such techniques from writing movie scripts. In his ending article, in which he takes the title for this collection of essays, Bradbury is bold enough to suggest that he is using “Zen” as a medicine man will use props. (139) He obviously enjoyed his work and suggest that if we are faithful to our writing (of which the goal can never be to make money), then we might be able to redefine our work as love. (153)
I enjoyed this book. It’s a quick read and provides insight into one author’s success.