I just finished listening to Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury, narrated by Jim Frangione, who made me forget it wasn’t Ray himself speaking to me through time and space and death.
My love for Bradbury stems from his incredible enthusiasm about the art of writing. For long I’d scoured the internet for writing tips and tricks and wisdom and one of the things that kept cropping up was how painful writing was and how the greats are so because they used what was horrible in their lives to create something beautiful.
And then came in Bradbury, this old guy bursting with enthusiasm, filled with more energy than most youths, absolutely in love with reading words and putting them down on paper. Bradbury and perhaps Ruskin Bond were the only two writers I’d come across (until a few years ago) who genuinely love writing and don’t really subscribe to the idea of the broken writer. I’d add Neil Gaiman to the list, but he came in later. And even though I mention both Bond and Bradbury at the top, there’s still a difference in how they approach the art – Bond is more peaceful about the craft, relaxed and gentle and kind, whereas Bradbury is a bubbling container of words, always bursting, always ready to pour out over the edges. It’s not hard to imagine the man literally jumping out of the bed every morning to write his thousand words, which he talks about in this book about his writing life.
Over the course of a dozen essays and a handful of poems, Bradbury discusses the role of science fiction and fantasy in human progress, tracing the origin of ideas and imagination and storytelling back to when man lived in caves. He talks about the childhood that he rewrote into novels that inspire longing and nostalgia and horror and wonder, and his habit of making lists of nouns that gave him some of his best works and sales to magazines. And in his final essay, Bradbury boils down the most essential elements of becoming a good writer down to four words:
Work. Relaxation. Don’t Think.
It is from this essay that some of Bradbury’s most famous–and one of my most favorite–writing advice comes: quantity over quality.
That’s the mantra I worked with over the three years of my writing streak – I knew that if I kept writing every day, I would end up with something new, something good, something entirely my own. Going over my work from the past three years, I can definitely say I did manage to somehow write some good words, but whether it’s new or original remains to be seen.
I also think it’s the most valuable piece of advice any writer can ever follow–it makes sense that the more you write the better you get. I have observed that in my own experience. And now I itch to go back to that time, to gain more of that experience.
Breaking my writing streak did do me some good – I was busy with college and hardly had the time to write. And when I don’t have much time at hand I tend to force myself to write anything, even bad stuff, just to check ‘writing’ off my to-do list. So I thought it good–now with the streak broken, I can write only when I’m inspired and thus not gather a pile of shitty words.
But it’s been long since I gave up that daily habit; September was ages ago. I have now fallen out of the habit of writing–I don’t even write for the blog once a week let alone write something every single day. My most previous posts were more an attempt to make up for that lack of regularity than genuinely sharing something I had written that I wanted others to see too. They weren’t completely forced either, but there was something missing in them, a feeling, a joy I used to feel many a time when returning to the keyboard yet again to keep my streak burning.
I miss that feeling. Zen in the Art of Writing made me nostalgic. And it made me, like Bradbury, want to jump out of bed and write a thousand words, make lists. Practice. Learn from experience, putting one word after the other until from all the imitation and inspiration and influence, individuality and originality burst forth.
I miss writing regularly. Bradbury has reminded me why I love it in the first place – the world of imagination I find myself very poor in, the pride of writing a few good words, the joy of finishing a good story, the excitement of submitting to magazines and awaiting a response, the anticipation of people’s reaction to my words after I’ve shared them.
Bradbury was everything I wish to be as a writer – someone who writes because writing itself is fun, writing a lot. Bradbury refuses to let writing be something painful, something depressing. He is kind. He is joy and he makes joy. And he makes me want to create joy. To write. And to have fun while doing it.
It is time to go back to the keyboard.