Sunday, September 02, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: Zen in the Art of Writing

English poet Stephen Spender described the writing process of his fellow poets as of the Mozartian (planners) or Beethovian (discoverers) mode, meaning that Mozartians tend to create a path or structure for what they will draft, while Beethovians figure out the path during drafting, as they go along. Reading “Zen in the Art of Writing” reveals that Ray Bradbury possessed a healthy balance of both approaches. Like a Mozartian, he was constantly searching for connections between his experiences and writing; like a Beethovian, he drafted relentlessly as evidenced by his prolific output of short stories, novels, plays, screenplays, teleplays, and juvenilia over a career spanning more than seventy years.

Through anecdotes, quips, and aphorisms in 9 essays and 7 prose-poems over 158 highly readable pages, Bradbury proffers advice to novice writers to encourage them in their writing process and continued development. Here are some gems:

“The first thing a writer should be is—excited. He should be a thing of fevers and enthusiasms.” (page 4)

“Read poetry every day of your life. Poetry is good because it flexes muscles you don’t use often enough. Poetry expands the sense and keeps them in prime condition.” (page 39)

“Read those writers who write the way you hope to write, who think the way you would like to think. But also read those who do not think as you think or write as you want to write, and so be stimulated in directions you might not take for many years.” (page 41)  

“Quantity gives experience. From experience alone can quality come. All arts, big and small, are the elimination of waste motion in favor of concise declaration. The artist learns what to leave out.” (page 131)

“Imitation is natural and necessary to the beginning writer.” (page 136)

When one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century speaks about himself and his work, aspiring writers or curious readers should pay attention. If they do, they will be able to dip into Zen in the Art of Writing for many points of inspiration.