This volume brings together an assortment of essays written by the author at various points in his career. It’s not really a writing guidebook, more a random collection of wise autobiographical observations. You won’t find anything on punctuation and grammar in here. If anything, the chief subject is inspiration.
These are essays which were not originally intended to be placed in a single volume, so there is a degree of overlap at times. One topic that is mentioned more than once is a major turning point in Bradbury’s life, when he wrote a short story called “The Lake.” This story was semi-autobiographical, in that it tells of a little girl whom the author remembers wading into a lake and never coming out again. He wept after writing it, and realised that for the first time ever, he had written something beautiful. It was a turning point because it was the first time Bradbury had written from the heart.
I didn’t agree with everthing Bradbury had to say. For instance, he is very fond of the idea of writing one thousand words per day, every day. He belives that being super-productive is the way to go, constantly churning out more and more work. In contrast, I believe that a writer should limit himself to writing what he believes is his most excellent material. I also believe there is great benefit in going for long periods without writing, granting the imagination space to develop ideas before commiting them to paper. (I had the idea for Chion at least four years before I wrote it, and it’s three times the novel it would have been, had I rushed things.) Bradbury is, however, stating what has worked for him, rather than laying down definitive strategies for all writers.
I find it difficult to believe Bradbury’s claim that he always writes with passion – that’s it’s more like play than work. That’s not a criticism; I see it as something to aspire to. In many ways, it reflects the kind of creativity I remember being capable of when I was in my late teens – something I partially lost when I got older. Maybe something I need to try and reclaim.
I didn’t find Zen in the Art of Writing as inspirational as Stephen King’s On Writing, but it’s still a useful book for a writer to have in his arsenal. I came away from it feeling refreshed, with renewed passion to write from within myself and a determination never to end up a hack.