Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Zen and the Art of Writing

In my last writing workshop, Ray Bradbury’s book on writing was often cited. So I borrowed the book from the library, slightly aware of Bradbury’s work especially in science fiction having seen François Truffaut’s film adaptation of Fahrenheit 451 and having heard but not read ‘The Martian Chronicles,’ a work talked about with awe by other noted writers. I also recently watched John Huston’s film ‘Moby Dick’ starring Gregory Peck and was surprised to see Ray Bradbury in the credits, being the writer in Huston’s film who adapted Herman Melville’s book for the screen.  Obviously, Ray Bradbury is a man of many talents, straddling the multiple genres of science fiction and fantasy, adapting a literary classic for the cinema and, as I later found out, both poetry and free-lance nonfiction writing. It also seems that his stories have inspired cult films that involve colonies in outer space or aliens burrowed deep in Antarctica.

His book is an exuberant paean to writing, of the variety that is homemade and learned by instinct, having avoided college education or formal writing courses, instead dashing out to write a story and learning the craft through sheer hard work, sending out stories to magazine publishers, getting rejected, and persevering until being published by pulp magazines and eventually achieving success. It’s not only the writing gusto that is impressive; it’s the exercise of his imagination and creativity, to delve into worlds beyond normal human experience, in outer space and other fantastic realms but never losing sight of a core truth; delivering a basic drama and not focusing on the special effects. One wonders how someone could exist like that, to evolve as a writer with innate confidence, bypassing any self-doubt or neurotic impulses, allowing his imagination to run free to explore new realities and having the discipline to write about it, forever trimming and editing until the work is ready.

He is an unsentimental writer, perhaps like another science fiction writer William Gibson, who never wastes a word or sentence unless it has some commercial value, making sure their labor is aimed towards a publisher unlike someone like me who constantly procrastinates and writes in self-indulgent journals. Interestingly, Bradbury uses word association to get ideas and help him write, something like mind-mapping, or cluster writing to help him finish his work. It’s the first time I have seen a successful author admit using this technique – a subject that was elaborately described in a famous book about word clustering. Bradbury also cited an author who has helped him – Dorothea Brande, author of the book ‘Becoming a Writer’ an old book published in the 1940’s. Last night, I bought the book from Amazon after reading a synopsis. Her thesis is that to become a writer one must address the psychology or personality of the person, not focusing on aspects like learning the writing craft as usually done.

It looks like an interesting book to read; the premise is something that I instinctively feel is my major stumbling block, not the learning of craft which seems easy to surmount after attending the right classes and doing the right exercises. Rather it is the underlying motivation and confidence that drives the individual that must be improved, turned towards being a writer. If her work was enough to motivate Ray Bradbury then it’s good enough for me. Hopefully this will turn out to be a work like Steven Pressman’s ‘The War of Art’ a book that focuses on motivation and being a professional in outlook in order to be a writer. In the end, writing should be like achieving ‘Zen’, a meditative state where writing becomes a joy and not a chore, something that’s achieved when work becomes love and one just writes for the pleasure of the activity. Hence, it is a psychological state that a writer must achieve as he proceeds to work in the writing craft.

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