Book review: Ray Bradbury – Zen in the Art of Writing

Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing is a bolt of pure creative adrenaline. More than any other writer, for me he captures the excitement of reading and writing at a young age, and a sense of calling.

If  you ever feel jaded or run out of writing steam, Bradbury’s book will get you right back in touch with the original zest and gusto that captured your interest in the first place.

Mini Book Review: pure joy of writing, writer’s bolt of creative adrenaline

What’s it about?

Zen in the Art of Writing is a series of essays on writing from different times in Bradbury’s life, each one with a craft topic or inspiration.

It has snippets of autobiography alongside wonderful nuggets of writing wisdom.

It gives insights into his beginnings as a writer and first childhood and teenage experiments.

It’s written in Bradbury’s infectious style, and will sweep you up in its passion.

It’s a generous-spirited, wise and inspiring book that will leave you torn between reading more Bradbury, or haring to your own writing desk.

One to keep on your shelf, scribble on and go back to time after time.

An astonishing discovery

I reread Zen in the Art of Writing every few years.

It’s a terrific writing tonic. I also find something new in it every time.

It’s a bit like the I Ching for me! Something different will leap out, depending on your situation.

So, I read it again recently.

And what I discovered astonished me.

Bradbury recommends deliberate practice writing!

In the key essay in the book, Zen in the Art of Writing, Bradbury talks about deliberate practice.

He calls it by another name, work, but the principle is the same.

Practice, improve, learn your craft, and release your creative flow.

See more about this below.

But first, here are some writing tips from Zen in the Art of Writing.

Writing tip: The Bradbury list

Do you ever sit down and find you’ve run out of ideas? Try Bradbury’s technique: harvest nouns from your subconscious.

Just take a piece of paper and write them down. Keep them safe. Keep adding to them.

If they’re anything like Bradbury’s, they’ll become a well if ideas which you can draw on all your life.


Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing

A list like this, made up of your own loves, hates, fears, memories, will powerfully evoke your own world.

It’s a gateway to the inner life “hidden under the trapdoor on the top of your skull”.  

To me, the use of ‘the’ is crucial. After all, your list isn’t just any old lake, night or crickets.

It’s THE LAKE – the one and only, iconic, significant lake in your life. A lake so laden that it contains a story.

Try freewriting around your powerful nouns. They’ll start to lead you and form connections.

At some point, a character may turn up and say “that’s me!”

Writing tip: let your characters do the work for you

When a character turns up, bursting to say something, let them speak. Let them take over. Follow where they lead. They’ll show you their story.

Go with it and don’t question. Enjoy the ride!

This is your first draft, so you might as well have fun. Editing can come later.

Writing tip: deliberate practice

Bradbury calls it work. What he means by work is essentially deliberate practice.

Zen in the Art of Writing is the main essay in his book. Essentially, it’s about achieving a zen-like state of flow through work.

Work is the necessary process of practising craft, and learning through doing.

Over time, by doing the work of writing, you learn enough craft so that you can lose self-consciousness.

Then, your writing will flow from a more relaxed, natural place.

This is similar to an archer learning to hit a target, or a swimmer learning to stay afloat.

Writers need to go through the stages of WORK – RELAXATION – NOT THINKING – MORE RELAXATION.

What is Bradbury’s work in writing?

It’s simple. To do work, set yourself a writing goal and follow through.

Bradbury wrote an apprentice story a week for a year. He says some of them were terrible and derivative, but he kept going.

The idea is that when you do writing work, you accept failures as part of the learning process.

If good, you learn from it. If bad, you learn even more… There is no failure unless one stops.

Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing

The goal of work isn’t to produce something great, but to give us experience.

When you gain experience, you gain confidence, and relax into your writing.

creative writing techniques that really work
Creative writing techniques that really work


how writing with objects can power up your fiction
How to use objects in your fiction writing 1


writing tips - how to make fiction characters visible
Writing tips: make your fiction characters visible


Deliberate practice leads to natural flow

According to Bradbury, once you have enough experience to feel more confident and relaxed about your craft, you lose self-consciousness.

When you’re less self-conscious, it’s possible to achieve a more natural writing rhythm that lets your inner stories out.

At last, the surge, the agreeable blending of work, not thinking and relaxation will be like the blood in one’s body, flowing because it has to flow, moving because it must move, from the heart.

Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing

Bradbury puts it beautifully, but here’s the essence:

Practice leads to flow.

As he explains it, when you work at your writing, you’ll gain experience and “be at ease in your writing, as a swimmer buoys himself in the water”.

Experience brings confidence

Experience is also the answer to feelings of inferiority about your writing.

As Bradbury explains: “a sense of inferiority often means true inferiority in a craft through simple lack of experience”.

Maybe you’re being too hard on yourself when you’re at too early a stage of your craft?

The answer is simply to practise, and get better at it.

When you do this,

“The time will come when your characters will write your stories for you.”

So, get practising!

And meanwhile, get yourself this exuberant Bradbury writing book for inspiration.

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