Zen in the Art of Writing

Essays on Creativity

By Ray Bradbury
Find it on Bookshop


Ray Bradbury is a master of short story writing. This collection is no exception, but is unique in knocking down the fourth wall and revealing how some of his works, including the popular ones like Fahrenheit 451, came to be.

Throughout his career, Bradbury published reflections on writing and his approach to it. This book is simply those pieces bound together, with his usual imagery, powerful metaphor, and light humor. There is advice in here for everyone, but some of it lands better if the reader is already familiar with at least some of Bradbury’s work.

The Zen in Writing

Self-consciousness is the enemy of all art, be it acting, writing, painting, or living itself, which is the greatest art of all.

Bradbury’s tips are similar to other writing advice I have read over the years, but Bradbury seems unmatched in his ability to get lost in the act (or at least describe it powerfully).

I have come up with a new simile to describe myself lately. It can be yours. Every morning I jump out of bed and step on a landmine. The landmine is me. After the explosion, I spend the rest of the day putting the pieces together. Now, it’s your turn. Jump!

The most important advice to glean from this book is to make writing a habit, and never miss twice. No one is perfect and we all have bad days, but once a day is missed, the next cannot be. The more you write, the more you make mistakes, and the more you learn what not to do.

Remember that pianist who said that if he did not practice every day he would know, if he did not practice for two days, the critics would know, after three days, his audiences would know.

You also need to really enjoy the writing. Most people think too hard about what they are doing. Instead, you need to find your zest, find your gusto, and follow where that takes you. This will be much easier if you have enough practice writing that grammar becomes second nature and stops being a distraction.

So, simply then, here is my formula. What do you want more than anything else in the world? What do you love, or what do you hate? Find a character, like yourself, who will want something or not want something, with all his heart. Give him running orders. Shoot him off. Then follow as fast as you can go. The character, in his great love, or hate, will rush you through to the end of the story. The zest and gusto of his need, and there is zest in hate as well as in love, will fire the landscape and raise the temperature of your typewriter thirty degrees. All of this is primarily directed to the writer who has already learned his trade; that is, has put into himself enough grammatical tools and literary knowledge so he won’t trip himself up when he wants to run. The advice holds good for the beginner, too, however, even though his steps may falter for purely technical reasons. Even here, passion often saves the day.

The Art of Writing

Bradbury’s inspirations are myriad and strange. One story came from a doctor’s sarcastic reaction to a sore throat, another from a policeman interrupting a nighttime walk. Whatever the muse, Bradbury has the skill to take a spark and turn it into a raging fire.

Remember: Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations.

He even touches on why he enjoys science fiction as a genre:

The children sensed, if they could not speak, that the entire history of mankind is problem solving, or science fiction swallowing ideas, digesting them, and excreting formulas for survival. You can’t have one without the other. No fantasy, no reality. No studies concerning loss, no gain. No imagination, no will. No impossible dreams: No possible solutions.


My favorite Bradbury works are, of course, Fahrenheit 451, as well as The Martian Chronicles, and The Illustrated Man. He introduced me to the short story, and since then I have expanded to Ted Chiang and others.

This collection is fun and fascinating for fans of Bradbury and others with an interest in the strange and powerful act of writing.

Want to read more? Find Zen in the Art of Writing here: Bookshop

The quotes above were gathered using Readwise. It’s a truly amazing app to help you remember what you read. If you want to try it out, use my link and we both get a free month 🙂

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