Writing Advice: Zen in the Art of Writing – Ray Bradbury – Final Part.

Please click here to read Zen in The Art of Writing Part 1 and click here to read Zen in the Art of Writing Part 2.

Zen in the Art of Writing.

We all would like to find Zen in the Art of writing. Sometimes it can be a frustrating or even elusive process that can seem challenging and even daunting to some. However, Bradbury writes that the three main ideas you need to remember when writing are: WORK, RELAXATION and DON’T THINK. But how would those help you find Zen in the art of writing, I hear you ask?

WORK doesn’t sound like a Zen idea. It conjures up images of effort, sweat and exhaustion. However, Bradbury believes you can find Zen in ‘WORK’ by instead of being a slave to it, striving to become its partner, “Once you are really a co-sharer of existence with your work, that word will lose its repellent aspects”. Often we think of work as something we need to feel guilty about if we are not doing it, or on the other hand, we can feel exhausted and fed-up if we are working too much. Work can be a means to an end, often work is just a process we go through to make money, “The money becomes the object, the target, the end-all and be-all”. If that’s all it is then work degenerates into boredom because it is only a means to an end. So, don’t frame your work or be creative for the sole purpose of making money or fame and fortune. Those are great and a happy by-product of your work but Bradbury believes that you, the writer, who is curious about creativity, actually wants to “make contact with that thing in yourself that is truly original. You want fame and fortune, yes, but only as a reward for work well and truly done. Notoriety and a fat bank balance must come after everything is finished and done”. That means that while writing and creating they shouldn’t really be a factor in the process but an after-thought. As I have written before, you must be authentic, write for the joy of writing and the rest will come. Often the greatest reward a writer can have, although being paid for your art is nice, is when, “someone rushes up to you, his face bursting with honesty, his eyes afire with admiration and cries, “That new story of yours was fine, really wonderful!”. At that moment the money and the work all seem worthwhile as you have touched a person who has seen and felt something from your writing, they have enjoyed what you have created and reacted to it.

Each of you, curious about creativity, wants to make contact with the thing in yourself that is truly original.

-Ray Bradbury

Bradbury believes that once we have made a partner of work and not dwelled on whether work will make us money or make us famous but rather on the art of writing itself and the joy of weaving stories, then what comes next is RELAXATION. The ‘WORK’ becomes less like ‘WORK’ and we settle into a happy rhythm. “The mechanical begins to fall away. The body begins to take over. The guard goes down. What happens then? RELAXATION”. We relax into our creativity and through that the muse can flow more freely and there is less pressure on you. You are creating for the beauty of it, for yourself, which lets the originality and authenticity come through and thus improves your writing.

‘The mechanical begins to fall away. The body begins to take over. The guard goes down. What happens then? RELAXATION’.

-Ray Bradbury

The last idea that Bradbury encourages writers to take on is ‘DON’T THINK’. Bradbury is not telling you to not think at all, obviously some effort has to go into creating a story but to not OVERTHINK. Get what you want to down on paper, let it flow, you can edit it later, let the joy of writing flow. remember when you were a child and you just wrote whatever came to mind, let your imagination go back to that place without judgement or fear and create. This goes hand in hand with the RELAXATION, not overthinking leads to more relaxation which leads to more creativity and in turn more ‘WORK’. I hear your scoffs, and Bradbury has an answer for you, ”Impossible! you say. How can you work and relax? How can you create and not be a nervous wreck? It can be done. It is done, every day of every week of every year. Athletes do it. painters do it. Mountain climbers do it. Zen Buddhists…do it. Even I do it. And if even I can do it, as you are probably hissing now, through clenched teeth, YOU can do it to!”.

WORK, RELAXATION, DON’T THINK are not mutually exclusive, they should be used simultaneously. They naturally flow into one another as each facilitates they other. ‘ For if one works, one finally relaxes and stops thinking’. True creation occurs then and only then’. That’s true of this process anyway around, if you don’t over think, you will relax and work will come easier. If you relax, you won’t over think and then work will become easier. These are Bradbury’s three tools to help us find Zen in the Art of writing. A kind of mantra if you will. A writer can got lost on their creative journey, “Through wanting literary fame too quickly. From wanting money too soon. If only we could remember, fame and money are gifts to be given us only after we have gifted the world our best, our lonely, our individual truths”. Writing comes from you, from your experiences and perspectives of the world, “There is only one type of story in the world. Your story”. So WORK on that and DON’T THINK so you can RELAX into your creativity. As Bradbury says, “The time will come when your characters will write your stories for you, when your emotions, free of literacy cant and commercial bias, will blast the page and tell the truth. Remember: Plot is no more than foot prints left in the snow AFTER your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations. PLOT is observed after the fact rather than before. It cannot precede action. It is the chart that remains when action is through. That is all PLOT ever should be. It is human desire let run, running, and reaching a goal, It cannot be mechanical. it can only be dynamic. So, stand aside, forget targets, let the characters, your fingers, body, blood and heart DO”.

‘It is wise a writer who knows his own subconscious.’ And not only knows it but lets it speak of the world as it and it alone has sensed it and shaped it to its own truth’.

-Ray Bradbury

So if we can consider everything we have learnt from Bradbury and his ideas and ways to find Zen in the art of writing we can find one overarching theme and the only thing left to do is give the last word to the man himself. ‘The true test is in the doing. Be pragmatic, then. If you’re not happy with the way your writing has gone, you might give my method a try. If you do, i think you might easily find a new definition for WORK. And the word is LOVE’.

I hope you have enjoyed this three part series on ‘The Art of Zen in Writing’.

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Weekly Feature: Covetable Covers.

This week’s covetable cover is ‘The Silent Companions’ by Laura Purcell, a hauntingly Gothic story that will stay with you for days after you read it. It is said to have been inspired by the works of Susan Hill. I devoured this book when I first got my hands on it, atmospheric and menacing, it is one of the best ghost stories I have read in years and has become one of my favourite books, I would read it again and again. It’s hard to explain the plot of this book without giving away spoilers but it masterfully weaves a story that entices and enthralls with a haunted house, an asylum, a crumbling majestic estate, paintings who’s eyes follow menacingly, and a vulnerable main character who must make sense of her new life whilst questioning her own sanity as events unravel around her.

The cover itself is gorgeous and has an extremely clever design. The key hole has been cut out of the cover and the painting behind is in the book peeking out at you. It gives the reader an unsettling feeling of being stalked and watched in a sinister manner. There are many motifs on the cover which also echo important items, themes and events in the book, all done in a Victorian Gothic style which evokes the time period in which the story is set. The two seemingly innocent and child-like silhouettes at the bottom hinting at the menacing wooden painted figures featured in the story. The stag’s head and fountain also echoing the setting of a grand estate. There are so many ‘Easter Eggs’ in this cover it is almost impossible to explain what they represent without spoiling the story and this is definitely one I would recommend to everyone. However, I entreat everyone to keep the cover design in mind as they are reading this book. Seemingly innocuous cover items will eventually hold an unsettling meaning as you reach them throughout the book. Excuse me for a second there seems to be a strange scraping noise behind me….

“You could not explain fear; you could only feel it, roaring through the silence and striking your heart still.”

The Silent Companions – Laura Purcell

Leave a comment on what you love about this cover, whether you’ve read the book or would like to. I’d also love to hear about the book covers you love!

Feel free to contact me and suggest any beautiful covers you would like to see featured.

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Short Story – Lost at sea

All she could see was sea, an endless unknown blue. She had been treading water for a while now assuming someone would come and save her or show her the way, but that hadn’t happened. She didn’t know what to do. She could just pick a direction and swim but what if it was the wrong direction, she could expend all that energy and have nothing to show for it, she would die having accomplished nothing. Of course, she could always stop trying, sink into the blue, let the water wash over her and never have to worry about anything again but the thought of not existing terrified her more. She wanted to live, to explore, to try new things, to meet the future and find out what life had in store for her but she knew she couldn’t do that aimlessly bobbing about in the sea. She just needed to decide which way to swim before her time ran out.

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Weekly Feature: Covetable Covers.

This week’s covetable cover is ‘The Fox and the Star’ by Coralie Bickford-Smith who is the award-winning Art Director of the Penguin Hard Back Classics. This short tale artfully encompasses its themes of friendship, adventure, loss and hope in a heart-warming way both adults and children can access and enjoy.

The illustrations themselves were said to have been inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement and the art of William Blake and this can be seen throughout the book. On the cover the fox can be seen looking up towards a night sky littered with tiny stars but one bigger than most in the top right corner. The winding blackberry thorns seems reminiscent of a fairy tale but equally reflects its natural setting. The book itself is a cloth-bound, rich night-sky blue with embossed silver design. It feels like a book that could be handed down through generations and it is beautiful.

‘Star would light the way for fox as he foraged for beetles and went wild in the tangled thorns.’

The Fox and the Star – Coralie Bickford-Smith

Purchase the book here if you would like to own it yourself.

Leave a comment on what you love about this cover, whether you’ve read the book or would like to. I’d also love to hear about the book covers you love!

Feel free to contact me and suggest any beautiful covers you would like to see featured.

If you enjoyed this post, do not forget to like and subscribe for more. Maybe even consider becoming a Patron

Writing Advice: Zen in the Art of Writing – Ray Bradbury -Part 2.

Please click here to read Zen in The Art of Writing Part 1.

Our own subconscious: The Muse.

Getting in touch with your Muse often conjures images of Greek goddesses with flowing locks sparking inspiration within the artist. As we all know, from time to time, getting in touch with your muse can be a bit hit or miss. Sometimes The Muse will visit you and you will have weeks of prolific work, at other times The Muse will be reluctant to show herself , flighty and unco-operative, leaving the writer at a loss. The Muse, or what I will choose to substitute as ‘Creativity’, can often evades us when we look too hard for it. When we try too hard to be the next Dickins, Wilde or Woolfe, creativity is stifled because we are not speaking with our own truth, our own experience.

Art will fly if held too lightly,

Art will die if held too tightly,

Lightly, Tightly, how do I know,

Whether I’m holding or letting Art go?

For ‘Art’ substitute, if you wish, ‘Creativity’ or ‘The Subconscious’ or ‘Heat’ or whatever the word is for what happens when you spin like a fire-wheel and a story ‘happens’.

-Ray Bradbury

Bradbury believes that we must feed our Muse/Creativity the same way that the body is fed and then grows over time. Everything we experience ‘sounds, sights, smells, tastes and textures of people, animals, landscapes, events, large and small…impressions and experiences and our reactions to them’, are kept within you and your subconscious and feed your Muse/Creativity. Bradbury believes that the subconscious is the core of the individual and where originality and creativity stem from. Each individual has experienced life differently, ‘no man sees the same events in the same order, in his life. One man sees death younger than another, one man knows love more quickly than another’ and onwards it goes making each individual an original. So writers must harness their own experience and originality tucked away in their subconscious to imbue their writing with their own truth, this will make their writing original and aid creativity. Bradbury believes that we all have it in us and , ‘All that is most original lies in wait for us to summon it forth’ that often we are looking outwards for inspiration that we miss what is already inside us.

When people ask me where I get my ideas, I laugh. How strange -we’re so busy looking out, to find ways and means, we forget to look in.

-Ray Bradbury

Bradbury also advises feeding your creativity not only with your own experience of the world but also by consuming the experiences and knowledge of others, often a lot of what we read or consume is thrust upon us, so we can make a conscious effort to consume what will be a healthy diet for our Muse/Creativity;

  1. Poetry
  2. Short Stories
  3. Novels
  4. Essays

Bradbury encourages writers to read ‘authors who write the way you hope to write, those who think the way you would like to think’ but Bradbury is very careful to stress that you should also, ‘ Read those who do not think or write as you want to write and so be stimulated in directions you might not take for years’. What he is saying is read extensively, keep an open mind to everything and make your own critically, well thought out decisions about what you consume. Often creativity can be sparked by not only the good but also the bad and indifferent.

What else can you we learn from Ray Bradbury?

Find out in Part 3, coming soon!

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Weekly Feature: Covetable Covers.

This week’s covetable cover is ‘A Black Fox Running’ by Brian Carter. Originally published in the 1980’s this book has had a cover re-design for a more modern audience and what a beautiful cover it is. The book is perfect for lover’s of ‘Tarka the Otter’ and ‘Watership Down’. Sadly most of the time these are seen as children’s books, but for those of us who have read them, we know they shouldn’t be. They deal with the darker side of nature, animal-life and interactions with humans, with sometimes tragic and shocking scenes. In reality nature is brutal and unforgiving and these stories are a more realistic reflection of the trials of animals. This is also true of ‘A Black Fox Running’; with a dark-furred fox, Wulfgur, as its main character, pursued by a cruel, alcoholic, war-scarred trapper, the story is dark and delivers hope, love, grief and revenge in equal measure, as we follow the fox over the course of a year. It is beautifully written and descriptive creating a deep connection to nature and, Dartmoor, its setting.

The front cover has a fairytale-like motif of the black fox in motion surrounded by golden trees. This emotes the black fox running through an enveloping forest at night, lit by the light of the moon, as shown by his silhouette against the white circle in the middle of the cover. The white circular moon and tree branches which reach around it, draw the eye to the center of the cover to the title, while also adding to the sense of motion. It is almost as if the fox is running within a wheel and the branches are reeling past at speed. Within the story the main character, Wulfgar, although escaping the relentless pursuit of the hunt is now himself being pursued, so the cover reflects the never-ending run for survival that all animals, including Wulfgar, must go through. Unlike a Watership Down Cover, which often lulls reader’s into thinking it’s a cutesy story about bunnies because they are usually plastered on the cover in bright colours, this does not try to deceive the reader. The story is reasonably dark therefore the cover colour, black, reflects not only the fox’s fur, but the tone of the book as well.

“To live is to run. Always running-away from death, into death. Perhaps Man kills us to kill a memory. We are ghosts of Man the animal and he can’t live with the knowledge.”

A Black Fox Running – Brian Carter

Leave a comment on what you love about this cover, whether you’ve read the book or would like to. I’d also love to hear about the book covers you love!

Feel free to contact me and suggest any beautiful covers you would like to see featured.

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Purchase the book here if you would like to own it yourself.

Book Tag: Reader Problems

It’s always intriguing to learn about other people’s reading and writing habits and A Dreamer’s Library caught my eye with their interesting Book Tag post which gave an insight into their own reading habits. We all know that reading and writing go hand in hand for Authors and we are always told that the more you read the better the writer you will become. Being an avid reader myself I feel that every book I read becomes part of my history and experience. I remember where and when I read it and what was happening in my life at the time. Each book has meant something to me and has helped me to understand the genres I like, experience different writing styles and learn from published authors how to improve my own writing. So here is me ‘tagging in’.

You have 20,000 books on your TBR. How do you decide what to read next?

My ‘To Be Read’ list currently has 34 books on it, all collected from personal recommendations, recommendations that have caught my eye on GoodReads and publisher websites or emails. I have favourite Authors that I follow too and get very excited when they come out with a new book, so I would probably read that first. Otherwise, I can”t personally imagine having 20,000 books on my TBR list as that would take away the joy of reading for me, it would feel more like a task I needed to complete(I can be a bit of an achievement hunter) so I prefer to keep it simple. As you know from my Covetable Cover posts, I am a sucker for a well-designed cover too, I do judge a book by it’s cover, so depending on my mood I will base my choice on the cover and general premise of a book.

You’re halfway through a book, and you’re just not loving it. Do you put it down or are you committed?

It is extremely rare that this happens to me unless I’ve made an oddball choice about what I’ve decided to read in the first place. As I said before I’m a bit of a completionist so I am committed to finishing a book even if it’s not completely grabbing me because I always live in the hope that there will be something that will interest me or speak to me somewhere in the book. Plus the author has probably poured hours of their time and effort into creating what I’m reading, so I feel like I owe it to them to give it a chance. Based on that I try to make careful choices about what I read and what I’m sure I will like, thought it’s not an exact science, mistakes will always happen and when they do I try to finish it quickly and move on to something I will enjoy more.

The end of the year is coming and you’re behind on your reading challenge.Do you try to catch up? And if so, how?

My current reading challenge for this year is 50 books and I’m currently on 35 so I think I’m on track. Although last year my goal was 40 and I barely made it so I did something that may divide a lot of opinions. Some may call it cheating, some may disagree, but I read graphic novels to catch up. One camp may say that is perfectly reasonable, they are books, they are just shorter with a lot of pictures in them rather than text, the stories and characters have depth, plus it would be no different that reading a short play. Others may argue that they may not count on a reading challenge for that same reason, not enough text. However, i do believe in reading widely to expand my reading landscape, so although some might see it as ‘cheating’, I have no regrets. Plus ‘Monstress’ is a fantastic graphic novel.

The covers of a series you love do not match. How do you cope?

I don’t mind too much because I love covers and different designs as long as they are well-thought out and faithful to the book. However, what is the absolute bane of my life is when they replace the book cover with the movie poster. For shame. No beautiful illustrations or clever design just the poster for the movie. I find it lazy and money-grubbing. So if that happened in the middle of a series of books I was enjoying I would try to find an older copy of the book with the ‘proper’ cover or wait until a newer copy comes out after the film has inevitably disappointed everyone because it’s not as good as the book.

Everyone and their mother love a book that you do not. Who do you bond with over your shared feelings?

There are sometimes books released which are bafflingly popular, which you read and think, ‘Why?’ but I just accept that books are a very personal thing and what is one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, which seems a little bit of a disingenuous description given what I said before about the amount of effort writer’s put into their books so apologies. However, I am always interested to know why someone enjoyed a book that I wouldn’t even think to read. It may lead to reading the book in the end to see what all the fuss is about and either confirming you’re initial prejudices or happily changing your mind. You should always be open to trying new things but I will also happily bond with friends over baffling popularity of a book we don’t love.

You’re reading a book in public and you’re about to start crying. How do you deal with it?

There aren’t many books that have made me cry but many that have taken away a character that I truly loved. In that instance I have to stop and put the book down and give myself a little breather. Once that’s over, I feverishly read on to make sure that their death is not in vain and that they will be avenged! Hope is an important part of writing but also an important part of life – I always look for hope.

The sequel to a book you loved just came out but you’ve forgotten a lot of what happens. Are you going to re-read it?

Heck yes! If I loved it, I’m reading it again. Although if I am desperate to read the new book I may read a short recap of the story or just remind myself of the bits I have gaps in my memory about, depends how excited I am to read the new book.

You do not want anyone to borrow your books. How do you politely say no when someone asks?

As a British introvert this situation makes me cringe, I want to share and be polite but also my book are precious. I love my books and I look after them extremely carefully. There are no broken spines or dog-earred pages in my house! Each book that I have bought, enjoyed and read is special to me and only lent to those who understand that and can return it in the exact same state they borrowed it. I realise I’m coming across a little Golum, ‘My preccccioussss’ about this but it is sadly a weakness of mine, I’m working on it! This has actually happened to me once, I got a beautifully illustrated edition of ‘How to stop time’ by Matt Haig and a friend saw me reading it and asked if they could borrow it after me. I hesitated on my answer and they must have noticed because they said that they would get it out from the library as I was still reading it, very embarrassing, sorry!

You have picked up and put down five books in the last month. How do you get over this reading slump?

I must be super busy for this to have happened. I’m very much a one at a time reader. I know people who are happy to read more than one book at a time but I like to dedicate my attention to one book at a time so I can really immerse myself in it, plus that way I devour it quicker and can move onto a another book anyway once I’ve read the previous one. If I have a reading slump it’s because either life has taken over a bit, in which case I give myself a break, or there isn’t anything that’s tickling my fancy. I think the important thing is to not be too hard on yourself and leave books where you know you will find them and pick them up when the time comes.

There are so many books coming out that you are dying to read. How many do you end up buying?

I would like to answer this question in a visual form:

Comic by Sarah Anderson – Visit her, she is hilarious.

I’m not sure I need to say anymore , do I?

After you purchase all of these books that you’re dying to read, how long do they sit on your shelf before you read them.

I’m a one book at a time person so I’ll finish what I’m reading first, then pick the book I’ve bought that speaks to me the most, then work my way through them, savouring them with an actual Cup of Tea and a Biscuit (Hob-Nob -biscuit of choice!)!

______________________________________________________________________________

Hope you enjoyed my answers to the tag!

Maybe we have some reader habits in common!

What would be your answers to these prompts?

As A Dreamer’s Library did I will leave this tag open so feel free to pick up the Tag Torch and run with it! Let me know in the comments!

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Weekly Feature: Covetable Covers.

This week’s Covetable Cover is Exhalation by Ted Chiang.

A more utilitarian look than I prefer but still a clever design. The book itself is a series of short stories described as ‘thoughtful science fiction’ which explore philosophical questions, much like fictional thought experiments. The award-winning movie, Arrival, was actually based on one of his previous short stories.

This book uses words rather than pictures as the tools to describe the book to the reader. It’s strong bold font on the first ‘Exhalation’ then it’s slow fading of the consequent words almost makes the book feel as if it is breathing, quickly at first and then slowing as we go down the page. There is a suggestion of a strong beginning and then a fading of something over time, which Chiang actually touches upon in one of the short stories contained within this book.

“The universe began as an enormous breath being held. Who knows why, but whatever the reason, I’m glad it did, because I owe my existence to that fact. All my desires and ruminations are no more and no less than eddy currents generated by the gradual exhalation of our universe. And until this great exhalation is finished, my thoughts live on.” 

― Ted Chiang, Exhalation: Stories

Leave a comment on what you love about this cover, whether you’ve read the book or would like to. I’d also love to hear about the book covers you love!

Feel free to contact me and suggest any beautiful covers you would like to see featured.

Purchase the book here if you would like to own it yourself.

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Writing Challenge: 100 word story – The Magpie

She knew the rhyme, ‘One for sorrow, two for joy…’ but wasn’t superstitious of the magpie who visited her each day; she had had enough sorrow to fill a hundred lifetimes, so one magpie couldn’t alter that. The magpie always welcomed her to the garden with a rattling caw and perched on the wooden chair next to her as she read her book in the warm sunshine. Eventually, to her sorrow, he fell asleep in her lap and didn’t wake. Her heart broke for the last time and her eyes closed, as the sun shone and the birds sang.

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Weekly Feature: Covetable Covers.

This week’s Covetable Cover is a well-known classic that many of us have either read at school or have checked off our ‘100 books to read before you die’ lists. I’m not going to tell you what it is straight away, have a look at the symbolic items that are emphasized on the cover and try to work out which book this is….

Got it yet?

This book is extremely well known and many people have read it and are familiar with the symbolic items that are shown here. You’ll notice that the designer did not put the title on the front of the book because the visual description should immediately identify the book to the reader.

This is ‘Lord of The Flies’ by William Golding, a Folio Edition.

The book centers on a group of English School boys who are marooned on a desert island following a plane crash. What starts out as an exciting adventure with no adults, slowly begins to descend into power struggles, savagery and ultimately violence. If you have ever hesitated to read this book, then hesitate no more. It is a little bit of everything, horror, a coming-of age story, an allegory on the human condition. It is a novel about the “The end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart.”

“Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart…” 

― William Golding, Lord of the Flies

On the cover we can see what looks to be a young boy turned towards us. Though he is obscured we can see his outline, his hair is a mess and he seems to have broken his glasses. This is one of the, some would say tragic main characters, ‘Piggy’. To the new reader, it raises questions, why are his glasses broken? Why do we only see him in shadow? Why is he surrounded by red? To the returning reader each of these questions has an answer. The glasses are a main symbol in the story which initiates the power struggle and the moment they are broken initiates the descent of the boys into savagery. The fact that Piggy is not seen in detail represents the fact that he is seen as a nuisance by the other boys and that their descent into savagery has made the boys unrecognisable. The red surrounding the figure can simply represent the sunset on the island but also represents the violence and death that is a consequence of their abandoning of their societal rules.

“Maybe there is a beast… maybe it’s only us.” 

― William Golding, Lord of the Flies

Another simple and effective cover for a story that is so well-known it needs no words.

Leave a comment on what you love about this cover, whether you’ve read the book or would like to. I’d also love to hear about the book covers you love!

Feel free to contact me and suggest any beautiful covers you would like to see featured.

If you enjoyed this post, do not forget to like and subscribe for more. Maybe even consider becoming a Patron.