Six Lessons From Ray Bradbury on Love, Zen, and Writing With Gusto

Vincent Van Patten

Bradbury is my kind of guy.

Photo by Alice Dietrich on Unsplash

There’s a serendipitous joy that comes from stumbling upon a wonderful book, an uplifting movie, or any form of creation that has existed in the universe without our knowing.

Out there on some unturned pages are the exact words we need to read to urge us to keep going, that tell us we’re not alone and never will be. Our lives are forever changed from this fortuitous moment of engagement. The right book can alter our perception of life so that it has more meaning.

I feel this way about discovering Ray Bradbury and his book, Zen in the Art of Writing. In the opening chapter, Bradbury asks what writing teaches us; his answer changed my life.

“Writing reminds us that we are alive, and that it is a gift and a privilege, not a right.”

Life will happen to us all. There will be disappointments and setbacks; there will be times when we feel the universe has lost all sense.

Yet, writing is a daily reminder that we’re still alive, here breathing, and we always have something to be thankful for. He writes:

“While our art cannot, as we wish it could, save us from wars, privation, envy, greed, old age, or death, it can revitalize us amidst it all. We must take arms each and every day, perhaps knowing that the battle cannot be entirely won, but fight we must, if only a gentle bout.” — Ray Bradbury

“If I were asked to name the most important items in a writer’s make-up, I could only warn him to look to his zest, see to his gusto.”

Ray Bradbury is undoubtedly a unique individual.

As a kid in the 1920s from Waukegan, Illinois, Bradbury devoured comics and strange stories from authors such as L. Frank Baum and Edgar Allan Poe. At age twelve, he began writing his own.

He’s known as a 20th-century science fiction pioneer; charming spirit and childlike wonder are imbued throughout his prolific outpouring of spooky and weird tales.

Much of Zen in the Art of Writing explores his childhood and what fascinated him — the abnormal, circuses, strange things in glass jars; midnight moons, and life on Mars (this was an entertaining book to read around Halloween).

There’s no doubt that Bradbury dedicated his life to having fun and writing with zest:

“If you are writing without zest, without gusto, without love, without fun, you are only half a writer.”

“What do you love most in the world?”

This question has inspired me the most sincerely of all.

Zen in the Art of Writing has given me a reason to pursue what I love about life with the entirety of my being. Moreover, it’s urged me to think deeply about who I am and what I care about and write about that as if my life depended on it.

Because it does.

If I don’t write about what I love, that passion will lay dormant in my spirit and soul, a magnificent ship that never leaves the dock because the sea appears to be too alive with winds and waves to conquer.

Ray Bradbury has influenced me to be unapologetically myself by connecting with my inner child. As kids, we see life as the ride that it is, one that must be enjoyed through all of its ups, downs, twists and turns.

Bradbury’s question doesn’t have to be complicated. He writes:

“What do you love most in the world? The big and little things, I mean. A trolley car, a pair of tennis shoes? These, at one time when we were children, were invested with magic for us.”

Through writing, Bradbury captures the magic of what made him happy.

Don’t apologize for what you love; own it, love it, and write about it like nobody else.

“To fail is to give up. But you are in the midst of a moving process. Nothing fails then. All goes on.”

There will always be setbacks, times when we believe we haven’t given our best, that we weren’t true to our character, or that we messed up.

Yet, as long as we’re giving something, there’s nothing to be ashamed of.

“Work is done. If good, you learn from it. If bad, you learn even more. Work done and behind you is a lesson to be studied. There is no failure unless one stops.”

Everything we do is part of the process; writing provides a means to wake up in the midst of it, a reason to take a look around and smell the flowers.

In anything we do, to fail is merely to give up.

To stand up, time and time again is to lead a victorious life, no matter what happens.

“The writer who wants to tap the larger truth in himself must forget the money waiting for him in mass-circulation.”

I believe this relates to anything meaningful we want out of life. Bradbury writes that if we create for the money, it will be evident in our work.

Creators create because we have something to say about the world, a longing to connect, a reason to get up every day and fight. He writes:

“[The writer]must ask himself, ‘What do I really think of the world, what do I love, fear, hate?’ and begin to pour this on paper.”

Writers like Ray Bradbury who’ve produced work from a place deep within their being live on through their passionate words set down in ink.

The exceptionally creative writer is still here with us, a soul amongst souls, strolling under the moonlit sky while everybody else tucks into bed.

What he believed and loved about the world still haunts dusty bookstores and dimly lit library halls; his words occupy vast mahogany libraries, or perhaps, the bottom of a box never unpacked, like un-struck gold.

I believe that would be okay with him.

A writer like Ray Bradbury doesn’t write for the fame and recognition that comes (or doesn’t come) from writing an extraordinary book. He writes because he has a life in him that must be released, a ship ready to sail in solitude, or, with whoever is willing to climb aboard for the ride.

“Go to Zen for the answer to your problems.”

The word Zen can be associated with Buddhism and meditation, deep introspection, and insight into the nature of things.

According to an article in Psychology Today, a Zen mindset allows for our thoughts, feelings, and perceptions of the world to be what they are without judgment.

With a Zen mindset, things are simply the way they are without our attached subjective beliefs. Bradbury writes of how he came up with the title, Zen in the Art of Writing:

“In the art of archery, long years must pass where one learns simply the act of drawing the bow and fitting the arrow. Then the process, sometimes tedious and nerve-wracking, of preparing to allow the string, the arrow, to release itself. The arrow must fly on its way to a target that must never be considered. I don’t think I have to show you, here, the relationship between archery and the writer’s art.”

The archer learns the simple movement of drawing the bow and fitting the arrow. They aren’t focused on the outcome, on the weather, on other preconceived notions, only on the task at hand.

I think this is a fascinating detail that can be applied to anything we strive to create.

With so much exterior noise from the world around us and even our sometimes detrimental inner voice, it’s hard to focus on doing something with a pure heart and clear mind.

But Bradbury argues, that the only thing we must do, is to do.

Forget about the rest, forget about the noise, and simply let your heart shine through you to change the world.

“The true test is in the doing. 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’m lucky to have stumbled upon Ray Bradbury and his wonderful stories that are full of life.

Zen in the Art of Writing and his classic, Fahrenheit 451, introduced me to a hilarious and inspiring man, perhaps no longer here on this earth, but so very alive in my imagination and my spirit.

So I thank you, Ray Bradbury, for being you, and writing because you loved to do so. It encourages me to do the same.

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My name is Vincent Van Patten. This is my home, a place to share who I am and what lights my soul on fire. I’m a writer, media creator, and co-host of The Dare to Dream Podcast. Most importantly, I’m an inspired citizen of our ever-changing world. I strive to learn all that I can about how we’ve progressed to where we are today as individual cultures and as a planet. It’s my passion to fill every day with exploration and creativity no matter where I am, whether in California crafting my latest project or on my way to discover someplace new. By writing about my experiences, connecting with people and the earth, and remaining present, I always feel at home. I write to express my perspective of daily living, from the thoughts in my head to the relationships we share as human beings. I write about travel, culture, books, life, philosophy, spirituality, health, self-improvement, and history. I also write poetry and short stories  —  doing so soothes the soul. I believe we’re here to challenge ourselves by questioning all we think we know. When we do, we open our minds to a way of living we could never have imagined. This life is a journey with no finish line in sight. I hope to leave a positive impact with every step I take.

Del Mar, CA

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