I once watched a TED talk about inspiration, and how it hit a writer so hard that she would hear it coming as thunder in the distance – so great and powerful that she dropped everything to sit down at her desk and let the inspiration flow through her. She herself was just a vessel through which these ideas poured from. I think that is my favorite interpretation of inspiration: loud, wholly-consuming, restless and the cause of many sleepless nights.
I discovered Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing in a small used bookstore during my trip to Boston. At that point I’d already decided I wasn’t going to buy anymore books. I had in my arms four other books, also chosen impulsively, and was making my way to the cashier so as to prevent any more spending. But there was Bradbury’s little book, thrown in a clearance bin. It became book number five.
It was the first book out of my pile that I decided to read, late at night when trying to unwind. It woke me back up. This book wakes the reader and demands that you do what you were put on Earth to do: create and live an inspired life. It expanded on the ideas I heard from that TED talk however long ago. Step by step, you follow Bradbury through his career in the form of short essays that he wrote for his various titles.
Even though I was reading for “leisure”, I started taking notes. This is important. These thoughts are crucial. People need to know this stuff!
And so I humbly present to you a Shop Talk series focusing on takeaways from Zen in the Art of Writing. The interpretations might evolve over time, which is why I enthusiastically suggest you obtain a copy for yourself. This is the first part. I hope you’ll like it.
Finding Your Passion…and Ignoring It
Bradbury’s story starts out with a sad tale of childhood bullying. His favorite comic was looked down on by his peers and they let him know. He ripped apart his book in an attempt to be normal. He tried. He couldn’t. He picked his comic back up and put it back together, and it was at that point did he realize he was his own person, with his own passions that consumed him.
Later on, as a writer in his early twenties writing for money, the same pattern emerged. Bradbury tried to conform to the standards of what was expected of science fiction at the time (which I, uh, totally didn’t know was a thing). One day he let loose and wrote what struck him.
“I sent it off to Julie Schwartz, my pulp agent, who liked it, but said it was not a traditional tale and might be hard to sell. Weird Tales walked around it, touched it with a ten-foot-pole, and finally decided, what the hey, to publish it, even though it didn’t fit their magazine. But I must promise, next time, to write a good old-fashioned ghost story! I promised. They gave me twenty dollars, and everyone was happy.”
Why do we do this? Why do we ignore inspiration when it strikes? Inspiration and your various passions will continue to gnaw at you as you try your hand at a normal life. Anything that has ever blown our minds was undoubtedly something thought up “outside the box”. Don’t betray the things you love because of outside influences.
“I went back to collecting Buck Rogers. My life has been happy ever since. For that was the beginning of my writing science fiction. Since then, I have never listened to anyone who criticized my taste in space travel, sideshows or gorillas. When this occurs, I pack up my dinosaurs and leave the room.”
That’s right. Anyone criticizes you? Pack up your dinosaurs and leave the room.
Next up: Recipes for Muses. Learn techniques to find inspiration and ways to stay inspired.