“I selected the above title, quite obviously, for its shock value,” half-jokingly half-seriously writes Ray Bradbury (1920–2012) in his book Zen in the Art of Writing: Releasing the Creative Genius Within You, a vibrant collection of essays celebrating manifold ways we can harness the power of our imagination. “Now while I have you here before my platform, what words shall I whip forth painted in red letters ten feet tall?”
Whether joking or serious, Ray Bradbury knows a thing or two about the craft of channeling our thoughts into the void of a blank piece of paper, and in the titular chapter of his book, he invites us to jump into the deep well of his literary knowledge about the value of perseverance, creativity, and the ability to fully express ourselves.
The three key words to unleashing our imaginative genius, Bradbury tells us, are WORK, RELAXATION, and DON’T THINK! “Impossible!” we say. “How can you work and relax? How can you create and not be a nervous wreck?” Starting with work, Ray Bradbury writes:
Do you plan some sort of schedule for yourself starting as soon as you put down this article? Something like this. One thousand or two thousand words every day for the next twenty years. … You will have to write and put away or burn a lot of material before you are comfortable in this medium. You might as well start now and get the necessary work done. … Michelangelo’s, da Vinci’s, Tintoretto’s billion sketches, the quantitative, prepared them for the qualitative…. A great surgeon dissects and re-dissects a thousand, ten thousand bodies, tissues, organs, preparing thus by quantity the time when quality will count — with a living creature under his knife. An athlete may run ten thousand miles in order to prepare for one hundred yards. Quantity gives experience. From experience alone can quality come. …
Work then, hard work, prepares the way for the first stages of relaxation, when one begins to approach what Orwell might call Not Think! As in learning to typewrite, a day comes when the single letters a-s-d-f and j-k-l-; give way to a flow of words.
As we enter the steady flow of our everyday writing routine, we should not look down or look back but keep on moving. We are in the midst of an unfolding process, one that fails only if we give up. Ray Bradbury writes:
There is no failure unless one stops. Not to work is to cease, tighten up, become nervous and therefore destructive of the creative process. … Tenseness results from not knowing or giving up trying to know. Work, giving us experience, results in new confidence and eventually in relaxation. The type of dynamic relaxation again, as in sculpting, where the sculptor does not consciously have to tell his fingers what to do. The surgeon does not tell his scalpel what to do. Nor does the athlete advise his body. Suddenly, a natural rhythm is achieved. The body thinks for itself.
So again the three signs. Put them together any way you wish. WORK RELAXATION DON’T THINK. Once separated out. Now, all three together in a process. For if one works, one finally relaxes and stops thinking. True creation occurs then and only then.
Zen in the Art of Writing, a motivating jolt of energy for our creative lives, remains a treasure trove from cover to cover. Complement this particular portion with another deeply creative endeavor, that of spiritual journaling as taught by Christina Baldwin.