Geek Girl Learns

from Ray Bradbury’s Zen and the Art of Writing, and Gail Carson Levine’s Writer to Writer

Itsy says, “Mine! All mine!”

So I thought I’d finish off this year with some nice easy writing books from two of my favorite authors. Not to say that these are books that don’t provoke thought, but they are books that won’t provoke me to completely redo my whole approach to writing (a bonus when I was reading them during November!).

Ray Bradbury’s classic essays are very inspiring for the writer. These are ones that I will come back to again and again, especially when the specter of imposter syndrome rears its ugly head. Gail Carson Levine has organized answers to popular questions on her blog, answering the most common on various topics. Both read very easily.

Disclaimer: Like On Writing by Stephen King, Zen and the Art of Writing has a lot of personal memoir in it. But I like Bradbury as an author, so my review will reflect that attitude.

The Good

I love the way Levine writes. It’s very approachable and friendly. She makes you believe that you, too, can become a writer, that you are already a writer. Plus, these are real questions that she received from her blog, so the you know that there are others out there that are having the same issues that you might be.

As for Bradbury, I loved the little insights into his writing process, especially when he reflects on Fahrenheit 451 and how it changed when he wrote it again as a play almost 30 years later. I absolutely loved the insights into the characters, especially the motivations. It also was great to see how a story can develop and change over the course of so many years.

The Better

Bradbury’s cat metaphors for writing. Well, yes, but it’s in the middle of an essay on how he cut over half the pages from the first draft of a screenplay. The words on the cutting were great, but tucked in the middle there was this quote:

You treat ideas like cats: you make them follow you. If you try to approach a cat and pick it up, hell, it won’t let you do it. You’ve got to say, “Well, to hell with you.” And the cat says, “Wait a minute. He’s not behaving the way most humans do.” Then the cat follows you out of curiosity: “Well, what’s wrong with you that you don’t love me?”

Ray Bradbury, “Shooting Haiku in a Barrel”

Which is just such a perfect summation of how ideas behave with me. I need to tattoo it on the inside of my wrist, so that when I am pounding my head trying to come up with words, I will see it and calm the fuck down.

Levine writes what I want to publish, so her advice is really tailored to what I can use. Specifically, she has a whole chapter on creating fantasy creatures and fantasy settings. And a whole section on poetry, which I like to incorporate in my work (what’s a society without songs, right?).

The Best

Bradbury has great thoughts about idea generation, especially turning prompts into actual stories, which is where I have a lot of difficulty. I will definitely be referring back to these essays in the new year as I reach for more prompts for my Third Thursday Shorts!

Levine’s exercises at the end of each chapter build on each other, not only in the lessons they teach, but also in the idea that continues chapter to chapter. It works out almost like you could have a near full story by the end. I like the idea that the prompt I worked on yesterday, for exploring one aspect, is the prompt I can work on today. Of course, she also has others, if you are not inspired to continue the work you did yesterday.

And she ends everything by reminding you to have fun, and save your work.

So, have you saved your work?

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