Professor Wu's Rulebook

Ray Bradbury on work, and writing with love


Often, it is easier to shy away from work than face it head on. And when we do tackle our work – be it the drudgery of the nine to five, or the fear of finally getting round to working on that novel you’ve not yet started actually, well, writing – we can often approach it with a less than constructive attitude. It’s natural, perhaps; but it isn’t helpful.

These, at least, are the thoughts of one of literature’s truly great champions – Ray Bradbury.

Indeed, Bradbury has given us more than his excellent novels and short stories. He has also given us his timeless wisdom on work, motivation, and creating from a place of love. These are collected in Zen in the Art of Writing.

Bradbury considers why we hate work, as a culture and as individuals:

“Why is it that in a society with a Puritan heritage we have such completely ambivalent feelings about Work? We feel guilty, do we not, if not busy? But we feel somewhat soiled, on the other hand, if we sweat overmuch?

I can only suggest that we often indulge in made work, in false business, to keep from being bored. Or worse still we conceive the idea of working for money. The money becomes the object, the target, the end-all and be-all. Thus work, being important only as a means to that end, degenerates into boredom. Can we wonder then that we hate it so?


Nothing could be further from true creativity.”

Bradbury argues that writing for either commercial rewards or critical acclaim is “a form of lying.”

This warping of motive can also deform our definitions of success and failure. And, urging us not to quit on something before we know exactly what it is we are quitting, Bradbury writes:

“We should not look down on work nor look down on [our early works] as failures. To fail is to give up. But you are in the midst of a moving process. Nothing fails then. All goes on. 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. Not to work is to cease, tighten up, become nervous and therefore destructive of the creative process.”

A lifelong advocate of doing what you love (and making sure you do it as much as you can), Bradbury ends with a beautiful disclaimer for the cynical:

“Now, have I sounded like a cultist of some sort? A yogi feeding on kumquats, grapenuts and almonds here beneath the banyan tree? Let me assure you I speak of all these things only because they have worked for me for fifty years. And I think they might work for you. 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.”


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