The Art of Tiger Trapping and Truth in Writing

I realize that the title of my post is a little confusing. I don’t condone tiger trapping -  remember me the animal lover? And I’m not necessarily looking for "truth" in my writing. At this point, I’m looking for a good solid story, likeable characters, a plot that works… you get the idea.

But the theme for this week’s blog entries  is open. We  Muses will be discussing anything we want. So, I’d  like to talk about a book I love, and an author who has a very unique take on writing and life. My copy of Ray Bradbury’s ZEN IN THE ART OF WRITING is pretty worn.  I’ve underlined many sentences and highlighted many more. The author of FAHRENHEIT 451 and DANDELION WINE has a great many things to say that resonate with me.  Throughout the years, I have come to depend on his sage advice. When I’m  frightened and convinced I’m not a writer, I pull his slender tome from my bookshelf. When I’m stuck and convinced I don’t have any talent, I read Bradbury’s words before going to sleep.  

Mostly, I read two highlighted paragraphs in his book when I’ve worked so hard and for so long to create a beautiful sentence or scene and it seems to just leap off the page as a heavenly choir of angels sing. I read them when I am incredibly  proud of myself for my selection of perfect words; exciting words strung together in just the right sequence. When I'm full of supreme confidence, and sit down to write the next sentence and the next. And then, the words don’t come. When I’m trying to be a clever writer and not a storyteller. 

When I do those things, Mr. Bradbury has this to say to me:

Run fast, stand still. This, the lesson from lizards. For all writers. Observe almost any survival creature, you see the same. Jump, run, freeze. In the ability to flick like an eyelash, crack like a whip, vanish like steam, here this instant, gone the next, life teems the earth. And when that life is not rushing to escape, it is playing statues to do the same. 

What can we writers learn from lizards, lift from birds? In quickness is truth. The faster you blurt, the more swiftly you write, the more honest you are. In hesitation is thought. In delay comes the effort for a style, instead of leaping upon the truth which is the only style worth deadfalling or tiger-trapping. 

Those paragraphs remind me to be real. To stay true.  To stay close to my heart, ride by the seat of my pants and stop planning. Everything.  To stop over-writing and over-thinking. To resist looking at which book is getting all the attention on Twitter this week. 

My job is to get it down. It doesn't need to be polished and pretty in the beginning. It can be full of awkward phrasing, illogical decisions and messy, messy outcomes. Creation is messy. It's O.K. My goal is to trap the words before they fly away. To trap the tiger and not to waste time worrying about what I’ll do with him once I get him.

"Run Fast, Stand Still, or, The Thing At the Top Of the Stairs, or, New Ghosts From Old Minds" from ZEN IN THE ART OF WRITING, Ray Bradbury, Bantam Edition, 1992.


I needed this today, Robin! Thank you so much for reminding me.

You're so welcome, Katherine!

You're so welcome, Katherine!

Great quote and post! One of my FAVORITE books too.

Just what I needed to hear this morning, Robin!

ahhh, to resist over-thinking! something I need to work on.... thanks for a great post, Robin.

I love to share Bradbury. He keeps me in line. ;)

I over think ALL. THE. TiME. But the passages of writing in my current draft that people respond the most positively to are the ones I wrote during a 2009 NaNoWriMo. I had no clue what the story was, who the characters were, until they started revealing that on the page, at speed. I had no time to worry about whether it worked or not. I ended up with a lot of random scenes written in desperation to make the daily word count, but there was a freshness, charm, and vivacity to that writing that I've found hard to match since. Now I know why. Thanks, Robin.

Just had a chance to read this, Robin, and it's wonderful. IN QUICKNESS IS TRUTH. That's going on a post it on my computer screen this week.

Nothing stops a scene in its tracks than trying to over think it before it's actually on the page. I love this advice. Some of the best stuff sneaks up on you when you least expect it.

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