Writing (and Living) With Gusto

“Great stories happen to those who can tell them” - Ira Glass

During my sabbatical I picked up Zen and the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury. Ray is a legendary science fiction writer (although I have never read any of his books). However, this book is as much about living as it is about writing. 

Ray argues that writing is essential to life. We write to remind ourselves that we are alive and that it is a gift and a privilege, not a right. For Ray, writing is survival. It can not save us from wars, envy, greed, or old age, but it can revitalize us amidst it all. Ray says, “You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.”

Writing is really about living with intentionality. Taking time each day to stop and take inventory of your life. To recognize what is going on in your soul. It is a time each day to slow down, to reflect, and to be honest with yourself. An opportunity to stop listening to all of the voices around you telling you what you ought to think, or believe, or feel. To listen instead for the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking through your own unique soul. 

The form really shouldn't matter. A handwritten journal, a letter to yourself or to God, a blogpost, or even a sketchbook would be fine. It is more about recognizing the story arc of our own lives, with all of its strange characters, abrupt plot twists, and painful endings. 

  • Where did I come from? 
  • Who am I now?
  • Which direction is my story headed?

Ray says, “It is in the totality of life experience reckoned with, filed and forgotten, that each man is truly different from all others in the world.” Our story is what makes us truly unique, but only if we take the time to actually read it, ponder it, and share it with the world. 

"If you are writing without zest, without gusto, without love, without fun, you are only half a writer. It means you are so busy keeping one eye on the commercial market, or one ear peeled for the avant-garde coterie, that you are not being yourself. You don’t even know yourself. For the first thing a writer should be is—excited. He should be a thing of fevers and enthusiasms. Without such vigor, he might as well be out picking peaches or digging ditches; God knows it’d be better for his health." - Ray Bradbury

To write half-heartedly is to live half-heartedly, and vice versa. Let’s stop with the generic, surface level prayers and religious platitudes. Let’s be honest with ourselves and with our God. This kind of living/writing takes real commitment and courage, but the alternative is a story with no real meaning or purpose.

Here are some suggestions to help you get started: 

  • What are the best things and the worst things in your life, and when are you going to get around to whispering or shouting them?
  • What do you love?
  • What do you hate?
  • What do you want more than anything else in the world?
  • For what are you most grateful? 
  • What makes you come alive?
  • When are you cooperating most fully with God’s action in your life? 
  • When are you resisting? 
  • What habits and life patterns do you notice from the past day? 

"The opposite of a spiritual person is not a person who rejects the idea of God and lives as a pagan. The opposite of being spiritual is to have no energy, to have lost all zest for living - lying on a couch, watching football or sitcoms, taking beer intravenously!" - Ronald Rolheiser