Oranges and Lemons

What Ray Bradbury Claimed about Writing with Zest

by Kalinda Rose Stevenson

Only Half a Writer

If you are writing
without zest
without gusto
without fun
you are only half a writer.

Ray Bradbury
For all of us who write, Ray Bradbury’s words urge us to ask important questions about why we write.
Ray Bradbury Zen in Art of Writing

Look to Your Zest and Your Gusto

In his book of essays, Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity. Ray Bradbury begins with “The Joy of Writing.” His first paragraph begins this way:

Zest. Gusto. How rarely one hears these words used. How rarely do we see people living, or that matter, creating by them? Yet if I were asked to name the most important items in a writer’s makeup, the things that shape his material and rush him along the road to where he wants to go, I could only warn him to look to his zest, see to his gusto.

What Is Zest?

Here's how Fine Dictionary defines zest.

Zest. A piece of orange or lemon peel, or the aromatic oil which may be squeezed from such peel, used to give flavor to liquor, etc.
Zest. Hence, something that gives or enhances a pleasant taste, or the taste itself; an appetizer; also, keen enjoyment; relish; gusto.

The word zest began as a French word zeste referring to orange or lemon peels used to add flavor to bland food. Relish began with the Old French relaisser to describe condiments used to add flavor to plain food. For Americans, “relish” refers to grated pickles that add extra flavor to hot dogs. Gusto is an Italian word that means “taste.”

Over time, zest and relish and gusto took on additional meanings. The meaning of zest expanded from flavor to attitude. Relish expanded from condiments to enjoyment. Gusto expanded from the taste of food to enthusiasm.

These original words about food took on a wide range of meanings such as enthusiasm, relish, appetite, enjoyment, delight, glee, pleasure, satisfaction, appreciation, liking, zest, zeal, and fervor.

What's the Missing Half?

Ray Bradbury makes this statement on page 4 of Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity:  

“...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."

For all of us who write, Bradbury’s words urge us to ask important questions. Why write? What’s the point? What’s the purpose? Why bother? Is it just a matter of making money and seeking fame? Bradbury calls that being half a writer. Or is it a matter of writing out of love? Each of us can only answer these questions for ourselves. 

About Ray Bradbury

In a career spanning more than seventy years, Ray Bradbury, who died on June 5, 2012, at the age of 91, inspired generations of readers to dream, think, and create. A prolific author of hundreds of short stories and close to fifty books, as well as numerous poems, essays, operas, plays, teleplays, and screenplays, Bradbury was one of the most celebrated writers of our time. His groundbreaking works include Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man, Dandelion Wine, and Something Wicked This Way Comes. He wrote the screen play for John Huston's classic film adaptation of Moby Dick, and was nominated for an Academy Award. He adapted sixty-five of his stories for television's The Ray Bradbury Theater, and won an Emmy for his teleplay of The Halloween Tree. He was the recipient of the 2000 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, the 2004 National Medal of Arts, and the 2007 Pulitzer Prize Special Citation, among many honors.

Throughout his life, Bradbury liked to recount the story of meeting a carnival magician, Mr. Electrico, in 1932. At the end of his performance Electrico reached out to the twelve-year-old Bradbury, touched the boy with his sword, and commanded, "Live forever!" Bradbury later said, "I decided that was the greatest idea I had ever heard. I started writing every day. I never stopped."
[Original Post October 18, 2014]
What are your thoughts about writing with zest and gusto? Leave a comment below. I look forward to hearing from you.

On Writing Words: A Writer's Essential Relations with Words is about the essential writing skill that turns good writing into great writing, Great writing depends on choosing the right words.  

Writing is nothing more than choosing words and arranging them into a readable form. Great writing happens when your word choices communicate in a compelling way exactly what you mean to say to your readers and your readers understand exactly what you mean. The secret hidden in plain sight is that your skill as a writer depends on the quality your relations with the words you use. Your writing can’t be any better than your word choices. The better you know your words and the better care you take of them, the better writer you will become.

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