So you want to be a writer?

Came across a Charles Bukowski poem, and wasn’t really sure what to think. Read the complete poem here.

Especially of this passage:

if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
searching for words,
don’t do it.

And this one:

if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don’t do it.

This part is particularly scary:

the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
over your kind.
don’t add to that.
don’t do it.
unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don’t do it.

I don’t know if I’ll cut is a writer in these terms, because sometimes I do sit for hours searching for the right word. Some of my published, and to-be-published stories have been re-written a dozen times, or more. Some of my writing does come out of my soul like a rocket, but I notice it does so more often when I’ve been writing more than usual.

What do you think of Bukowski’s advice?

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  1. Mellie

    I think he's a poser…Bukowski wants us to think that writing is some kind of mystical gift, not a skill. Pthebbit

    All the navel-gazing we do when we're young doesn't improve our writing (or our lives). It's getting our eyes up and looking out that does that, and gives us something real to write about.

    Writing is a skill like any other. It requires getting information, and practicing, and LOTS of correction. Sure, some people have more natural ability than others, but that's just the starting place.

    Wordcraft isn't enough – anyone can create a clever phrase – what matters, in my opinion, is having something worthwhile to SAY. (And saying, "I'm better than you, don't bother to try," is NOT worthwhile.)

  2. Damyanti

    @aspiring-x, I think some of it isn't quite true either, but am too green and diffident a writer to know if I am right. I do let my passion drive my writing, why else would I wake up nights to write, and agonize over my work?

    @Taylor, I think the same too. Talent and inspiration cannot amount to much without practice and re-writes.

    Thanks, Scott. I don't know much about Bukowski. I should read up a little I guess, and come to some conclusions.

  3. scott g.f.bailey

    Bukowski drank, you know. A lot. And he did everything that he says in this poem is a sign you shouldn't be a writer. So perhaps he's just writing from the perspective of his internal critic. Nothing he said can really ever be taken at face value. (Except possibly this snippet:
    "Daddy, what happened to your face?"
    "I tangled with a drunk on the freeway and lost. The drunk was me.")

  4. Taylor Mathews Taylor

    John Coltrane and Miles Davis spent their thousands of hours practicing.

    Leonardo DaVinci's first sketch came far before his Mona Lisa.

    Anyone who is an accomplished artist knows it takes time and effort to develop a craft. Why would writing be any different?

  5. aspiring_x

    totally scary…
    just let your passion drive your writing… that's what i'd take from this.
    the rest?
    (i hate to say this but) it sounds like a bunch of hot steam and egotism.

  6. eeleenlee

    Hello, Eeleen dropping by…

    Probably one of the most honest writing advices I've seen so far, but yes its scary in it's intense honest.

  7. Cruella Collett

    I don't know. Bukowski as a writer is great, no doubt, but I'm not sure I'd want to take any life-decision advice from him. Besides, if we removed all the authors who struggled with writing from the literary landscape, I think we would have very few left. And not necessarily the good ones.

    People have such different approaches to writing, that I don't buy that there is just one way.

  8. Roland D. Yeomans

    That is only Mr. Bukowski's personal opinion — and like belly buttons, everyone has an opinion. Although he did express his quite artistically.

    Ernest Hemingway sweated away at the typewriter searching for the right word just like you. And he seemed to have turned out all right.

    Like Summer suggests, stay true to yourself and your dream. Let your readers determine the worth of your prose. Roland

  9. Summer Ross

    You know there is so much going on in this, I don't think he's really saying these are the rules- but I think he is suggesting to be true to yourself, to be honest with yourself, and to be the only you you can be without needing another approval. That's what I get out of. and if you think about it, you wouldn't want to do anything where you were just a copy cat of someone else, or that you were not passionate about- because you would hate it.