For my 17th birthday I got a collection of Charles Bukowski’s poems. I remember reading it and one poem in particular standing out to me. In fact, ‘so you want to be a writer?‘ hit me in the guts the way Charles Bukowski says writing should explode out of them.
if it doesn’t come busting out of you
in spite of everything
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.
17-year-old me felt as though Charles Bukowski had written that poem for me. It was everything I felt writing should be – it should be an outpouring, it should be a profusion of thought and feeling, and it should come naturally. And yet, and yet – nearly ten years later, where has this approach to writing got me? What if, instead of waiting for it to roar out of me, as Bukowski advises, I had sat for hours staring at my computer screen, searching for words or rewriting the same essay over and over. What if, despite the very thought of it being hard work, I had sat down night after night to write. And what if I had read my work to anyone who would listen. What if, instead of waiting for my soul to explode like a rocket, I had made a cup of tea, sat at my desk and written anyway. Surely I would be a better writer than I am now.
And I’m realising that I’m not as good a writer as I could be. I’m not disciplined enough. I don’t write everyday and this needs to change. I don’t push myself enough either. I write about the things I like writing about, in a style I feel comfortable with. I don’t stretch myself, and this needs to change.
For the last week I have felt the need to write and I knew the only thing that would cure this itching, distracting feeling would be to sit down and write. So what did I do? I washed the pots, I cooked unnecessarily elaborate meals, I read books (and told myself that reading counted as writing), I checked Twitter, I went jogging, I even sat down and did some Dutch practise – in short, I did everything but write. This has to change.
I don’t really know what my goals as a writer are, but for now, I know that I need to get better and the only way that’s going to happen is if I push myself, every single day. I’m going to start by doing some writing exercises – something I have always hated and avoided because they force me to write about topics or in styles that don’t come easily. I’m also going to start experimenting with different writing routines, writing at different times of day and in different locations. For instance, I’ve never really given writing in a café a go, which seems like basic writing 101. I also spend three hours of my day on a train, which is precious time that could be spent writing. I may blog about it as I go along – although, to paraphrase Bukowski, the servers of the world have yawned themselves to sleep over that kind of blog.
So, Mr Bukowski, as much as I love your poetry, you’re just wrong. Writing is a craft, it’s a skill that requires honing, and rockets and exploding guts would only get in the way of the many, many quiet hours that lie ahead.