So You Want To Be A Writer? Questions & Answers

Posted at 05:39am on 1st September 2010

I was reading a poem titled “So you want to be a writer?” by author Charles Bukowski a while ago. It begins:

“If it doesn't come bursting out of you
in spite of everything, don't do it.”

And continues with the urge NOT to “do it” if you’re after fame or fortune, status or any other self-seeking reward.

The whole poem, which I have not reproduced for copyright reasons, may be found on Poets.org and, as may be surmised, makes it plain that one is either born a writer, or not! You may, or may not, agree with this theory, but a closer look at Bukowski’s life may help you to define your own urge to become a published author.

1. IS WRITING WRITTEN INTO YOUR DNA - YOUR CHARACTER?

Bukowski, whose Roman Catholic parents married only a month before his birth, was born in Germany, shortly after the end of WW1. His father was a German-American serviceman and, after the collapse of the German economy, the family moved to USA in 1923. There, they changed the pronunciation of their name, so as to sound more American.

  • Is it possible that a combination of disciplines (religious and military), plus the stigma of failing to adhere to their rules (conceiving outside of wedlock) and being forced to settle into another culture might trigger an artistic tendency? Look at your own character to see if your desire to write is truly from within.

2. IS WRITING CARVED OUT OF YOUR CIRCUMSTANCES?

Ultimately a prolific author, it’s clear from Bukowski’s writing that he had a difficult upbringing. Socially inept and withdrawn in childhood, he was then plagued with an extreme case of acne. Added to that, his father is said to have been violent. When, in his early teens, Bukowski was introduced to alcohol, he saw it as his saviour: the means by which he could come to terms with his life. Thus began a life of alcoholism. (Note, having seen its effect on others, first hand, this is not a lifestyle that I recommend in order to create a muse!)

  • Do introversion and hardship lead to the sort of introspection which, in turn, makes one question life and its meaning? Writing is certainly more of an introvert activity than extrovert, as my free Personality Test shows. Could your circumstances be responsible for the fact that you’re an aspiring author?

3. DO CREATIVE WRITING TECHNIQUES NEED TO BE LEARNED?

It’s clear, by the time Bukowski graduated from High School and began attending Los Angeles City College, that he saw himself as a writer / aspiring author. He took courses in art, journalism, and literature – thus honing his existing skills and learning all he could about creative writing techniques.

  • If you are born a writer, then is it really necessary for creative writing techniques to be learned? Doesn’t this bog you down and kill the creative muse? These are perennial questions asked by those attempting the difficult task of writing and publishing a book! And following a comment on my website, I have attempted to answer them in my article: Right Brain Dominant: How To Make Your Writing Flow

4. WHY CAN’T THE WORLD SEE THAT I’M A WRITER?

There appears to be no tangible evidence to suggest that Bukowski was writing throughout his youth. My guess is, however, that he probably was. His first work was a short story titled: “Aftermath Of A Lengthy Rejection Slip” which was published when he was 24 years of age. I haven’t read it, but the implication is that rejection was his experience.

Success rarely comes easily to the budding writer or aspiring author. Even after that initial publication, it took two years before Bukowski had a second short story published. This was followed by a ten year failure to break into the literary world, and led to a period of great depression and alcoholic blur.

  • Do you – as Bukowski’s poem urges – write because you can’t help yourself? Or is it the status of “being a writer” that drives you? Look at the great artists of the world and you’ll see that “success”, as the world measures it, was immaterial to most.

5. SHOULD YOU WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW?

Following Bukowski’s ten year drinking binge, during which time he worked at the post office, was hospitalised with a bleeding ulcer, and made a disastrous marriage, he began to write poetry. Much of it, like that of other poets (see my article, Creative Writing Tips: Take Inspiration From The Poets) was born of his own suffering and hardship. It may have been largely self-inflicted, but it created the energy and emotion needed to bring passion to his writing.

  • “Write what you know” may be a cliché, but it is none the less valid for that. What excites you? Outrages you? Fires your sense of injustice? Use your emotions to lift your writing out of the banal; to bring integrity and excitement to your work.

KEEP ON KEEPING ON? OR GIVE UP?

As Bukowski’s poem implies, if you have been born a writer, you’ll keep on keeping on because you will be quite unable to do anything else. However, it was not until he reached the age of 49 that his first novel was published. "I have one of two choices,” he wrote, “stay in the post office and go crazy ... or stay out here and play at writer and starve. I have decided to starve.”

  • And that, dear Reader, is the reward for wanting to be a writer! So may I suggest that you take note of the ending of Charles Bukowsk’s poem, below:

“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.
unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don't do it.

“when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.

there is no other way.

and there never was.”

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This article may be reproduced in any non-commercial website or blog (format) on condition that it appears unaltered, in its entirety, and that the following copyright line and bio are prominently displayed beneath it.

© Copyright Mel Menzies: USED BY PERMISSION
Author of a number of books, one a Sunday Times No 4 Bestseller, Mel Menzies is also an experienced Speaker at live events, as well as on Radio and TV. This article, in its original form, can be found at http://www.melmenzies.co.uk/


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