Writing and Bukowski
I REMEMBER my professor in Filipino lecturing on the “proper techniques” of writing. She described the correct prewriting method: First, think of a topic you want to write about, list the important details, then sequence them from most necessary to least. She said this method works whether one is writing an essay, a story, a news report, or even an idea for a poem.
As a communication student, I respect the idea of using such a method, perhaps because it is the formal way of writing. But I don’t agree with it. Not that I claim to be better than my professor; it’s just that my years of experience as a writer would conflict with what she said.
I thought that maybe I just am not a formal writer to begin with, or that perhaps it’s not such a good thing that although my thoughts are scattered I’d write them all down until I have all my ideas out of me. But then I came across this poem, “So You Want to Be a Writer” by Charles Bukowski. I found myself lingering between the lines, and I thought that maybe I am not alone in breaking writing tactics.
If it doesn’t come bursting out of you in spite of everything, don’t do it. That’s the very first line of the poem, and I thought, You can say that again, sir! What good is writing if you’re not interested in what you are writing about? One of the best things about writers is the exhilaration in their breath and the glitter in their eyes when they talk about something they have in mind. I would know because that is exactly how I feel every time I think of a great idea and every time I conclude a story with the words “the end.”
The best words flow out of you when the inspiration works, not only with your mind, but also with your heart, and when your passion coincides with your thoughts.
If you have to wait for it to roar out of you, then wait patiently. Truly, I would say. Not all writers get immediate success with their ideas. For one thing, writer’s block is a writer’s greatest foe; it is something equal to getting blanked out, and worse than laziness. There’s the constant question “Is it good enough?” running through your unorganized mind. Then the extreme challenge of “What next?” and “How do I start?”
But when the right motivation strikes me to face my computer screen and type out all my brimming thoughts, how satisfying it is to just wait for that spark to glow inside me.
Bukowski offers an alternative: If it doesn’t roar out of you, do something else. Because maybe that concept wasn’t enough to light the flame, like the many unfinished works I have saved in my laptop. But does the journey end there? Definitely not. The world offers so many things of wonder about which you can be creative. There are uncountable books in libraries and bookstores to help you think of another story to get you working. As people often say, “If plan A doesn’t work, remember that the alphabet has 26 letters.” Don’t let yourself get stuck with one thing; jump from one plan to another.
If you’re trying to write like someone else, forget it. I have role models in writing, specifically the British author JK Rowling. Her life story is legend and is something I want to follow. But will I take her style of writing? Absolutely not! That is a completely different, not to mention rather absurd, level.
What makes each writer unique is his or her approach to readers. Some writers get interactive with their readers, some stick to being narrative. That’s the kind of challenge every writer should be ready to plunge into, and I am prepared to take it on.
When I asked him about his thoughts on an upcoming novel patterned after the “Phantom of the Opera,” my professor in Philippine literature class said modern writers lack originality. He said modern writers usually take concepts from classic writers and shape these into something fresh for the audience to talk about. The first thing that came to my mind as he told me that was that I have to break that wheel of unoriginal writers. I have to have a story of my very own.
Don’t be dull and boring and pretentious, don’t be consumed with self-love, Bukowski emphasizes in the poem. The libraries of the world have yawned themselves to sleep over your kind. Don’t add to that.
I would like to shake the hand of the man that wrote this poem. Because he and I agree that writing isn’t just a formal way of noting important details but a spontaneous overflow of astounding ideas—and these ideas will one day inspire and change the lives of many, as his poem has inspired mine.
“So you want to be a writer?” asks Bukowski. “Yes, sir,” I reply. “I believe I am ready.”
Ingrid Angelica Custodio, 17, studies at Holy Angel University in Pampanga.
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