February 18, 2009
So you want to be a cyberfeminist—re-writing Bukowski
Hello and welcome back to 52 Acts. I have had a lovely Internet-free (after working through withdrawals) holiday and thought a bit of re-worked poetry might be a nice gentle way to kick things off for the year.
Recently I was sent a copy of Charles Bukowski’s poem So You Want to be a Writer via an email list I am part of. Now, the only thing I know about Bukowski is what I learned from a Modest Mouse song, the key lyric being “yeah I know he’s a pretty good read, but God who’d want to be, God who’d want to be such an asshole”
Well I read it over a few times and couldn’t quite work out if it was meant to be taken at face value or rather if it was a tongue in cheek exploration of the way that people see artists as conduits for divine inspiration. The above lyric makes me think probably the former, so I decided to re-work it to my way of thinking.
So you want to be a writer
if you wait until it comes bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
you won’t do it.
if you only want it to come unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don’t do it.
if you think sitting for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your typewriter
searching for words makes you a failure,
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it for money or fame,
you may well be disappointed,
but don’t let that stop you,
you might find something even more valuable on the way.
if you’re doing it because you want
women in your bed,
again this may not work,
but you might meet some interesting people on your journey
and heh, some may just end up in your bed.
if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
please, please do,
editing is as important as getting the words out in the first place.
if it’s hard work just thinking about doing it,
start it now.
if you’re trying to write like somebody
you are just like the rest of us,
we all have idols
but you will find your own style soon enough.
if you have to wait for it to roar out of you,
you may be waiting a very long time.
better to give it a kick start by going through the motions anyway,
it will roar out eventually
but you need to help it.
if it never does roar out of you,
do something else,
like go for a walk and then come back and do a
creative writing exercise and see if that helps.
if you first have to read it to your wife
or your girlfriend or your boyfriend
or your parents or to anybody at all,
make sure they are people who are likely to be encouraging and give
you good editing advice.
don’t be like so many writers,
don’t be like so many thousands of
people who write but are afraid to call themselves writers,
or worse, are afraid to write at all.
don’t be dull and boring and
just be yourself.
the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
sleep over your kind,
waiting for your book because you waited for inspiration.
don’t add to that.
write it now.
sometimes it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
but being still won’t
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
sometimes you need to be still to allow the ideas to come.
you need to fuel the fire so the sun inside you
burns your gut,
it doesn’t happen on its own.
it is truly time,
and you have been chosen,
but it will not do it by
you need to will keep on fueling it
until you die.
there is no other way.
and there never was.
I have a real problem with the idea that as an artist, and in this case I use the word artist to cover any person who is actively involved in a creative art, the idea that artists are born talented rather than become talented through practice. And it seems to be the same across all artistic disciplines. Now, I’m not saying that some people aren’t naturally gifted in certain areas, of course they can be. What I am saying is that I find it astonishing that in my culture we expect most people to be able to read and count to a particular standard, some find it easier than others and some take to it better than others, some need to find a different style of learning to the mainstream, but we expect that with a number of years of formal schooling in the subject most people (physical conditions aside) will be able to read and count to roughly the same level. Yet when it comes to art, or creative writing, or even to a degree musical talent, we think that it is something that you have or you don’t. We give kids little training in creativity, put a brush in their hands and based on the random results we label them as creative or not so creative.
I have a friend who once told me “you know you are an actor not when you want to act, but when you can’t not act” and while I understand that there are people who feel such a compulsion I argue that it is not the drive that makes them actors (though I am sure it contributes a lot), what makes you an actor is getting up and acting! The same goes for art or dancing or writing. The only way to be a writer is to write. It is not a drive or a feeling or an explosion of inspiration that makes you an artist, the only thing that makes you an artist is the creation of art.
Flashes of inspiration are wonderful, I know my best creative work has happened when it feels like it is just flowing out through my hands, from somewhere that is greater than just my own brain. But I also know that those flashes happen with way more regularity when I am committed to some kind of regular practice. So my advice is if you want to be a writer, an actor, any other kind of artist, or even a cyberfeminist, just do it and keep doing. Find inspiration, don’t wait for it to find you. There is no other way.