So you want to be a writer?

Susan Sontag
Susan Sontag

“Love words, agonize over sentences. And pay attention to the world.” That’s what Susan Sontag advised writers.

I haven’t read Sontag but could appreciate her words, quoted by Maria Popova in Brain Pickings. And I could thoroughly appreciate this poem by Charles Bukowski called So You Want to be a Writer? “If it doesn’t come bursting out of you… don’t do it,” he says. Just trying will get you nowhere. When the time comes, the words will come on their own.

That sounds risky, waiting for inspiration which, even if it strikes, may pay only peanuts. Almost a third of published authors make less than $500 a year from their writing, the Guardian reported in January.

Yet people want to be writers. Sixty per cent of almost 15,000 polled by YouGov wanted to be a writer. “The only other jobs preferred by a majority are equally bookish: librarian (54 per cent) and academic (51 per cent),” YouGov reported in February. Law, journalism, medicine and TV were also popular choices, it added.

Words, almost all the professions mentioned above deal with words. But words don’t always come easy even to writers. TS Eliot referred to “the intolerable wrestle with words and meanings” in East Coker.

Writing just happens. That’s what Charles Bukowski seems to suggest in So You Want to be a Writer? I came across the poem on Poets. org. Here it is:

so you want to be a writer?

By Charles Bukowski (1920 – 1994)

if it doesn’t come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don’t do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
typewriter
searching for words,
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it for money or
fame,
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it because you want
women in your bed,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don’t do it.
if it’s hard work just thinking about doing it,
don’t do it.
if you’re trying to write like somebody
else,
forget about it.

if you have to wait for it to roar out of 
you, 
then wait patiently. 
if it never does roar out of you, 
do something else.

if you first have to read it to your wife
or your girlfriend or your boyfriend
or your parents or to anybody at all,
you’re not ready.

don’t be like so many writers,
don’t be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don’t be dull and boring and
pretentious, don’t be consumed with self-
love. the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
sleep
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.
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.

Author: Abhijit

Abhijit loves reading and writing.

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