“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.”
One of my English students, a kindly middle-aged man who shares equal enthusiasm for Coltrane and capocollo, just introduced me to Charles Bukowski’s poem “so you want to be a writer?” He wanted to make sure the grammar was right, and I stumbled over my tongue a few times before answering yes. What I really wanted to answer was Grammar has nothing to do with it.
I well know the feeling of rushing to find a scrap of paper with which to mop up a sudden spill of words. That experience of diving head-first into creativity is why I created this blog. It’s why I started a book, why I spend dreary mornings curled over my keyboard for warmth, and also why I haven’t written lately. There has been no word spill on aisle five in a while. I keep sitting down at my desk to wring creativity from my brain drop by drop, but the results evaporate before I can compile them into something meaningful.
A few lines down in his poem, Bukowski continues,
“if it’s hard work just thinking about doing it,
don’t do it.
if you’re trying to write like somebody
forget about it”
…and I wonder if that’s the problem, if trying to sound like somebody else has been plugging my word-leaks before they have a chance to become glorious waterworks. Each time I’ve sat down to write over the last several days, I’ve had to contend with the taskmaster’s voice prodding me to whip out new content (and make it snappy!), the inferiority complex reminding me that I don’t have half the natural talent of my favorite authors, and the drone of despair convincing me that even if I had their ability, I still wouldn’t have anything to say… and if emerging from that clamor unscathed isn’t hard work, I don’t know what is.
While I could certainly power through the noise and post something (first-edition grocery list, anyone? or perhaps a treatise on toothpaste flavors?), it would have all the authenticity of a vegan cheeseburger, and I wouldn’t end the day feeling any more artistic accomplishment than I do on days when I eke out three sentences and give up.
What I wanted to say to my English student is that the poem has nothing to do with grammar and everything to do with unplugged leaks, a torrential mess best sopped up with a blank page. However, Bukowski already said it best, so I let the student discover its meaning for himself while I cling to the last stanza like a life preserver, trusting that the sea will follow.
“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.”