The career of Charles Bukowski should give encouragement to any writer who starts to apply themselves late in life to writing. He was 49 when he finally quit working at menial jobs, including as a filing clerk at a post office. As he said :
“I have one of two choices – stay in the post office and go crazy … or stay out here and play at writer and starve. I have decided to starve.”
He’s sometimes been referred to as the ‘laureate of American lowlife’, and he was certainly familiar with the seedy side of poverty. An inveterate drunk, he turned his experiences into a script which was filmed as ‘Barfly’, starring Mickey Rourke and Faye Dunaway.
He penned an amusing Roman a clef called ‘Hollywood’, in which he wrote of the making of the film adaptation of ‘Barfly’, using pseudonyms to disguise the names of the actors.
Bukowski’s weariness with the world meant that he said a lot of truthful things, in what sounds like a cynical way. Even his gravestone is cryptic, with the inscription ‘Don’t Try’. What he intended with this advice was explained as being waiting for inspiration to write something – one shouldn’t try, shouldn’t force work out of one’s system – if it doesn’t come naturally, leave it.
His poem ‘So You Want To Be A Writer’ explains his philosophy well, and should be read by anybody aspiring to be a writer.
‘So You Want To Be A Writer’
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.