writing lessons from Charles Bukowski - Momina Arif's Blog

Writing lessons from Charles Bukowski

I’ve been fascinated by Charles Bukowski‘s poetry for quite some time now. He is the world-renowned author of poetic masterpieces such as Hollywood, Ham on Rye and Women.

Some of my favorite poems of all time have been written by him. It comes as no surprise to me that he is known as the ‘patron saint of bad poetry’ in the literary circles for his absolute disregard for traditional rhyme and meters. He is also known for his controversial position on women and raging alcoholism. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that he is one of the most popular poets in the world and the 20th century. He published over 80- books of poetry and essays which alone is an accomplishment. 

“All of which is to say, I didn’t pay a hell of a lot of attention to grammar, and when I write it is for the love of the word, the color, like tossing paint on a canvas, and using a lot of ear and having read a bit here and there, I generally come out ok, but technically I don’t know what’s happening, nor do I care.”

Charles Bukowski

Charles Bukowski was known by many as the Mount Rushmore of writing. Here’s a thing or two we can all learn from him. 

Eliminate weaknesses

The unique thing about Bukowski’s poetry is that every line serves a purpose. There are no weak links, or lines without power. The best thing one could do with their poetry is to strip all the inconsequential parts. Every line, every stanza should have its value and something that compels the reader to go back and read it again. As a writer, one must remember that not all our ideas are supposed to make it. There are always going to be rejects in the process and forcing it is never the way to go.

“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.”

Charles Bukowski

Another thing that Bukowski stresses upon is writing about things that you have experienced because that makes you a better authority and that the reader can always tell a fraud. As he likes to put it “It’s when you begin to lie to yourself in a poem to simply make a poem, that you fail.”

Simplicity over complexity 

“Do some living and get yourself a typewriter.”

Charles Bukowski

The work of a writer is not to make simple things seem complicated, it is to simplify complicated things. Bukowski is most known for is his use of simple language which is what makes him a true intellectual. his goal with poetry was expressing something life-changing but without a sliver of having over-done it. He was all about writing something clever but without ever compromising the attention and grasp of the reader. 

Masterpieces take time

“there’s music in everything, even defeat”

Charles Bukowski

If you take nothing else from his life as a lesson, take his resilience. Despite frequently submitting his poems to journals and literary magazines his first book got published when he was 49. He believed that there is a lot of life to be lived and giving ourselves ultimatums doesn’t always work. Writing takes practice and you should be patient with yourself because it will take you “10,000 bad lines” till you get to the good stuff.

Persistence is Key

“Writers seem to write to be known as writers. They don’t write because something is driving them toward the edge. “

Charles Bukowski

In his words “If you want to be a writer, be a writer”. Bukowski is a role model when it comes to dealing with rejection and moving past it. He is said to have submitted about 15 stories a month to literary journals and no, not all of them got published. The lesson here is to continue writing and braving the odds. Publishing will come in time, but the real feat is sitting in front of the laptop and writing knowing that some of your best works may never make it past the editor’s desk. 

Upsetting people is okay

“Censorship is the tool of those who have the need to hide actualities from themselves and from others. Their fear is only their inability to face what is real, and I can’t vent any anger against them, I only feel this appalling sadness. Somewhere, in their upbringing, they were shielded against the total facts of our existence. They were only taught to look one way when many ways exist.”

Charles Bukowski

The patron saint of bad poets is someone whom we can expect ruthless writing from but he had his own set of values. According to him upsetting people is a price you have to pay for good writing because otherwise, you can’t be honest. He was never one to advocate for rose-colored anything and his rebellious tone is what made him such a prominent writer. If the number one response your work invokes is shock then you are on the right path.

“Sometimes we can become too holy and therefore, caged.”

Charles Bukowski

Check out writing lessons from Virginia Woolf here.

What is your favorite Bukowski poem? Let me know in the comments below.

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