The Most Beautifully Awful Writing Advice Ever

Recently I was introduced to a gorgeous poem by the late Charles Bukowski called “so you want to be a writer?”

Here’s a small exert:

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.

You can read the poem in it’s entirety here of you could listen to a reading of it here.

It’s beautiful, right? Inspiring, powerful—something you would want to make a wall decal out of to impress your friends at dinner parties.

It’s also very, very, very, very, very, very wrong.

In fact, it’s difficult to recall anything that I’ve read that has been so astronomically wrong about writing.

Don’t misunderstand me, when he’s talking about writing for fame and fortune and sex he’s totally on the mark. Precious few writers reach the level of world-wide recognition and if you only want to write for accolades then you clearly don’t have what it takes to succeed in this craft. However, he also says–

“if you have to sit there and rewrite it again and again/don’t do it”

and

“if it’s hard work just thinking about doing it/don’t do it.

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Uhhhh….I don’t know a single solitary person, good writer or bad, who does not struggle with sitting down and writing.

I also do not know a single solitary person who has never had to suffer through a rewrite.

You know, because first drafts are dumpster fires of confusion and poor grammar.

For those of you who are fans of Charles Bukowski , did he not rewrite any of his poetry? My education on the man is lacking so that’s entirely possible. Nevertheless, if it’s true that he didn’t then he is an anomaly.

His poem goes on to say that a person should wait until the fires of passion are so hot  they have no choice but to let them out before writing something.

“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.”

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I have had moments where the desire to write something was so powerful that I felt like the story was literally trying to push its way out of me, but I’ll be the first to admit that these moments are few and far between.

If you wait until you feel as if you physically have no choice but to write something, odds are you will never finish anything.

The Inspiration Fairy is a very fickle creature and will oftentimes screw off at random, leaving you with no will to go on.

My favorite quote about inspiration goes as follows “I only write when inspiration strikes. Fortunately, it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.”

Courting inspiration is a lot like trying to find a significant other. You can’t just sit around and wait for someone to notice you.

I have found that the best way to attract inspiration is to have a set amount of time each day to write. Believe it or not, the more you write the more inspiration is likely to show up. There have been months where I have struggled to produce anything; however, once I made the decision to write for at least an hour every day, writing started to become less of a drag.

I found myself feeling more and more motivated and my writing began to suck a little bit less.

Better yet I actually started to finish things I started.

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Did that mean I never struggle? Hell no. I’m struggling right now, to be honest. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t do it.

Same goes for you.

Struggling isn’t a sign you should quit, it’s simply a byproduct of trying.

And if you aren’t interested in trying then, and only then, would I say–

Don’t do it.

Ode to the Worst Poet in the World

Over the years, I’ve been forced to read many a poem, and, while I can appreciate the effort it takes to compose one, I can’t say I’m a huge fan of the art form.

However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t have a favorite poet.

During my trip to Scotland last year, I came across a plaque dedicated to the supposed worst poet in the world, William Topaz McGonagall. Prior to my visit, I’d never heard of this man and so decided to conduct a more thorough investigation of him once I returned to the states.

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The person from whom Professor McGonagall gets her name. Fanficton prompt: McGonagall tries to write poetry in her off-hours, but HP’s shenanigans keep getting in the way.

McGonagall was a weaver whom, at the age of 52, was suddenly struck by the idea that he should quit his job and make poetry his life’s vocation.

He was very prolific and composed around 215 poems over the course of several years, all of which covered a wide range of topics from the military, to famous people, to current events.

Apparently his poetry was so awful that it was a common practice for the city folk to throw rotten vegetables at him and jeer during his recitals.

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Example of his work:

Welcome! thrice welcome! to the year 1893,
For it is the year I intend to leave Dundee,
Owing to the treatment I receive,
Which does my heart sadly grieve.
Every morning when I go out
The ignorant rabble they do shout
‘There goes Mad McGonagall’
In derisive shouts as loud as they can bawl,
And lifts stones and snowballs, throws them at me;
And such actions are shameful to be heard in the city of Dundee.
And I’m ashamed, kind Christians, to confess
That from the Magistrates I can get no redress.
Therefore I have made up my mind in the year of 1893
To leave the ancient City of Dundee,
Because the citizens and me cannot agree.
The reason why? — because they disrespect me,
Which makes me feel rather discontent.
Therefore to leave them I am bent;
And I will make my arrangements without delay,
And leave Dundee some early day.

McGonagall was so convinced that he was a misunderstood genius that he walked 50 miles to gain the patronage of Queen Victoria, only to be told when he arrived to leave and never come back.

Knowing all of this, I think it’s difficult not to love the guy. Not only did he quit his job to do what he loved at a time when this most assuredly meant starvation, he would not let anyone convince him he shouldn’t write.

Was he an egotist? Oh yeah. In fact he seemed to be so oblivious to how bad of a writer he was that some historians are convinced it was all an act. Me, I’m not so sure.

McGonagall may have died a virtually penniless laughingstock, but there’s a bit of poetic irony to this story.

In spite of all the backlash his poetry received, every single one of McGonagall’s poems has been published. More to the point, his name and his legacy have endured centuries while other more talented poets have died forgotten.

As much as the cliché of following your dreams gets thrown around, it seems to have benefitted McGonagall. He didn’t let anyone persuade him to retire his quill and as a result he has earned himself a place in history.

It’s at the back of the bus with no air conditioning and a five year-old continuously kicking the headrest, but it’s a place nonetheless.

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If someone like McGonagall can make his dreams come true, than by God so can we.

How to Become the Best Writer Ever in the History of the Universe!

Hello, reader. I am a writer person like you. Definitely not someone strapped to a chair against their will.

Do you want to learn how to write like a super-awesome writer guy?

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Becoming one of the giants of literature is easy with these simple steps.

Step One: 

Take something you’ve written. Just anything. It could be a poem, a play, a short story, just whatever. You got it? Okay, now set it on fire. Now take a picture of your literally flaming passion and upload it to Instagram. This is guaranteed to catch people’s attention.

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Step Two: 

Take your college degree off the wall and caress it lovingly. Are you caressing it? Good. Now weep. Go ahead, I’ll wait. That’s it. Let it all out. Let the debt and unemployment flow through you like a river. It’s okay. Your parents were never proud of you to begin with.

Step Three:

Keep a physical diary of all your failures. If you have been failing that means you’ve been trying. And, boy, have you been trying a lot. It’s alright if your tears smudge the ink. This is just your own personal record. No one else will read this. Just like no one else will read those books you self-published or blog entries you posted on WordPress.

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Step Four: 

Drink heavily while you write. This will inspire you to write more and will totally not convince you to phone your ex-lover. All the best writers drank. And they all lived happy, productive lives. Well, aside from the ones that committed suicide or died under suspicious circumstances. But that’s beside the point.

Step Five: 

Tweet every single thought that passes through your mind. Don’t even think about it. Just Tweet it. There is no way this could possibly go wrong. Tweet your politics. Tweet your religion. Tweet about people you don’t know but have heard through third-party sources that they did something terrible and so you must condemn them for actions you don’t know they committed for sure. Why? Because certainty is for plebs.

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Step Six: 

Tell everyone you are a writer. EVERYONE!! Hand out business cards at the grocery store. Give one to that chick at McDonalds who looks like the grease fumes have liquified her brain, give it to those Mormons who will show up at your door any second now. Have you done that? Okay, don’t write now. Don’t write a single word. Go to Youtube. Your work is done. Everyone knows your brilliance.

Follow these steps and I promise you that…something will probably happen.

What?

I don’t have all the answers.

How I Understand Poetry

I remember in high school being forced to take poems apart line by line. We’d do a few together as a class, which took a better part of the hour, and then we would write one long essay over a more complicated poem on Fridays.

To me, there was something weirdly clinical about the whole procedure. It felt like I was being asked to venture into the wild, find a cute animal, and then slice it into bits. 

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After I’d disassembling it, the poem seemed to have lost a lot of its beauty in the process.

It was a lot like trying to explain a joke. If you have to tell someone why it’s funny, it’s not humorous anymore.

Not to mention I hardly ever saw the poem the same way everyone else did. 

I would read a poem, thinking it was about a dog being taken on a walk, when in reality it was about a woman escaping a fire. I was so astronomically wrong with my interpretations of what each poem was about, it was as if I had been rewriting it in my head as I read.

It was like we were all given the same map to Tulsa and I somehow wound up in France. 

The thing is, I didn’t mind being wrong about what the poem was about. I minded that my English teacher minded what I thought the poem was about.

During one class period, the teacher and another student got into an argument about the meaning of a poem we were discussing for the AP English test. I can’t recall which poem it was, but most of us were in agreement that the poet was trying to say one thing, while the teacher told us he was trying to say something else entirely. 

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The student, acting as the class representative, provided ample evidence to support our claim while the rest of us nodded our heads. However, the teacher sternly ended all discussion by informing the student that he was “just wrong” and there was no disputing this.

I am not a poet. However, I don’t believe that poetry requires a uniform meaning. In fact, I don’t think most artistic creations require a definite meaning either. I am of the belief that as long as the observer/reader can obtain some benign meaning from the piece, then it has done its job.

This is especially true of poetry, which isn’t always as straight forward as other forms of literature. There’s something more ethereal about poetry than fiction.

It’s harder to get a handle on.

It’s like trying to collect mist in a jar.

It’s something you experience rather than just “understand.”

I believe that poetry should be taught in schools. However, I don’t think it should be treated the same way math is where 2+2 always equals 4.

Students should be taught that poetry is freedom and not just another assignment.