I remember reading Charles Bukowski’s poem “So you want to be a writer?” when I was 15.
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.
I remember I felt scared after reading it, but at the same time, my body trembled with life. It might just be the rhythmic and powerful arrangements of the words that excited me, but I remember at that moment I could feel the sun inside me, burning my gut. Despite my tattooing a quill on my right arm, I stopped writing for two full years as I stumbled into the world of technology and design, but I knew it’s a matter of time that it’ll come back to me.
Returning from a halt is difficult. The past two years in the pre-professional setting have made my writing utilitarian and unstylish. The “hunching over my laptop and searching for words” has become the battle I have to fight every day, and I’m never happy with what I put out.
“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.”
I see these verses as a guide but not a manual. It failed to encompass the very reason why I want to write.
Growing up, I’ve always been the eccentric one, as friends craze over musicians and movie stars, my heroes and idols have always been writers — Ishiguro, Marquez, Kundera, Carver, Murakami, Kafka, Auster, Didion, and so many more. Their writings are rational but poetic, calm but atrociously incisive, illuminating but ambivalent. Their writings are a product of the imagination which provides readers with a more holistic picture of the situation, physical or metaphysical, in which humans exist. More importantly, they provide a refreshing viewpoint, often antithetical to the ready-made and dominant one; thereby serving as an antidote for the group that needs it the most.
One of my favorite speeches of all time was given by Murakami when he received a literary prize in Jerusalem:
“Between a high, solid wall and an egg that breaks against it, I will always stand on the side of the egg.”
Yes, no matter how right the wall may be and how wrong the egg, I will stand with the egg. Someone else will have to decide what is right and what is wrong; perhaps time or history will decide. If there were a novelist who, for whatever reason, wrote works standing with the wall, of what value would such works be?
I have only one reason to write novels, and that is to bring the dignity of the individual soul to the surface and shine a light upon it. The purpose of a story is to sound an alarm, to keep a light trained on The System in order to prevent it from tangling our souls in its web and demeaning them. I fully believe it is the novelist’s job to keep trying to clarify the uniqueness of each individual soul by writing stories — stories of life and death, stories of love, stories that make people cry and quake with fear and shake with laughter. This is why we go on, day after day, concocting fictions with utter seriousness.
I’ve saved this speech as a PDF on my desktop, and I revisit it at least once every other month. It’s going to be a prayer before I have anything significant to contribute. Before then, I’ll wait patiently, but I won’t do something else to wait. I’ll wait by creating daily and experience fully everything I’ve been given. Until then.