“Unless it comes unasked out of your / heart and your mind and your mouth / and your gut, / don’t do it.” — Bukowski
Chances are you’re writing your “next big thing” in some up-scale coffee-shop (while “instagramming” about it), and you want to write something that hits a nerve. That kind of nerve that attracts readers. Chances are, also, if you live somewhere in cosmopolitan Copenhagen you’ve sent me a message asking for advice. No need to write. Here are 14 lessons I adhere to – let’s get drunk and get inspired. Now.
The writers of, and prior to, Bukowski’s generation perfected their craft in an age prior to the widespread of computers and tablets. They perfected their skill with tenacious precision, and they didn’t shy away from the harsh clutches of life. The marks on their face laid evidence to a life as turbulent and gut-wrenching as their writing.
What any skilled or competent literary mentor will tell you is: There are certain disciplines and techniques in good writing. In an age of “easy-to-publish” many would-be authors have neglected the tenacious and time-consuming disciplines of good writing. And it’s a shame. Not just to literature alone but to the heredity of the language they choose to write in. There is a universal understanding of what constitutes “good writing.” As with any art-form you should mould it into your own voice. But the tenant of writing and crafting a good story, or even a contemporary blog post, that has to attract readers, have been unchanged since the dawn of the printed Bible.
Pick your booze carefully. Beer slows you down, wine creates a mild buzz, Bourbon or Whiskey must be consumed moderately.
If you’re writing a screenplay, you’re writing to an audience. If you’re writing books or short-stories, you’re writing to a reader. Either way, know your audience. Know your reader. Or at least, have an idea of them. Get intimate.
Good writers are good readers.
If you can be talked out of being a writer then you’re not one.
Respect the original story setting: A story which has a start, middle and ending. The best stories told in the history of mankind are composed that way. Even if you don’t abide by it, respect it. A good author respects his/her literary heritage.
Use synonyms with great care. Your language shouldn’t be you belching out the Thesaurus. Well, if you insist, you’ll alienate your reader.
Limit your adverbs to the absolute minimum. Compare the following sentences:
“I really love you,”
“I love you.”
The adverb is unfortunate, a fucking fifth wheel. It reduces all power from the sentence.
Simplicity is key.
The best stories are simple: Simplicity is the epitome of mankind’s accomplishments. A skilled writer – who’s, in truth, a communicator or mediator of some sort – is someone who has the ability to take complex chunks of text and information and compose it in a simple setting for (almost) everyone to understand.
Don’t underestimate clichés. Clichés are inalienable truths that bond us across cultures. Avoiding them and looking down on them on some elitist, quasi-intellectual pedestal will only alienate you from your readers.
Don’t talk down to your reader. Without her, you won’t exist. Or, to put it differently, your career as an author would be as stagnant as a village in a post-Communist country.
Find your tone-of-voice. Your voice! Not who you want to be, but who you are. Ideals don’t have weaknesses but you do. And when you’re willing to display that honest-to-gut vulnerability your readers will follow.
Put yourself out there. Don’t be an elitist – if you must, do it with charm.
Punish your protagonist. Throw everything in your hero’s way and witness how he/she deals with it. Right there and then, you have the flow of the story.
Only write about things you know of, have experienced, have suffered, etc. Don’t be someone you aren’t. That’s an existential journey in itself. Which writing, in truth is. A journey which never ends. And that’s the beauty of it.
Much else have been written, said and repeated about how you write. Bukowski’s poem “So You Want To Be A Writer” penetrates the heart of what it takes: