Charles Bukowski on writing

Today is Charles Bukowski’s birthday. He was born on August 16, 1920.

I’ll write to my last god damned breath, whether anybody thinks it’s good or not. The end as the beginning. I was meant to be like this. It’s as simple and profound as that.

—Charles Bukowski

Charles Bukowski: On Writing is one of the books on my list of “writers on writing,” alongside books by Stephen King, Thomas Wolfe and A. Scott Berg. They are not writing manuals but inspirational books that give an insight into the writer’s life and the craft of writing.

Read more: Writers on writing

A day in a writer’s life

This popped up in my Twitter feed today. Just another day in a writer’s life, I thought.

The flight of the creative mind


“…my mind takes flight like a butterfly.”

On my list of films to re-watch is The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (French original: Le Scaphandre et le Papillon), based on the book by the same name, written by Jean-Dominique Bauby (1952–1997). He was the editor-in-chief of French Elle magazine.

In this book, Bauby reminds us that whatever circumstances, the mind is free like a butterfly, even if the body is locked inside a diving bell. He would know better than most of us, his circumstances being as they were. A massive stroke left him with locked-in syndrome, physically paralyzed and only able to communicate by blinking his left eye. That’s how he dictated his memoirs, his “bedridden travel notes,” blink by blink, four hours a day for ten months. 200,000 blinks, an average of two minutes per word, 29 chapters, 130+ pages. He composed and memorized the text before each writing session: “In my head I churn over every sentence ten times, delete a word, add an adjective, and learn my text by heart, paragraph by paragraph.”

Jean-Dominique Bauby died two days after the book was published in France.

I love this snippet from the prologue:

“My diving bell becomes less oppressive, and my mind takes flight like a butterfly. There is so much to do. You can wander off in space or in time, set out for Tierra del Fuego or for King Midas’s court. You can visit the woman you love, slide down beside her and stroke her still-sleeping face. You can build castles in Spain, steal the Golden Fleece, discover Atlantis, realize your childhood dreams and adult ambitions.”

The creative force inside us is truly amazing. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is on the top 25 list of my favorite movies about writing.

Stan Lee (1922–2018)

In the clip below, the great Stan Lee talks about writing, characters, dialogs, and much more. A fly crawling on the wall gave him the idea to create a superhero who could stick to walls and ceilings like an insect. But what to name him? Insect-Man? Mosquito-Man? It became Spider-Man, of course.

RIP, Stan Lee.

Lady in red

You think characters vanish just because you ditch them from a story you plan to write? They don’t. They continue their travel from one writer to another begging to be heard: What am I to be?

Imagine you sketch an idea for a story on a yellow Post-it about an author who, while giving a presentation on a stage at the city’s Grand Hotel, suddenly sees a lady dressed in red being forcefully removed from the room by a scar-faced man with an ugly grin and taken away. She desperately turns her head to the author and he reads her lips: Help me! Then you sigh in resignation: O-M-G ― and put the Post-it in the drawer, stacked on top of your other Post-its outlining half-hearted ideas, and forget all about it.

Meanwhile, the abandoned author makes it his mission to find the lady in red and begins his journey from author to author. Sometimes he makes a brief appearance in a story, maybe standing on a crime scene looking for her. Sometimes he is brought in for interrogation before he is released and disappears from yet another story.

This is all unbeknownst to you until one fine day, a new book makes the headlines as a debuting author releases a crime novel called Lady in Red. Critics and readers alike are overjoyed: “Sensational!” “A new Mankell!” The novel is about an author who travels all over Europe searching for a lady dressed in red who was forcefully removed from his reading gig at the city’s Grand Hotel by a scar-faced man with an ugly grin. “Lady in red?” you mutter to yourself and a vague memory of a character on a yellow Post-it surfaces.

It can happen.

Inspired by the WordPress Daily Prompt: Doppelgänger

Songs about writing

“I am a rock, I am an i-i-island.” This line from Simon and Garfunkel’s “I Am a Rock” keeps spinning in my head as I search for songs about writing. The song is about a guy seeking isolation from others to protect himself:

I have my books
And my poetry to protect me
I am shielded in my armor
Hiding in my room, safe within my womb
I touch no one and no one touches me
I am a rock
I am an island

Poetic songwriter Paul Simon wrote it. He also wrote “A Poem on the Underground Wall,” about a young man waiting in the shadows for the underground to close, a colored crayon in his hand. When the last train has passed, he swiftly writes his four-letter poem on the tunnel wall.

Now from his pocket quick he flashes
The crayon on the wall he slashes
Deep upon the advertising
A single-worded poem comprised of four letters

And his heart is laughing, screaming, pounding
The poem across the tracks rebounding
Shadowed by the exit light
His legs take their ascending flight
To seek the breast of darkness and be suckled by the night, ooh

This is one of the songs I’ve selected for a planned blog post about songs with the theme of writing.

Another obvious choice is “Paperback Writer” by The Beatles. It’s essentially a pitch letter from an aspiring author to an editor. He desperately wants to become a paperback writer.

Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book?
It took me years to write, will you take a look?
It’s based on a novel by a man named Lear.

It’s a “dirty story of a dirty man,” 1000 pages long with a potential to grow:

It’s a thousand pages, give or take a few.
I’ll be writing more in a week or two.
I could make it longer if you like the style.
I can change it ’round.

A promise of good sales, and of course a return address:

If you really like it you can have the rights.
It could make a million for you overnight.
If you must return it you can send it here.

A few others:

There She Goes, My Beautiful World by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, about losing one’s muse and hit a writer’s block:

Well, me, I’m lying here, with nothing in my ears
Me, I’m lying here, with nothing in my ears
Me, I’m lying here, for what seems years
I’m just lying on my bed with nothing in my head

Everyday I Write the Book by Elvis Costello:

Everyday I write the book.
Chapter One: We didn’t really get along.
Chapter Two: I think I fell in love with you.
You said you’d stand by me in the middle of Chapter Three
But you were up to your old tricks in Chapters Four Five and Six.

Hemingway’s Whiskey by Guy Clark, unknown to me until now:

You know it tough out there a good muse is hard to find
Living one word to the next and living one line at a time

I was delighted to discover Soltero and his I’ll Be a Writer:

I’ll be a writer when I finally go deaf
In the manner of whoever they say is the best
Committing to paper the chances I have missed
The girls I have loved
The dogs I have kissed

Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” is apparently about a frustrated writer. “I Be Bound to Write to You” by Muddy Waters is about writing letters. “The Battle of Evermore” by Led Zeppelin makes references to The Lord of the Rings.

And the list goes on…

WordPress Daily Prompt: Song

Always prepared

When a sentence like this pops into your head:

          In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit,

you better have a napkin or notebook at hand. It might be the start of something luminous. You never know.

I’d got an enormous pile of exam papers […] and was marking school examinations in the summer time, which was very laborious, and unfortunately also boring. I remember picking up a paper and nearly gave it an extra mark, or extra five marks actually, because one page on this particular paper was left blank. Glorious! Nothing to read. So I scribbled on it, I can’t think why, ‘In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit’.
— J.R.R. Tolkien in an interview with BBC in 1968

WordPress Daily Prompt: Luminescent


My mind ran a million miles an hour and the words tumbled out, as if drunk. I wrote like crazy until I … didn’t.

[…] he began to write now like a madman — as only a madman could write — driven by an insanity of sense and soul and feeling which he no longer could master or control […] The words were wrung out of him in a kind of bloody sweat, they poured out of his finger-tips, spat out of his snarling throat like writhing snakes; he wrote them with his heart, his brain, his sweat, his body; he wrote them with his blood, his spirit; they were wrenched out of the last secret source and substance of his life.
— Thomas Wolfe, “Of Time and the River”

WordPress Daily Prompt: Rush

Thwarter vs. thwartee

I want to write a poem, but my imagination thwarts me. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Maybe my imagination is inspired by the late winter / early spring, with the yellow spring colors against the wintery white backdrop, and wants to express it but finds me unfocused. You cannot always tell the thwarter from the thwartee.

I think I’ll blame it on my imagination and just sit down with a cup of coffee and watch the hatching spring. Maybe look up the word “thwart” to double-check the meaning. Not the first time, WordPress, that I have to look up your suggested daily word. I try not to let it uh… thwart me.

WordPress Daily Prompt: Thwart