Saturday, July 3, 2010

Copyblogger: Charles Bukowski and the Secret to Immortal Writing

Charles Bukowski and the 
Secret to Immortal Writing

by Robert Bruce

image of Charles Bukowski

Henry Charles Bukowski, Jr. was arguably the greatest American fiction writer of the last half of the 20th century.

Fortunately for his book sales, most think of him as the archetypal drunk, misanthropic male pig.

Don’t let the hype fool you, though. Bukowski possessed the secret to something nearly every blogger wants: what makes truly immortal writing.

As I’ve only spent a few minutes with his now 16-year-old corpse lying in San Pedro (see photo above), I can’t speak to his personal life. But the words, the lines, the books, they are evidence of a generous, staggeringly imperfect, stoic genius and lover of life. Sure, a stack of tangled contradictions, who isn’t?

Before (and after) his relatively minor fame hit, Bukowski spent decades mailing his poems and stories to small press magazines, mimeographed booklet makers and the like. Thousands of pages, hundreds of thousands of words. Usually these would go out as originals, no carbon copies.

He once estimated that he’d lost hundreds of poems this way, the publisher usually wouldn’t return the rejected work, and it was gone forever.

It forced him to move on, to work deliberately, to punch through again and again and again without sentiment.

The poetry business, in my opinion, is largely an inbred, favor-driven, audience-less racket. Most folks don’t think about poetry until Terry Gross drags some poor, expressive soul into her studio for a literary interview. And when he or she begins to talk, most folks switch the channel.

Bukowski eventually acquired a raving audience despite this reality. An audience that continues to grow exponentially 16 years after his death. An audience that begs, borrows and steals to get his stuff. An audience that he famously never chased down. An audience that he, in fact, largely pushed away.

How did he do it? How did he go on to sell endless books of poetryand finally lay down in the dirt making an almost six-figure literary income? Several reasons of course, but try this one on for size …

The secret is in the line.

~ Charles Bukowski

Yeah, I know. Don’t dismiss that. Read it again.

The secret is in the line.

~ Charles Bukowski

No 10 point PR plan.

No elaborate structure.

No budget.

No reader polls.

No blog.

The secret is in the line.

~ Charles Bukowski

Sure, Twitter wasn’t around in 1980. And he eventually had John Martin at Black Sparrow Press backing him. But Bukowski himself attributed so much weight to the single line that it eclipsed all else in his philosophy of writing. If the single line was magnificent, the rest would take care of itself.

In a 60,000 word novel, the working focus was on the single line.

In the dirty stories sold to skin mags for money, the working focus was on the single line.

In a small poem that maybe 50 people would read, the working focus was on the single line.

Not easy. Not fast. But this must certainly be the path to immortal (and powerfully influential) writing.

If you can stomach it.

If not, there’s always a place for you in the pedestrian lane.

About the Author: Robert Bruce is an American writer. And day job man. And beer drinker. And Presbyterian. All from the rain and fog of Portland, Ore. Get him on Twitter.

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