How to Improve Your Writing with Advice from Charles Bukowski

Take in the raw wisdom of the German-American writer

Photo by Andraz Lazic on Unsplash

Bukowski’s words punch me in the stomach every time I read them.

They’re raw, they’re real, and they depict the worst of the human condition. How is that good? Well, it reminds us, the readers, of what it feels like to be alive. And any reunion with our humanity is welcome in this day and age, if you ask me.

As a writer, how can you follow is footsteps to make your readers feel something when they read your words? Here are some pieces of advice directly from Charles Bukowski.

“Do some living and get yourself a typewriter”

The prime example of this piece of advice is Jack Kerouac’s book “On the Road”. This masterpiece of American literature took only three weeks to write but, before that, Kerouac spent seven years on the road, living the travel adventures he wrote about in the book.

If you never experienced love, how will you write a meaningful romance? If you were never terrified, how will you make your readers feel fear? If you never felt so excited that you could burst out with happiness, how will you excite anyone who reads you?

Regardless of whether you write fiction or non-fiction, you need to experience life first to be able to write about it.

“Writing about a writer’s block is better than not writing at all”

Inspiration is not a muse that comes to enlighten you precisely when you need it the most. Inspiration takes hard work. Sure, there are days when nothing seems to come out right, but if all you do is wait for better times, you might wait forever.

As Freud puts it, “when inspiration does not come to me, I go halfway to meet it”. The most effective way to overcome writer’s block is by writing. Even if just for five minutes, and all you can create is one sentence… about writer’s block. That’s one sentence more than what you had before.

“If it doesn’t come bursting out of you, in spite of everything, don’t do it”

This is not just writing advice, these are wise words to live your life by.

You are going to die, sooner than you expect. If something doesn’t pump life straight into your veins, if it doesn’t make you feel on the verge of bursting if you don’t do it… why waste your time and energy?

Do what makes you tick, write about what makes you passionate. The reader can tell if you are putting words on a page out of necessity or love. The latter is always better.

“I didn’t pay a hell of a lot of attention to grammar, and when I write it is for the love of the word (…) but technically I don’t know what’s happening, nor do I care.”

Good writing is a love affair that can not be tamed by rules. Grammar is nothing but a technicality. And the most exciting text will never be the rule-abiding one but rather the one with more emotion.

Do you know what is an alliteration? A synecdoche? A metonymy? Your readers don’t either. But they know how they feel after they read your words. If you used alliterations to make them feel something, then great. If not, and they still felt it, you’ve done your job just right anyway.

“Because you’re not accepted doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a genius. Maybe you just write badly.”

It’s a harsh truth.

Your mom will always love your work. Your friends might pat you on the back even when your words are mediocre. But the wide audience is usually more honest.

It’s not a mathematical rule: if you are not accepted, you still might be a genius. But since we are talking about maths, let’s face the probabilities: the chance of you sucking is around 98%.

The good side of this seeming tragedy is that being bad gives you plenty of opportunities to get better. You just have to keep writing.


You can read all you want, take in all the advice, but if you don’t write, you’ll never be a writer.

Take this other quote by Bukowski as wise parting words:

“A writer is not a writer because he has written some books. A writer is not a writer because he teaches literature. A writer is only a writer if he can write now, tonight, this minute”

Categories Articles, Read & Write

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