Faulkner and Bukowski on Creativity


It delights me to no end that William Faulkner and Charles Bukowski see eye to eye on the issue of creativity. They don't exactly say the same thing, but they both make similar claims when it comes to the perfect setup for creativity. I first read Bukowski's poem, "air and light and time and space," as brilliantly illustrated at Zen Pencils. The poem follows below, but please be sure to see the interpretation at Zen Pencils.

"–you know, I’ve either had a family, a job,
something has always been in the
but now
I’ve sold my house, I’ve found this
place, a large studio, you should see the space and
the light.
for the first time in my life I’m going to have
a place and the time to
no baby, if you’re going to create
you’re going to create whether you work
16 hours a day in a coal mine
you’re going to create in a small room with 3 children
while you’re on
you’re going to create with part of your mind and your body blown
you’re going to create blind
you’re going to create with a cat crawling up your
back while
the whole city trembles in earthquake, bombardment,
flood and fire.
baby, air and light and time and space
have nothing to do with it
and don’t create anything
except maybe a longer life to find
new excuses

Then I read the following interview with William Faulkner in which he has the following choice quotes:

The writer's only responsibility is to his art. He will be completely ruthless if he is a good one. He has a dream. It anguishes him so much he must get rid of it. He has no peace until then. Everything goes by the board: honor, pride, decency, security, happiness, all, to get the book written. If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate; the “Ode on a Grecian Urn” is worth any number of old ladies.


The writer doesn't need economic freedom. All he needs is a pencil and some paper. I've never known anything good in writing to come from having accepted any free gift of money. The good writer never applies to a foundation. He's too busy writing something. If he isn't first rate he fools himself by saying he hasn't got time or economic freedom. Good art can come out of thieves, bootleggers, or horse swipes.

That was taken out of context and you should read the rest of the interview. Faulkner didn't say that writers don't have any needs. But he does agree with Bukowski that if we're spending our time fussing about the art and not making our art, we're just fooling ourselves.

Illustration by Gavin Aung Than, used with permission.

2 Comments on "Faulkner and Bukowski on Creativity"

  1. Courtney - Maui Jungalow on March 25th, 2013

    Love this! Thank you for sharing, and it's so darn true. It's easy to say, "I could do this if only I had time in my life." and if it's important enough, you'll make time to do it.

  2. T. A. Woods on March 25th, 2013

    Writing is an addiction, except this one can lead to the mind working harder than it ever has before, rather than breaking it down bit by bit. Great post.

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