Bukowski’s harsh take on writing


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A little background on the man whose words hold up probably better today than when he wrote them.

Charles Bukowski, born in 1920, began writing at a young age and was first published in the 1940s. Then Bukowksi gave up writing for the world of work and bars, not publishing, not writing, so the myth goes, for nearly twenty years. Ten of those years were spent roaming from odd job to odd roominghouse from the East coast to the West. The other ten years, Bukowski worked for the United States Postal Service in Los Angeles, a job that took no effort except for the strength to show up and the patience to perform mindless operations. During that time, his life bordered on insanity and death, two prevalent themes in his writing. According to his own myth making, Bukowski returned to writing the day that he quit the Postal Service, but his bibliography shows that indeed, he had been publishing several years before that.

So You Want To Be A Writer

by Charles Bukowski 1920-1994

if it doesn’t come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don’t do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
typewriter
searching for words,
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it for money or
fame,
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it because you want
women in your bed,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don’t do it.
if it’s hard work just thinking about doing it,
don’t do it.
if you’re trying to write like somebody
else,
forget about it.
if you have to wait for it to roar out of
you,
then wait patiently.
if it never does roar out of you,
do something else.

if you first have to read it to your wife
or your girlfriend or your boyfriend
or your parents or to anybody at all,
you’re not ready.

don’t be like so many writers,
don’t be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don’t be dull and boring and
pretentious, don’t be consumed with self-
love.
the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
sleep
over your kind.
don’t add to that.
don’t do it.
unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don’t do it.
unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don’t do it.

when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.

there is no other way.

and there never was.

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3 thoughts on “Bukowski’s harsh take on writing

  1. hughvic

    Please don’t take me for a Johnny one-note, Veronica, but I would like to call this a love poem. It doesn’t come off to me as harsh. Bukowski is always and ever about human fragility—and for my money, a more worthy literary theme theme there never was. It’s a fiercely humane piece.

    Oh? Did I just write that? Is it too late to take it back? I mean, I didn’t mean t— it…it just burst out of me like a rocket and landed right here on your blog!

    Who Knew, Blue Gnu?

  2. I believe this to be the only way, Many of the writings I do are wrote like this, just blurting out what comes to my fingers without thinking much. I don’t like to sit and think. (I do enough of that outside the realm of the writing mode) I will just start typing and it comes. If I don’t like it I save it for reflection and let the thoughts brew again. I’m just starting to express my thoughts through writing and find it fascinating that I have made some sense of what I spit out although many will disagree, and ridicule. The only way to find out is just to do it and experiment.
    Thanks V

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