So You Want to be a Writer, by Charles Bukowski

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Heinrich Karl Bukowski - better known as Charles Bukowski (or "Hank," to his friends and family) - was born in Andernach, Germany on the 16th of August, 1920.  When he was a lad of three, his parents moved their family to America.

Living in South Central Los Angeles, Bukowski had a difficult childhood.  His anguish was made worse by a very severe case of acne. 

When he became a writer, Bukowski focused on the tough parts of life.  Beyond the drudgery of work, he wrote about the lives of ordinary Americans - and about his own.  Few wrinkles were left out. 

A New York Times review of his work, from 1976, states:  

Not since Orwell has the condition of being down and out been so well recorded in the first person.

Writing for The New Yorker - on March 14, 2005 - Adam Kirsch notes that academics and ordinary people have very different feelings about Bukowski.  He observes:

In the third edition of The Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry, in which poets appear in order of birth, the class of 1920 fields a strong team, including Howard Nemerov and Amy Clampitt.  If you were to browse the poetry section of any large bookstore, you would probably find a book or two by each of those critically esteemed, prize-winning poets.  Nowhere to be found in the canonizing Norton anthology, however, is the man who occupies the most shelf space of any American poet:  Charles Bukowski.

That's because Bukowski didn't use the types of words, or focus on the types of topics, that distinguish poets like Yeats or Browning or Byron.  He wrote - sometimes pretty grumpily - about things which bothered him.  And ... he didn't mince words when he was upset about something.

Not everyone agrees with Bukowski's observations expressed in his books and poems.  Before he died of leukemia, in 1994, he had a loyal following.  With the advent of the Internet, however, his popularity has grown.

In this poem - "so you want to be a writer?" - he tells us what he thinks about his profession.  As you hear Carole Bos (the creator of Awesome Stories) read Bukowski's words, think about these points.


ISSUES AND QUESTIONS TO PONDER:   Bukowski has very strong opinions on what it takes to be a writer.  He makes it sound as if good writing only happens to gifted people through bursts of inspiration.  Is that true, or not true?  Why, or why not?  

Famous writers sometimes relate their own stories about the difficult task of writing well.  If such individuals had applied Bukowski's reasoning, to their own lives, would they have ever become writers? 

J.K. Rowling has described how long it took her to write the Harry Potter series. Had she applied Bukowski's approach to writing, would the rest of the world have ever been introduced to Hogwarts?    

Does it have to be a person's destiny, to become a writer?  If not, why would Bukowski imply that?  

If a person struggles, to come up with the best-possible writing - then produces highly respected work - would the author of this poem call that individual a "writer?" 

Do you think this poem might have come about when the poet, himself, had a difficult day in which he struggled to create what he wanted to produce?  In other words, might the tone of this poem be one of personal frustration instead of professional advice?  Why, or why not?


so you want to be a writer?
by Charles Bukowski

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
searching for words,
don't do it.
if you're doing it for money or
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
forget about it.

if you have to wait for it to roar out of
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-
the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
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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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5197stories and lessons created

Original Release: Oct 07, 2013

Updated Last Revision: May 27, 2020

Media Credits

"so you want to be a writer?" - by Charles Bukowski - copyright, Charles Bukowski, all rights reserved.  Provided here as fair use for educational purposes, and read by Carole Bos (creator of Awesome Stories).


To cite this story (For MLA citation guidance see easybib or OWL ):

"So You Want to be a Writer, by Charles Bukowski" AwesomeStories.com. Oct 07, 2013. May 27, 2020.
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