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Writer Charles Bukowski

Want to Be a Writer? Charles Bukowski Defies your Literary Pretensions


Underground poet Charles Bukowski posed this addressed this ironic question to all those who, like him, want to transit the uncertain path of writing.

Between the damned names in literature, few are as significant as Charles Bukowski, the man who turned alcohol, sex and the precarious lifestyle of the outsider into the imperishable (and sublime, it’s true) material of which books are made of.

However, to assume that the praise of these circumstances is the very raison d’être of Bukowski’s work would be quite reductionist. Bukowski aligned himself to this headcount of writers that begun mainly with the 19th century Russian writers (Dostoyevsky, Gogol and Chekhov, who plunged into the depths of society’s dirty pearls to discover the heroism of hasty bureaucrats in dirty coats looking for a daily vindication and even perhaps redemption) only to be transformed by the route of literature.

At the same time, leaving aside for a moment these accidents (in the Aristotelian sense of the term), it’s possible to trace a common zone where Bukowski binds himself to other writers through their shared, urgent need to write in order to survive the day. They write in order to live, nothing more.

Proof of this is the following poem in which the author of Love is a Dog from Hell examines the task of writing. “So you want to be a writer”, Bukowski says ironically and with a certain defiant contempt for others who, like him, are bound by their profound and authentic vocation and who would dare to respond to him with an absolute Yes, rendering the issue settled.

so you want to be a writer


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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