Friday, August 15, 2014

I Wish I'd Written This

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
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.

Furthermore, there's no telling who will be chosen. They won't necessarily be admirable in any other way — for instance the dreadful man who penned the above lines! I think many of us might have found him reprehensible if we'd met him. He was often drunk, looked unkempt, and judging by an interview I once saw, was apparently a nasty drunk, verbally abusing and physically hitting out at his wife, albeit childishly and ineffectually. Not a pretty picture!

The Wikipedia article (click on the link on his name, above) describes the terrible childhood which formed this personality and led to his embrace of alcohol.

No doubt there was another side to him, as he had devoted friends and famous admirers. Above all, he wrote like a god. It clearly poured out of him "by itself" — sometimes with the help of his alter ego whom he named Henry Chinaski, plus a voice in Henry's head, known as Mr Bones.

He was a prolific writer and poet, as you can see at PoemHunter and his Amazon page. As well as poetry he wrote novels, short stories, screenplays and works of non-fiction.

For the rest of us, we may need to stare at the computer screen awhile, or rewrite something several times. Everyone in this community is familiar with writing to prompts rather than waiting for inspiration. I don't think there's anything wrong with any of that. Even the greatest of us may resort to exercises to learn our craft. I don't think any means of courting the muse is guaranteed to produce either inferior or superior poetry. 

I like to think he's talking about the overall necessity, that compulsion we have to spend our lives in this way, rather than the urgency of expression in any particular moment.

Still, how wonderful those moments when the muse arrives unbidden, when we are taken over and the poetry writes us!  Isn't it what we live for?

Poems and photos used in ‘I Wish I’d Written This’ remain the property of the copyright holders (usually their authors).


  1. I don't qualify to be a writer according to Bukowski. I do my share of staring at the blank screen sometimes. And most times words don't roar out of me, often I show my husband first. So, I guess I'm just a wanna be. But that's ok. I enjoy it so much. That's something he forgot to mention.
    I do admire much of Bukowski's writing, but I find him a little too cynical, raw at times. Ironically, what I like most about him is his honesty.
    Thank you for this post today Rosemary. Enjoyed it.

  2. You are the best writer, Rosemary. This essay made this marvelous poem even better. Love.

  3. Mmmm, I'm reading Bukowski right now and just amazed by his contrasts, unexpected endings of regular scenes, simple language when describing the nature..but relationships between animate and not so subjects/objects - awesome! I can see how easily the poets might be inspired by his art.... ~ Thank you, Rosemary for the introduction! Feel your un-indifference to his poetry...~ Much Love :)x

  4. Words to live by, a feast for thought .. his poem made perfect sense (to me.)

  5. His words in this poem ring true... Thank you for this thoughtful introduction. It has whetted my appetite for more of his work.

  6. Charles Bukowski is one of my favourite poets. His wry wit and honest insights are remarkable. Does not mince his words and tends to rankle conservative readers. I like this poem and found myself nodding in agreement.Good choice Rosemary. Thanks !

  7. Thank you Rosemary for particularly selecting this poem of Bukowski and how beautifully you've brought him to us...

  8. I love the harshness of his poem.. and there are those days.. my words are poring out of me.. there are other days when I sit there staring.. but hey, no library to fill yet... just my blog.

  9. I enjoyed this poem very much, but enjoyed your essay even more, Rosemary. Sorry to be so late - worked all day, just going to bed. Tomorrow, as they say, is another day! Thanks for brightening our Fridays with your selections, kiddo.

  10. I liked this poem too, Rosemary. I like the very understandable way that he writes, his lack of pretentious language. Excellent choice! But I do agree with you that sometime we all DO need to sit and stare at the computer screen, and there is nothing wrong with that.

  11. This is a great choice, Rosemary. I like what he says even though this is rarely the way I write. But I must say I quite enjoy it when 'it is truly time'.

  12. i enjoyed this. one needs to write by reaching into ones gut, ones heart, ones soul. oh, and a little of the cerebral also.

    gracias Rosemary

  13. Rosemary, I thoroughly enjoyed this! Thank you. One always appreciates anything that emphasizes what one believes. I am not a writer and get a bit miffed when people refer to me as one. Sometimes I write - but that is it! May you have a wonderful day.

  14. I love that Björn Rudberg used the word "harshness" to describe his feelings about this poem. I feel the same way. It's one of those that will keep every writer nodding, and it would make some of us stop and say, "Well, maybe not that." For I think that the harsh beauty of the words leave some parts unbalanced (at least if one is to assume that the "don't do it" is meant for all every time the listed situation is taking place). We all have off days, when we might stare at the screen or page... on those days, we should probably "do it" later.

    I wish I'd written this, too! ;-D

  15. Oh, I know exactly what he means. I can tell a huge difference in the words that come unbidden from nowhere, how they sing. The ones I work at are seldom worth the reading.

    The same happens when paint. The best ones come from somewhere else and splatter themselves on canvas. As if I have been in a fugue I think, who did that?

    It is difficult waiting for those moments. When the creation is forced it can be seen and heard.

  16. Many thanks to you all for taking the time to comment. Bukowski doesn't leave people feeling indifferent, lol.

  17. He forgot one : if you wake up suddenly at ten past three am and have to get out of your nice warm bed to hastily find a pen and some scrap of paper to scribble down what's in your head - and as soon as your nice warm foot hits the ice cold lino and you want to get back in but you don't -- :-)
    Lovely post as usual, Rosemary. Thank you.


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