Charles Bukowski’s Poem, ‘so you want to be a writer?’


Yep, it’s time to come back to another Charles Bukowski poem, this one, so you want to be a writer?, because his work hits differently for me. If I’m sharing a poem, I obviously like it, and there’s different reasons I could like it: The poem makes me think, or I’m in awe of a particular turn of phrase or line(s) or it makes me feel something, whether that’s sadness, anger, joy and happiness. But there’s a rather intangible quality to what I feel when reading a Bukowski poem; it’s like he’s taken what’s inside me, distilled it down, fed it through his typewriter, and here we are.

This, this poem is how I feel about writing. I’ll be driving to or from work, moments before sleep, in the shower, among friends, watching a movie — whatever I’m doing — and an idea will hit me. That idea could be for a fiction story, a poem, a creative nonfiction idea, a political and/or social opinion piece, a journalism-based idea, or something that I don’t know where it fits yet, but I like how it sounds in my head.

And then it burns. And burns. And burns in my head until I do something about it. The “something” obviously is to write. Maybe it doesn’t come out the same way it was in my head. Maybe it takes on an entirely different conception. Maybe it sucks. But it needs to get out of my head.

Usually, I would share the whole poem, but since this one is longer, you can find it here.

I’ll share a snippet:

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.

While the first line of this poem jumps out at you, “if it doesn’t come bursting out of you,” — and it’s what I’ve been talking about with it burning in my head — the second line slips in there, almost unnoticed, “in spite of everything.” Wow, what a line. I honestly didn’t even take that in on the first read, but it grabbed me on the second read.

“in spite of everything” I take to mean, whatever is going on in your life, and goodness knows, we all are dealing with trials and tribulations, the writing, if it’s bursting inside of you to come out, will come. Because it has to. It does not matter, really, what’s going on in your life; if you have something inside of you that needs to be written, then you will find a way to write it.

To be sure, some writers, professional and otherwise, might bristle at this perhaps romanticized view of writing. That writing is almost its own entity and it comes to you like the revelation of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. That, to be a disciplined writer, you must have a routine of writing, stick to that routine, and write whether you feel like writing or not, whether it’s bursting or not.

Maybe. Discipline is good. But I would tweak the interpretation of Bukowski to be saying, if you are a writer, then you’re always going to be bursting with things to say and stories to tell. It’s not so much that it’s a fleeting bursting, but a constant bursting, like a swarm of bees buzzing in your brain. It’s why 72-year-old Stephen King, who has written literally dozens and dozens of books, is still hell-bent on writing more books. And will probably write until he dies.

Because it is bursting within him!

That’s a writer. That’s writing. That’s doing. This poem became salient again in my head because I’ve been thinking about writing and meta discussions about writing lately. This poem encapsulates my philosophy, and the idea that writing is bursting within me. I don’t know if I can ever be that truly 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. sort of writer, but I know I have something inside of me that’s bursting to say stuff and tell stories.

Heck, I’m bursting so much after reading this poem, I’ve only analyzed the first two lines, ha. But suffice it to say, since I’ve already said a lot, I also like the idea of not doing it for money or fame. To those who don’t write and don’t understand what it takes to do it and be successful at it (and more, to be stupidly successful at it in terms of making millions of dollars off of it, or in some cases, billions), they seem to think, whip up a book and it’s a quasi-lottery ticket.

It’s not like that. There’s a reason a lot of successful writers now didn’t find success until their 30s or 40s or 50s or later. It’s hard. Writing is hard. Success in writing is even harder. So, you write because it’s bursting within you. Because you have something to say. Because you have a story to tell. And if it’s all good, then you will be successful.

Finally, it’s also worth commenting on “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.”

If it’s bursting with you, let’s hope it’s original. We all have different eyes and experiences, along with common threads that run through everyone, so try to say something different. But also, as I mentioned in my previous post about writing, snobbishness, pretentiousness and self-love is an ugly look.

Just as you don’t write for fame and money, you don’t write to hear yourself talk. You don’t write to fawn over yourself.

You. Write. Because. You. Have. To.

It’s bursting!

“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.”

Not writing, not getting those thoughts out of my own head and onto the page would drive me mad. I connected so much with that “being still would” because that feeling of bursting is like a bit of mania. You feel manic in a way. It has to be siphoned out.

And, to end with Hemingway again, bleed. Bleed. Burst and bleed. Hold nothing back … until it’s ready to bleed again.

I love this poem. I love what it says about writing. I’m animated, as you can tell. What do you think about it?

2 thoughts

  1. Solid post. I also love this poem by Bukowski as it mirrors my own views on writing. You pretty much covered everything. Nothing much too add. I did have a conversation yesterday about having a routine. A writer responded to a tweet of mine. She suggested I start a routine to help me get unblocked and whatnot. I don’t think it’s bad advice. Not sure it’s for me, though. Probably slightly disagree about being snobby. Pretentious isn’t good, but a little snobbery? I don’t mind it. If you really read his poem, it’s honestly a bit snobbish. Nothing wrong with that. When I think snob I see confidence. I see high expectations. I see aspirations for greatness. Enjoyed reading this one.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yeah I just can’t imagine being a routine guy. I mean, to some extent I am because I write around when I drink coffee, which is mornings and evenings usually, but still.

      Thanks for reading/commenting!

      Liked by 2 people

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