Writing Lab: “If it doesn’t come bursting out of you…”

So you want to be a writer?

Twentieth century King of the Damned, German-born American, troublesome and voracious writer, Charles Bukowski, has some advice for you.

In what could easily be the most beautiful reading of Bukowski’s poetry to date, Tom O’Bedlam recites his advice in verse form.


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.


While you’re still under the Bukowski — O’Bedlam spell, let me ask you a question: Is a writer born or made?

Does the Ode to Raw Talent and bursting passion displayed above stand in contradiction with its “cooked,” more suffered version?

O’Bedlam strongly disagrees with the muse/genie implication in the poem he just honored, and, all truth considered, he has a solid point:

“Don’t buy it. This is Charles Bukowski telling Charles Bukowski how to write like Charles Bukowski. He’s guilty himself of all those sins he’s admonishing you against as an aspiring writer. 


When you look at the lives of most poets closely, most of them learned their craft by studying other writers. There have been a few successful primitives, but most of their efforts are merely quaint. You can’t just sit down and write, unless you’re willing to judge what you’ve written harshly and compare your work with the work of others. 

Just as Science depends on the findings of previous scientists, on Newton and Faraday for instance, so poetry depends on the body of literature that has gone before it. You can’t depart from the norm unless you understand thoroughly what the norm is. You can’t be a rebel unless you know what you’re rebelling against.”

Except that… I don’t believe Bukowski is speaking against a writer’s training or perseverance, or even suggestion that raw, unedited passion will make you or break you.

Both aspects are equal sides of the same coin in a writer’s experience, and both wolves should be fed, or else, your work—just like you—will be cut in half. And since writing does not seem to be the luckiest profession, you’ll probably miss the better half.

The most admirable, skilled and brilliant writers in history have devoted their lives (in a most natural, derivative way) to combining both talent and hard work, passion and perseverance, dreaming and education, feelings and brain—and eventually became the most comprehensive version of themselves.

What Bukowski is encouraging through his poetic advice is only the first step in any love affair: the passionate burst, the burning, the “I-can’t-help-myself.” He’s telling you not to just Try to Be, if you Aren’t already some of that Being in potential. And you can only Be something, if you can’t help it.

Jessamyn West accurately described the Writer’s Inferno:

“Writing is so difficult that I feel that writers, having had their hell on earth, will escape all punishment hereafter.”

Bukowski was well aware of that…



The only way you’ll survive through your “10-years” of craft-polishing and word-tears and typewritten sweat and most likely, a few unpaid bills… and enough brokenness to later tell the world heartbreaking truths through the dance of your fingers—is precisely because you’ll be fueled through all your Infernos, by your original, more devastating inner fire.

Perseverance doesn’t run on air but on desire. You can handle any hell only if you have a burning bigger-than-life heaven in your chest, which must express itself, no matter what — even if it costs you your smaller so-called life.

So, dear writer in the making or the breaking, do listen to Bukowski, listen to all the crazies and the wise men, the sinners and the saints, and keep the truth (your truth) printed on everything — at the end of day, it all adds up to your unique living collage.

And if you can’t help yourself but write, if it does come bursting out of you at the most inappropriate moments and in spite of not being ready for it and the world not being ready for you (what does “ready” even mean?)… If It won’t let you be until you become It, then go and do your heavy homework. Don’t delay your call.

If something burns your soul with purpose and desire, it’s your duty to be reduced to ashes by it. Any other form of existence will be yet another dull book in the library of life.


Because, in the end…





More from Writing Lab. 

>> George Orwell’s four great motives for writing.

>> Henry Miller’s 11 commandments for the everyday writer.

>> “I start trembling at the risk” ~ Susan Sontag’s Notes to Self. 

>> Jack Kerouac’s 30 keys to life & writing. 

>> Kurt Vonnegut’s eight essentials for a good short story.

>> 11 tips & tricks for troubled writers. 



{Write or perish.}



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Andrea Balt
Co-Founder/Editor-in-Chief of Rebelle Society, Wellness Alchemist at Rebelle Wellness & Professional Dream Chaser at Creative Rehab. Unfinished book with a love for greens, bikes and poetry; raised by wolves & adopted by people; not trying to make art but to Be Art. Holds a BA in Journalism & Mass Communication, an MFA in Creative Writing & a Holistic Health Coach degree from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition®. In her work she tries to reflect the wholeness of the human experience by combining Art & Health + Mind & Body + Darkness & Brilliance into a more alive, unabridged and unlimited edition of ourselves. She is also on a quest to reinstate Creativity as one of our essential Human Rights to (hopefully and soon) be included in the UN Declaration. Connect with her in the Social Media Jungle via Facebook, Twitter & Instagram and sign up for her FREE MuseLetter.


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