Charles Bukowski’s poem ‘so you want to be a writer’ is a personal perspective on the author’s craft, the process of making a conscious decision about becoming a poet and the damage that the mere consideration of this decision can cause to your work. Its most noticeable feature is the perpetual repetition of the phrase ‘don’t do it [=become a writer]’ that gives the reader the impression of hearing someone speak from traumatic experience of knowing people who committed such a mistake. Every single time that phrase booms in the reader’s mind, you realize that fitting any of those parameters is a fiasco. That repetition, however, is one of the only visible poetic elements of ‘so you want to be a writer’. It has no rhymes or consistent meters and feels more like a recitative rather than an orthodox poem. Moreover, a lot of lines are enjambed, which gives a feeling of the thought being very urgent and rushed.
The poem, in its core, is a reflection on the misguided motivations of writers. ‘[W]hen 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’ – writes Bukowski, and that further highlights the borderline-separate entity that is poetic talent. If there is any motivation to you other than to create poetry, he implies, you truly should not do it.
‘Don’t try’, another famous Bukowski quote, is engraved on his tombstone. It conveys the same idea: if you need to put effort to achieve it, then just do not do it. Something that is your true purpose will find you itself.