The American poet and novelist, Charles Bukowski, has this for an epitaph: “Don’t try.” The legend is that Bukowski, who writes, like Bruce Springsteen, about misery, loss, hopelessness and the ordinary lives of poor Americans, selected this epitaph as a tribute to the pointlessness of life. Sort of like the joke I heard recently, “How important is life when the number of people who attend your funeral is determined by the weather?” Giving up, it seems, is an art form by itself. The legend is that Bukowski was this suffering writer who worked in the Post Office and went un-noticed all of his life, “Don’t Try” is his message to all artists.

The truth is, Bukowski, who knew acclaim, was talking about effortlessness and inspiration. He was talking about finding that place where creativity comes from: your soul, where you are connected to something deeper than yourself, when you are writing from Angels, when you are channeling something from beyond:

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.

I know something of this: I usually write because I can’t help it, because I want to see where the words lead me. Listening to inspiration takes a little training, discipline and a lot of trust. You have to have the confidence and vulnerability to put your work out there, to know that it is good enough, even if no one else gets it.

When you ask your kids to do something for you and they say, “I’ll try” they are really saying NO without balls, they aren’t going to do it: EVER. If you want to be creative, if you want to produce art don’t try.


Artists ship.

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