Are You A Somebody? Or Are You Just Waiting For One

When you wait for a “somebody,” you’ll be a nobody.

Bukowski wrote every day for twenty years without any hope of publishing. He sent out his poems to the smallest literary journals. He’d give readings in bars and classrooms on his own dime.

Finally, John Martin from Black Sparrow Press offered to pay him $100 a month. Bukowski quit his job at age 49, accepted the offer, and began his first novel.

One month later he finished, “Post Office,” ¬†and it instantly became a bestseller, launching a massive career.d

Could he have done it earlier? Of course. $100 a month didn’t really mean anything to him.

It was the 20 years of daily work without hope for compensation that enabled him to act when the time was right.

It was the 10 years of doing readings and self-publishing “chapbooks” and appearing in small literary journals.

It was dealing with all the rejection and failure along the way. It was reading every writer that he admired over and over again.

It was dealing with all the critics that hated his work. He hated his life but loved writing.

All of this while working 9 hours a day at a job he hated and then writing all night.

It’s hard to get “chosen” to succeed. Nobody will do it for you. There are no magic blessings from the gatekeepers.

It’s even harder to put in the work by yourself and lonely and struggling.

But then it works. Choosing yourself, without expectation, is the formula. He said, “I’m going to do this.”

Then everything clicks. You never look back.

  • True Words. When we do something and it turns out to be fabulous, we always question WHY? we didn’t do it sooner. We just weren’t ready for this same result. Great Post

  • Well written post as usual. As you always mention on your podcast, nowadays the gatekeepers are gone as you can build a platform online. It’s still hard work of course, but for writers who were going to do the work and put in the hours anyway, it’s a blessing not having any gatekeepers.

  • Tyler

    First time reader. I like reading anecdotal stories like this one that inspire. Bukowski, according to Wikipedia, wrote THOUSANDS of poems. I read that, and stopped and stared at that word: “thousands”. There were a few beats, and it was like in a movie where it zooms in three steps on the word and then cuts back to my eyes.

    Yeah I gotta get to work, don’t I?

  • There are times when I look at my family and my home and wonder how in the world I would be providing for them the way that I have the past ten years or so, if I had not been sitting in a meeting one day and realized that the organization I was working for was wasting my life. I turned my resignation in twenty minutes later. I doubled my pay withing 12 months, quadrupled the enjoyment of my career and never looked back.

    And now I try to keep myself in check to make sure I’m not wasting the day.

  • Thanks James, I love your writing. This one was especially motivating – has me asking the question, ‘if not now, when?’

  • Al

    Hi James, You really are a master story teller mate. I love your writing and more just like this, which pretty much sums up life: success isn’t guaranteed, but what’s the option? Whinge about it or take action and Choose Yourself. Cheers mate.

  • John

    You wrote a lot about Nassim Taleb and black swanns earlier. He said we never should bet on career in the industry where few people win and millions lose.
    This is exactly the case. If people will follow your advice, maybe one of them will become famous author and probably millions of them will be broken after wasting 30 years of their life.
    How do you know when it is time to “fail fast” and iterate your way to success and when you should be persistant 30 years long?
    Even you wrote in some post, when business doesnt grow within 2 months, you should abandon it.
    Looks like you change your mind every day, depending on your mood, there is nothing logical behind your writing.

  • RJ

    What a joke that most of our lives are spent trying to grow up. Trying to be a grown up. I wasted so much time when I was young and beautiful and full of possibilities. Because that is what youth is after all, isn’t it? Possibilities. Not realizing that failure is the rule rather than the exception.

    Feeling like if you just give it enough time you will get everything you want and then some. It’s hard to make a change when you are middle-aged and used to not doing anything.

    When as an entrepreneur you have enough success to pay your bills by half-assing your way through your job. Spending more time surfing the internet, instead of actually working. Wanting to do more, but unwilling to even do the work. Hard work it seems is something to be avoided.

    It is much easier to play the lottery and dream. Instead of taking a chance. After all what if you try and fail? Then what is left to dream about; to hold onto? Nothing. And that terrifies you more than the easy, but paltry income you are always afraid will dry up. Then your savings and then what’s left? A job a McDonald’s taking crap from some twenty something kid who thinks they’ve got the world by the balls. That smug, cocksure arrogance young people have, letting you know that they are never going to be a loser, like you.

    The same way you did when you were that age. You would tell them the truth, but it would fall on deaf ears. Some things have to be learned through experience and even then most people do not get it.

  • “Some people only ask others to do something. I believe that, why should I wait for someone else? Why don’t I take a step and move forward.” Malala Yousafzai

  • Hi James, I love the way Bukowski wrote and I love the way you write.

    Your stories and your book have inspired me to share my story here. For many years I was not able to speak or write about the trauma that I faced as a young child.

    My Story: Who am I and Why do I write? I write because I have a voice. Because I care and because I know that I can help others. I once lost my voice and I was blind, literally. Now I can speak several languages and see much clearer.

    My Near Death Experience – I almost died. When I was 13 years old, I was literally crushed by a 1976 Chevy Monte Carlo. I was in the hospital for more than a month, in ICU, with tubes coming out of every area of my body. I was on a ventilator. I had a broken back, 5 broken ribs, a broken hip, several hours of surgery to stop the my internal bleeding and patch me up to literally die later, a broken collar bone, a tracheotomy, a chest tube, nasal gastric suction coming out of my nose, I was blind and much more. I made it and I vowed to help others make it. I worked for 8 year in ICU, several years more in the ER. I accomplished my goal of helping others years ago. I still want to help others… I like you feel bad about not stopping to just ask why someone is crying or in pain. I try to balance this with living in a tough dog eat dog world.

    There is more to my story, but I don’t want to take up too much space. Thanks for helping others James.

  • Luca

    Hi James! Don’t you think “to choose yourself” is just another way to express “have a goal!”? And like you said having goals is the first step to our sadness.