From Waiting Tables to Winning Pulitzer: The Surprising Day Jobs of Famous Writers
For aspiring writers, it’s easy to become discouraged when faced with the daunting task of making a living while pursuing one’s passion for writing. But history proves that the path to literary greatness is rarely a straight one, and that many of the world’s most famous authors started their careers working humble day jobs to make ends meet. From serving tables to brewing coffee, construction work to asbestos manufacturing, the unlikely day jobs of renowned novelists only add to the legend of their literary genius.
The Expert Editor recently released an infographic detailing 20 famous authors and their surprising first jobs. The list includes familiar names such as Kurt Vonnegut, who sold Saabs while struggling to get his first novel published, and Stephen King, who worked as a janitor before finding fame and fortune as one of the bestselling authors of all time. But there are also some less obvious examples, like James Joyce, who taught English in Rome, and Jack Kerouac, who served in the United States Navy before his iconic road trips across America.
The list is a reminder that almost every successful writer started somewhere, and that writing talent often develops in unexpected ways. Graham Greene, for example, worked as a copy editor for The Times in London before writing some of the most enduring novels of the 20th century. Denise Levertov worked as a nurse and translator during World War II before establishing herself as an influential poet in the United States.
In addition to being a source of inspiration for struggling writers, these stories also offer insight into the experiences that might have informed some of the most beloved works of literature. Sylvia Plath’s time as a receptionist and mental health counselor is an obvious influence on her confessional poetry, while F. Scott Fitzgerald’s stint as an advertising copywriter likely influenced his wry observations of American culture in novels such as The Great Gatsby.
But while it’s tempting to romanticize the idea of the struggling artist working odd jobs to support their creative endeavors, it’s important to remember that financial security and creative freedom often go hand in hand. Some of the authors on The Expert Editor’s list, such as Harper Lee and John Updike, had financial security from family or spouse, which allowed them the freedom to focus on their writing full-time. And while writing has long been seen as a solitary pursuit, many of these authors also benefited from the support and feedback of colleagues in other industries.
So what can aspiring writers take away from these surprising day jobs of famous authors? Perhaps the most important lesson is that there is no one “right” way to become a writer, and that success can come from unexpected places. For some writers, day jobs offer a chance to observe the world and gather material for future writing projects. For others, a day job can provide the financial stability that allows them to pursue their creative passion without constantly worrying about making rent. Ultimately, the key to becoming a successful writer is to stay dedicated to the craft, regardless of what other jobs may be necessary along the way.
In the end, we can all benefit from remembering that even the most famous writers started out humbly, and that success is often a combination of talent, hard work, and just a bit of luck. And who knows – the next Pulitzer Prize winner could be the waitress serving your coffee or the construction worker building your new home. So tip generously and keep your eyes and ears open – inspiration may be closer than you think.