The narrative of “quit your job and follow your dreams” is a strong one in creative communities — but as anyone with rent to pay or kids to feed knows, that simply isn’t feasible for most people, especially when their industry is one that’s hard to get into and notorious for paying next to nothing.
If you’re logging hours at a day job you don’t love, only to go home and plug away at a project you do, you’re not alone; the very-real financial confines of life as a writer have kept plenty of people whose names you know working for someone else while they wrote their novels by night.
Maya Angelou; Street Car Conductor
Poet Maya Angelou had an extremely difficult life and began supporting herself as a teenager. During that time, she worked a variety of jobs, including working as a dance (even traveling as part of a troupe) and holding the job of the first black female streetcar conductor in San Francisco.
Douglas Adams; Bodyguard, Chicken Shed Cleaner
Many writers go through slow periods in their career, which has turned many — including Douglas Adams — to odd jobs. Adams took work wherever he could during one particular lean patch, working as a bodyguard and a cleaner of chicken sheds, to name a few.
Harper Lee; Travel Agent
While she wrote To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee, who never attained a college degree, helped folks book their travels as an airline reservation agent.
Charles Dickens; Sticker Applicator
To help his financially-troubled father, the young Charles Dickens took up work at a boot-blacking factory an extremely young age. There, for the pay of six schillings per week, he stuck labels on pots of shoe polish. Dickens would use the experience in his novels, which often focused on social and financial inequality in England.
George Saunders; Technical Writer
On January 3, 2014, the New York Times proclaimed that George Saunders had written the best book of the year. But long before he penned the near-universally acclaimed of Tenth of December , Saunders was writing much less compelling stuff. For nearly a decade, he plugged away as a technical writer at an engineering firm in upstate New York.
J.K. Rowling; Researcher, Administrator
The literary sensation we know as the Harry Potter series was years in the making, as author J.K. Rowling struggled through health problems, personal tragedy, and divorce. Writing by night and whenever she had time, she developed the novels in part while she worked as a researcher for Amnesty International and, later, the Manchester Chamber of Commerce.
William Faulkner; Postmaster
If you’ve evert dreamt of crafting a truly exceptional letter of resignation, look to Southern novelist William Faulkner for inspiration. The letter he wrote when he quit his job as the postmaster of the University of Mississippi was basically a more eloquent version of “take this job and shove it.”
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