People are often surprised to hear that I have a day job. Given how passionate I am about writing, traveling, and animal-related causes, others assume I sit at home typing away about some animal organization or traveling the world in search of a good story. Well, I do enjoy doing that, but in the evenings, weekends and during vacation time. Having a day job allows me the freedom to write about my passions, not just about anything and everything that gets me paid. And the satisfaction of not having to worry about how to pay for a doctor’s visit or my credit card bill is priceless. While it is important for writers to get paid for their work, the fact that my writing is able to bring about change is enough to help me sleep soundly at night, even it means just a few hours left for rest after working two jobs.
Of course, there are days all I want to do is stay home and write, and yet I get on the train to go into work, where I am greeted by lovely coworkers and bosses I enjoy working with. Today, I got an email from one of my colleagues attaching a picture of two cats his wife found on her trip abroad. It was sweet. A few years ago, a coworker read one of my travel stories, and decided to take the trip with her husband. I feel blessed to have such a supportive environment, which is why it’s hard to think of another reality, even when some friends suggest I quit my job and write full-time.
All this got me thinking— does one have to quit her day job to be a successful writer? I decided to do some research, and found 15 famous writers who relied on regular jobs to pursue their dreams.
Here’s the list:
1) Steven King worked as a janitor in a high school before his work got published. The opening scene of Carrie was inspired by his time at the school.
2) Charlotte Brontë, author of Jane Eyre, worked as a teacher and a governess before she collaborated with her sisters on a book of poetry.
3) Douglas Adams wrote A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy while working the night shift as a security guard.
4) Franz Kafka was employed as the Chief Legal Secretary of the Workmen’s Accident Insurance Institute in Prague, and his experience gave life to some of the scenes in The Trial.
5) Silvia Plath, famous for The Bell Jar, worked as a receptionist at a psych hospital and took creative writing seminars in the evenings.
6) T.S. Eliot was in corporate finance at the Colonial and Foreign Accounts desk for Lloyd’s Bank of London for 8 years. He based The Waste Land from the sights he passed on his way to the office.
7) Robert Frost held a job as a newspaper boy, and did some time in a factory changing light bulb filaments before he made it as a Pulitzer-prize winning poet.
8) Harper Lee, author of To Kill A Mocking Bird, almost didn’t get to write the book while working as a ticket agent for Eastern Airlines. Lucky for her, a friend gave her a year’s worth of wages and demanded she devote her time to the book.
9) Dean Koontz started off as an English teacher and later worked for the Appalachian Poverty Program, a federally funded initiative to help poor children and wrote his first novel, Star Quest, in his spare time.
10) Jack Kerouac worked some odd jobs, including gas station attendant, cotton picker, night guard (detailed in On the Road), railroad brakeman, dishwasher, construction worker, and a deckhand.
11) Margaret Atwood first worked as a counter girl in a coffee shop in Toronto, serving coffee and operating a cash register.
12) John Steinbeck ran a fish hatchery in Lake Tahoe. He also led guided tours of the place, during one of which he met his first wife, Carol Henning.
13) J. K. Rowling, author of the mega-successful Harry Potter books, was a secretary and a teacher before making it big.
14) Mark Twain was a steamboat pilot for four years until the Civil War halted river traffic and he lost his job. His name is virtually synonymous with life along the Mississippi River, which was immortalized in his books.
15) Mary Higgins Clark, a fellow Fordham graduate, worked as a secretary and a stewardess before finding success as a suspense novelist.
So, my artist friends, don’t quit your day jobs!