Sunday, August 5, 2012

Writers with Day Jobs

Many writers have day jobs.  Actually, most writers have day jobs.  From the various books and articles I’ve read, there are only a small percentage of all writers in the U.S. who earn enough money from their writing to actually support themselves.  You know who they are…their newest books are always on the shelves and they are able to continuously provide books one after another.  Other writers either work full time, some may work part time and the lucky few might have a spouse with an adequate enough income and benefits which allows them to work and write from home.

Most writers would love to quit their day (or night) jobs in order to spend more time writing.  I myself am in that category but I realize I may be in this category for quite some time, if not for the rest of my life.  However, if you want to write, if you feel the need to write, if you can’t spend a day without writing or thinking about writing, no day job will stop you.  You don’t do it for the money, or to get quick rich.  You do it because it feels like you were meant to do it and because there are stories inside you that you have to put on paper.

As many of you know, I have a day job and a side job.  I am a legal assistant and also a private investigator.  I have always been curious about the day jobs of other writers.  I enjoy reading about them and the types of jobs they held while they wrote on the side and how their working experiences might have helped them with their writing.  You might believe many writers are teachers, librarians, journalists or a similarly related field but you might be surprised.  It is my belief writers are born, not bred.  Here are just a few examples:

Not surprisingly, I will start with Stephen King.  I know, he was a teacher, but before he could get a teaching position, he worked for a laundry business and during one summer, he also worked as a janitor at a high school.  It was the janitor position, while cleaning the girls’ locker room, which soon gave him the idea for Carrie, the story about a teenage girl with physic powers.  The rest, as we say, is history.

Agatha Christie, the Queen of Crime Fiction and also a Dame of the British Empire, did not receive formal school but was able to teach herself how to read and worked as a nurse in a hospital during WWI.  She wrote 66 books before she passed away, among other short stories and screenplays, and she is the most widely translated author with books translated in more than 103 languages.  That fact is just amazing to me.
John Grisham, of course, was an attorney.  Not every attorney can write well and not every writer could pass the Bar Exam but his talent and legal background have made him one hell of a story teller.

Charles Dickens was forced to work in a factory at the age of 12 to help support his family after his father was imprisoned for being in debt.  You heard me right.  I did not know about this little bit in history either but apparently back in 1824, being in debt could land you in jail.  Imagine if that were still the case now?  Who wouldn’t be in jail?  Anyway, you can imagine what a difficult childhood he must have had but he was able to draw from his experiences while writing books he will always be remembered for.
Mary Higgins Clark had various jobs including a secretary position at an advertising department, a flight attendant and a radio scriptwriter.

Nicholas Sparks, whether you know his books or the movies based on his books (The Note Book, The Last Song, Dear John), dabbled in publishing, law school, real estate, even waiting tables and also pharmaceuticals. 
Nora Roberts is one such wife and mother who did not apparently have to work.  After graduating high school she married, had children and spent the bulk of her time with her children while doing crafts.  She eventually came up with the idea of writing when she was housebound in a February blizzard and had nothing else to do.  That choice to finally put her ideas on paper obviously worked out very well for her.

And one of my favorite stories of all involves Harper Lee.  While you may not recognize her name, I’m sure you will recognize her work, even if it was only one book.  She studied law but after four years decided she would rather write so in 1950 she moved to New York, began her career at an airline as a reservation officer and attempted to work on stories in her spare time for eight years.  Apparently, as the story goes, a friend offered her a gift of one year’s wages and the opportunity to take a year off from her job to write whatever she pleased.  Harper Lee then wrote her book, To Kill a Mocking Bird, and has done more with one book than most authors have been able to do with a lifetime of writing books.  The book caused her to instantly become a literary legend, eventually won the Pulitzer Prize and was later made into a movie which won an Academy Award.
Wouldn’t it be something if we could all have a friend like that?  But that type of circumstance is rare and last time I checked, fairy godmothers weren’t real.  If nothing else, these examples show that even some of the top selling authors had to start somewhere and for most, it was on the bottom where they had to climb their way up.

But it is a climb they were willing to take, regardless of how steep that climb might be.  When you have a dream and you desire something more of yourself and more for yourself, that climb is exactly what it takes.

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