Weird Jobs Writers Had Before Becoming Famous

Everybody has to start somewhere, and everybody has to pay the bills somehow.

Long before they became famous, here are the first jobs of some of literature’s most famous and distinguished figures.

Henry David Thoreau worked in his father’s pencil factory.

Arthur Conan Doyle was an ophthalmologist.

William Faulkner worked as a carpenter, as a clerk in his grandfather’s bank, and as the damndest postmaster the world has ever seen.

William Faulkner long after his days as a postmaster

Wallace Stevens worked as an executive at an insurance company.

Kurt Vonnegut owned and managed a Saab dealership. He was also General Electric’s PR man.

Jack London was an oyster pirate, a job that seems to be a lot more interesting than it actually is.

Jack Kerouac worked at a gas station.

Ernest Hemingway, E.E. Cummings, W. Somerset Maugham, and John Dos Passos were all ambulance drivers during World War One.

Ernest Hemingway in an American Red Cross Ambulance in Italy, 1918

Chuck Palahniuk worked as a dishwasher, mechanic, and movie projectionist.

Ken Kesey was a volunteer for a CIA mind control experiment.

Stephen King worked as a high-school janitor.

F. Scott Fitzgerald worked at an advertising agency.

Roald Dahl was a spy during World War Two.

Octavia Butler was a potato chip inspector.

Joseph Heller worked as a blacksmith’s apprentice before enlisting in the US Army Air Corps.


24 thoughts on “Weird Jobs Writers Had Before Becoming Famous

  1. Interesting jobs, indeed! I bet some of these previous experiences made great fodder for their books.
    The one that surprised me the most: Arthur Conan Doyle, Opthamologist!

  2. Walt Disney drove an ambulance, where he had drawn cartoon characters on all over the vehicle, to give the riders something to view and ease their pain. I think that was as good a job as any except for playing the Trombone and did not know he could not play one.

  3. Mundane is more the word over weird.
    Weird to me is working as an elementary school teacher by day and wearing face paint to look like a demon at night before your band takes off.

  4. I understood Roald Dahl to be a fighter pilot in WW2, one of the few on the Allied side against the Hun in the Battle of Athens. One of my favourite writers still, in fact—love the Quentin Blake illustrations best.

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