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Oct 11 / King Kaufman

Inspiring or depressing?: B.I. on 15 famous writers’ early jobs

If you’re a writer and you’re not one of the most famous and successful authors in the world, you’re probably working that job you worked before you became one of the most famous and successful authors in the world.

I know I am.

That’s why I like looking at pieces like the one Business Insider posted this week listing the first jobs of 15 famous writers.

Did you know that J.D. Salinger was once the entertainment director on a Swedish luxury liner? That must have been a party, though to be fair, it was 1941, so just not getting torpedoed was kind of a hot time. Kurt Vonnegut sold, or tried to sell Saabs. Swedish cars. Sensing a theme?

The list has some meat, with quotes from the writers describing their jobs. Here’s Ken Kesey, author of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” talking about his experience participating in MKULTRA, the CIA’s test of LSD as a truth serum:

[The scientists] didn’t have the guts to do it themselves, so they hired students. “Hey, we found this room. Would you please go inside and let us know what’s going on in there?” When we came back out, they took one look at us and said, “Whatever they do, don’t let them go back in that room!”

Jack London got his start as an oyster thief, though he called himself an “oyster pirate.” John Grisham was a plumber. Charles Dickens, famously, worked in a shoe-polish factory when his father was sent to debtor’s prison. What are you doing?

Before I became the obscure writer and editor I am today, I sorted mail and shipped packages at a mailbox rental joint and—like reformed oyster pirate Jack London—wrote the pugs at a Hearst newspaper.

  • Scott Carasik

    I’ve sold cars and currently work in collections. We all have something we have to do to pay the bills while we chase our dreams.

  • Trevor Medeiros

    Substitute teacher and supermarket supervisor. Living the dream haha

  • Tom Firme

    Bible camp counselor and faith-based volunteer. I was a man on a mission. Literally.

  • Thomas Galicia

    English and math tutor…at times telemarketing too.

  • Anthony Fizz Fusilli

    I’m a retail store supervisor. Whatever pays the bills for now until I reach my dream!

  • Aidan Reynolds

    I’ve worked at newspapers, in bars, restaurants and currently work in architecture. I like my job, but I don’t get up early every morning because I want to go to work; I do it to find out what’s been happening in sports while I’ve been sleeping, and to get article ideas down before I leave.

  • Mike Schottey

    When I started with B/R, I was working full-time (including overnights) with adults with disabilities and working part-time at a video store. Also finishing school and doing a AM sports radio show on weekends.

    Stepping stones SHOULD be rocky. Who wants to be comfortable on the way to their dreams?