15 Famous Writers Who Worked Other Jobs To Pay The Bills

stephen king

Photo: Getty Images

The most famous literary geniuses weren’t always writers. In fact, a lot of time, these gifted writers had to hold down several odd jobs to pay the bills while they tried to get their writing careers off the ground. 

From janitor, “oyster pirate,” plumber and mailman, we compiled a list of authors who didn’t give up on their writing careers and eventually made it.

Kurt Vonnegut worked in the first Saab dealership in Cape Cod.

Before Hilary Mantel was a Man Booker Prize winning author, she was a social worker.

The English novelist won the Man Booker Prize for her novel 'Wolf Hall' in 2009 and her recent book 'Bring up the Bodies' has also been shortlisted for another Booker Prize.

'After graduating I became a social-work assistant in a geriatric hospital in Stockport, on a starting salary of £1,068 per annum. The building was a former workhouse, and some of the patients, deluded and vulnerable to time slips, thought it was the workhouse still,' Mantel says in The Telegraph.

'Most staff tried hard, but the resources weren't there. My clearest memory of those days is of indignation and grief and a feeling of powerlessness.'

Stephen King was a high school janitor before he became the 'king of horror novels.'

He received an English degree from the University of Maine, but couldn't find a teaching job after graduating and became a high school janitor instead.

In 1973, King's first book 'Carrie' was published, which he says was inspired during his time cleaning the girl's locker rooms.

In 1941, Salinger took a job to be the entertainment director on the H.M.S Kungsholm, a Swedish luxury liner, when there were few cruise liners due to World War II.

It was during this time that he continued writing and even published a few short stories.

Langston Hughes' was once a busboy, assistant cook, launderer and seaman sailing around Africa and Europe.

As a customer at the Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, D.C., the poet Vachel Lindsay came across poems that were written on his own napkin.

They were so well-written that Lindsay asked to meet the author of the poems who happened to be Hughes, according to The Academy of American Poets.

The former busboy quickly became known for his form of jazz poetry.

Nathaniel Hawthorne's meager salary as a writer forced him to take a position as a clerk at a port.

Before he became famous for 'The Scarlet Letter,' Hawthorne struggled for years as a writer and had to take on a job as a weighter and gauger at Boston's Custom House, which at the time was a busy port.

In his book 'The Scarlet Letter,' Hawthorne titled the introduction 'The Custom House.'

Before he was known as an author and journalist, Jack London stole oysters from fishermen to resell.

At the time, oysters from the West Coast were pricey and high in demand, which attracted people called 'oyster pirates' to steal and resell these oysters -- and London was one of them.

The author of 'The Call of the Wild' and 'White Fang,' has mentioned the term 'oyster pirate' several times throughout his work.

London was one of the 'best-selling, highest paid and most popular American author of his time.'

George Saunders once worked in a slaughterhouse, a convenience store, as a doorman, groundsman, roofer and geophysicist.

Saunders has been nominated for several awards, including the PEN/Hemingway award, National Magazine Award in fiction and the MacArthur Genius Grant.

But before a career in writing, he worked a lot of odd jobs.

In his interview with The Days of Yore, Saunders says:

'I worked as a geophysicist in Sumatra, then came home and roamed around for a few years. I worked in a slaughterhouse, as a doorman in Beverly Hills (very uplifting), as a roofer. I played in bands, worked in a convenience store, was a bar back at a dance club, worked as a groundsman -- a little bit of everything, really. While I was farting around in this Kerouac phase, the oil business went bust, and my credentials, such as they were, got a little dusty. So by the end of this period I had more or less dissipated my college degree.'

The winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, William Faulkner was once a mailman.

Before fame from the 'Sound and the Fury,' Faulkner was a postmaster, which enabled him to read magazines that he delivered.

And he was apparently not very good at his job losing mail and spending his shifts 'playing Mah Jong and sometimes going on a round of golf,' according to a piece in Marketplace.

Harper Lee worked as an airline reservation clerk.

To pursue her dreams of becoming a writer, Lee worked a ticket agent for Eastern Airlines and the British Overseas Air Corp in New York City for eight years before quitting her job to focus on writing, says Biography.com.

Four years later, she published 'To Kill A Mockingbird' and in 1961, Lee won a Pulitzer Prize for the novel.

He's known for his legal thrillers, but John Grisham was once a plumber.

In his piece in The New York Times, Grisham writes:

'Then, during the summer of my 16th year, I found a job with a plumbing contractor. I crawled under houses, into the cramped darkness, with a shovel, to somehow find the buried pipes, to dig until I found the problem, then crawl back out and report what I had found. I vowed to get a desk job. I've never drawn inspiration from that miserable work.'

'My father worked with heavy construction equipment, and through a friend of a friend of his, I got a job the next summer on a highway asphalt crew.'

It was during college that Grisham decided he wanted to become a lawyer, and his best-selling novels are based from his experience in law.

Robert Frost worked a lot of odd jobs before winning four Pulitzer Prizes for Poetry.

Before he was one of America's most popular poets, Frost helped his mother teach at her school, delivered newspapers and worked in a factory as a light bulb filament changer.

After his father was arrested, Charles Dickens was sent to work in a shoe-polish factory.

He's known for literature masterpieces such as 'A Christmas Carol,' 'A Tale of Two Cities' and 'Great Expectations,' but before the great writing, Dickens had to work in a shoe polish factory at the age of 12 to help pay off debt to get his father our of jail.

BONUS: Before Richard Eyre was an award-winning theatre director, he was a server.

Eyre has directed four Oscar-nominated performances, including Judi Dench, 'Jim Broadbent,' Kate Winslet and Cate Blanchett.

He has also been nominated twice for Broadway's Tony Award as Best Director (Play) for his work with David Hare's 'Skylight' (1997) and Arthur Miller's 'The Crucible' (2002).

But before all of these awards, he was an 'almost-under-age barman and wine waiter in a restaurant in Somerset.'

'The job, which paid £15 a week, turned out to be the perfect preparation for my future life in the theatre: I had to live to please and, of course, had to please to live,' Eyre says in The Telegraph.

'Waiters are like actors waiting in the wings, bantering whenever we passed each other on the restaurant floor, shouting at each other backstage in the kitchen and winking and corpsing above the heads of our audience, the unsuspecting customers. I liked defying the tyranny of the nine-to-five routine by working during other people's leisure time and, most of all, I liked the illusion that I was a free spirit. It was a fantasy, of course, but one that's sustained me most of my life.'

NOW WATCH: Ideas videos

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.