We all have that same romanticized image of The Writer: sitting alone, hunched over his/her desk, pen in hand, thinking deeply about Writing before putting the pen to the page and Writing. But, unfortunately, doing this for long stretches of time doesn’t pay the bills, and that’s why things like Sylvia Plath working as a receptionist in the psychiatric unit at Massachusetts General Hospital happen. Writers are normal people, too. Just how normal? Here’s a few of our favorite writer day job finds:
1. John Steinbeck was a caretaker and tour guide at a fish hatchery in Lake Tahoe, where he worked on his first novel and also met his future first wife, Carol Henning. She was a tourist on one of his tours.
2. Douglas Adams first thought of the idea for A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy while moonlighting as a hotel security guard in London.
3. Jeanette Winterson, in addition to driving an ice cream truck, was a make-up artist at a funeral parlor.
4. Dashiell Hammett was hired by the Pinkerton Detective Agency as an “operative” at age 21. His job description included staking out houses and trailing suspects. He was thankful for the work; his previous job had been a nail machine operator.
5. Robert Frost changed light bulb filaments in a factory in Massachusetts shortly before he sold his first poem, “My Butterfly: An Elegy” in 1894 for $15.
6. Kurt Vonnegut was the manager of a Saab dealership in Cape Cod, after he’d already published his first novel, Player Piano. The dealership was supposedly Saab’s first in America.
7. Jack London was an “oyster pirate.” At night, he would raid the oyster beds of big-time oyster farmers and sell them in the Oakland markets.
8. Jean Rhys, a 23-year-old and in need of money, posed nude for a British artist.
9. James Ellroy led a life of petty crime and shoplifting as a wayward youth, most likely as a response to his confusion following his mother’s unsolved murder.
10. Harper Lee struggled when she first moved to New York at age 23, working as a ticket agent for Eastern Airlines before befriending Broadway composer Michael Martin Brown. In 1956, Brown gave Lee a Christmas present: a year’s wages so she could devote herself full-time to her craft. During this time, she began work on what would eventually become To Kill a Mockingbird.
11. Ken Kesey, in order to earn some extra cash, was a guinea pig for the psych department at Stanford in a CIA-sponsored drug experiment. As a result of the drugs, Kesey had hallucinations of an Indian sweeping the floors, which compelled him to write One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
Which mundane (or strange) day jobs for writers have we missed? Let us know in the comments below!