6 Authors Who Never Quit Their Day Jobs

Gabe Habash -- August 9th, 2012

We all know about the non-writing day jobs authors have had to shoulder in order to keep writing.  But none of those authors kept their jobs after they made it big–why would Steinbeck keep giving tours of a fish hatchery after writing The Grapes of Wrath? However, there are some authors out there who kept their honest work for the duration of their careers, either because of calling or (in one case) necessity.  Here are the authors who never quit their day jobs.


William Carlos Williams

Day Job: Doctor

William Carlos Williams got his medical degree in 1906 and published his first book, Poems, in 1909. For the next forty years, he was a doctor in Rutherford, New Jersey–and he also produced some of the most important poetry of the century. In his autobiography, answering the question of how he found time to write while carrying on an active business, Williams said: “One occupation complements the other, they are two parts of a whole, it is not two jobs at all, one rests the man when the other fatigues him.” Indeed, his daily experiences as a doctor were a main influence on his writing.


Wallace Stevens

Day Job: Insurance Executive

In perhaps the most direct refusal to trade in a 9-to-5 for a laurel-resting “prestige” position you’ll find on this list, Stevens turned down an offer from Harvard following his 1955 Pulitzer because he would’ve been forced to give up his vice-presidency position at the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company. Stevens began his career in 1904 as a lawyer, but the bulk of his professional time (nearly 40 years) went to the Hartford, where he started in 1916. He published his first book of poems, Harmonium, in 1923, but it went largely unnoticed. The birth of his daughter Holly in 1924 was one of the main reasons Stevens took a long hiatus from writing poetry seriously, but he resumed in 1933, beginning the most productive phase of his writing career.


Chris Adrian

Day Job: Doctor

Guggenheim fellow Chris Adrian is the author of three novels and a short story collection, and he’s also a practicing pediatric hematology/oncology doctor.  His first novel, Gob’s Grief, was published in 2001, the same year he received his M.D. Like William Carlos Williams, his day-to-day work with patients has had a great influence on his work–Adrian is probably best known for his novel The Children’s Hospital, which tells the story of a hospital that floats away in a modern great flood.


Tomas Transtromer

Day Job: Psychologist

The 2011 Nobel Prize winner has been balancing his writing with his work as a psychologist for over 50 years. Transtromer published his first collection, 17 Poems, in 1954 and graduated in 1956 from Stockholm University with a degree in psychology. Since then, he’s split his time between writing and psychology, and he now works as an occupational psychologist for the Swedish government. Along the way, he’s worked at the Institution for Psychometrics, as well as Roxtuna, a youth correctional facility–and he also went on to become Sweden’s most famous poet.


Lewis Carroll

Day Job: Teacher, Mathematician, Inventor

Lewis Carroll wrote multiple books in mathematics under his real name, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, while also working on the books that he would later be immortalized for like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. He also carved out a bit of spare time for inventions, including a writing tablet called the nyctograph that allowed for nighttime writing. But the day job that occupied nearly half his life (26 years) was as a teacher at Christ Church, where he remained until his death.


Herman Melville

Day Job: Anything to pay the bills

The disparity between Herman Melville’s reputation as a writer when he was alive vs. after his death is tremendous–just take a look at this calculation of his lifetime earnings. Now recognized as one of America’s greatest writers, Melville had to work a number of different occupations throughout his life to support his family. Over his working career, he held jobs as a surveyor, a hand on a ship, a teacher, lecturer, and finally a customs inspector for the City of New York. Melville held the latter position for 19 years toward the end of his life, gaining a reputation as “the only honest employee of the customs house.” Though his life was filled with hardship, his jobs working on the seas were some of the happiest in his life, and his experiences there became the inspiration for some of America’s most important writing.

14 thoughts on “6 Authors Who Never Quit Their Day Jobs

  1. Paul Barnaby

    Surely the most famous case of all is Sir Walter Scott who never quit either of his day jobs (Clerk to the Court of Session in Edinburgh, Deputy-Sheriff of Selkirkshire) despite being the best-selling writer of his day.

  2. Dawn Akemi

    What a great list! I remember reading in Julia Cameron’s seminal book, The Artist’s Way, that the day-job is vital for filling the well and grist for the mill. She admonished to be careful what you wish for in your desire to live off of writing alone. Thank you for the inspiration!

  3. Andrew David Doyle

    The reality that one job compliments the other is indeed true, it does when you meet fascinating people who stimulate one’s learning.

    I find that although I am nailed to the pc for long periods, the writing aspects releases a new stream of consciousness.

    I am envious if you earn enough pennies to retire and just write…that is of course the ultimate dream and goal.


  4. Dr.Ratnesh kumar

    Very inspiring real life stories. Certifies the old proverb,”where there is a will there is way”. This also explains that there is some in born instinct that forces you to act differantly.

  5. Richard McDonough

    This whole notion of full time writer is modern and includes a small minority of writers in our time, many fewer in the past. This is not something to give space to, frankly.

  6. Richard Johnson

    You forgot Bram Stoker, who wrote six or seven novels (Including Dracula) while working as Business Manager for Henry Irving (The Jack Nicholson of his time) right up until Irving died, while they were on tour.

  7. Bill Lindsay

    I never planned on quitting my day job, just expected a little notoriety and a meeting other authors,and some pocket change would be nice.Too much competition these days,or as they tell me: the economy is supposed to be ‘bad’ and stealing electronic stuff must be easy too. I have had many people tell me they enjoyed my book but didn’t spend a penny to read it. Oh well what’s an author to do?

  8. Victoria Bennett

    Great list! Now why not feature a few women who wrote/write poetry or fiction and had/have day jobs? Plus, you forgot Abraham Verghese (a surgeon) who wrote “Cutting for Stone” and others. Good article, though, to get us all thinking.

  9. shawnrohrbach

    I love my job as an IT Security Consultant and between writing sessions and book contract negotiations and marketing current material, it occupies my time with very interesting work and keeps me current on trands that help me write non-fiction tehcnical books as well as feed me with ideas for fiction.

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