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Famous Writers’ Day Jobs – Part 1

harry potterJust about every famous writer we admire had to struggle on many different levels.  They lived a life filled with struggle; of mental, and motivational struggle, struggle with rejection, exhaustion, focus, and discipline. They lived a life of uncertainty.

Many aspiring writers today are juggling their personal lives, their creative lives and perhaps most difficult; their finances. Some writers are subsidized by their parents, or their spouses, or their family members.

Almost all writers go through a period when they have to keep a day job while they’re writing. I want to highlight the fact here that you’re not alone. Of course the most famous screenwriters (and other writers) have had day jobs. Nobody, especially rookie writers are given an advance based on their ideas, and told to go write, and here’s a check.

It may help you to realize that even the best and most famous writers, writer’s you’ve admired and read, and whose movies you’ve loved also had to work mundane jobs to get by, while writing in their free time. Don’t feel bad, it’s the norm.

Some of these writers include;

J.K. Rowling

J.K. Rowling is known for writing probably the most popular series of young adult novels of all time, the Harry Potter books. She’s talked about being “on the dole” in the UK, and being depressed, and even suicidal single mother while writing some of her early works.

As a teenager, she tried to get into Oxford, but was rejected. She eventually was accepted by Exeter where she graduated in 1986. After that she worked as a researcher and translator for Amnesty International. She worked at the Manchester Chamber of Commerce about the time she started writing Harry Potter.

Quentin Tarantino

Tarantino and his writing partner on Pulp Fiction, Roger Avery, worked at Video Archives, a video rental store in Manhattan Beach. Remember videos? They came in a black plastic box and you played them on a VCR. Tarantino and Avery spent time watching videos that inspired Pulp Fiction and especially Reservoir Dogs.

Tarantino and Avery won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay in 1995. They didn’t write much together after that. Tarantino is said to have written the screenplays for Natural Born Killers and True Romance while still working at that video rental job.

Kurt Vonnegut

Vonnegut is best known for his novels Slaughterhouse Five, Cat’s Cradle and Breakfast of Champions. Early on he enlisted in the Army, during World War II. His service took him to Europe where he fought in the Battle of the Bulge against the Germans. During that battle, he was captured by the enemy, and kept in Dresden in a slaughterhouse meat locker.

Elements from his novel Slaughterhouse Five were clearly inspired by his war experience. After the war, (in the 1950’s) he owned and managed a Saab dealership in Cape Cod. Unfortunately, he wasn’t very good at selling cars. The experience did, however start him thinking about writing about his profound experiences in Dresden where he witnessed 135,000 people killed in one night.

David O. Russell

David O. Russell wrote and directed such independent films such as Flirting With Disaster and Spanking the Monkey. At some point he graduated to more mainstream films like Three Kings and later to writing and directing Academy Award nominated films like Silver Linings Playbook, Joy, and American Hustle. It’s a very, very impressive list of films with quirky funny characters and original, unpredictable storylines.

Russell’s early day jobs included a slew of equally unimpressive service jobs such as waiting tables and tending bar. However, being an English and Political Science major at Amherst groomed him for more serious pursuits like teaching in a literacy program in Nicaragua, political activism and community organization. Eventually he landed his first media job as an intern with Smithsonian World for PBS.

Ken Kesey

Ken Kesey wrote the novels One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Sometimes a Great Notion. Cuckoo’s Nest was a successful novel, then a play (adapted by Dale Wasserman) and then a film directed by Milos Foreman, adapted for the screen by Laurence Haubman and Bo Goldman. The film won five Academy Awards including Best Film in 1975.

Early on Kesey worked with his brother at a creamery until he won a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship at Stanford University. After college he stayed around Palo Alto and working as an aide (a glorified janitor) in the Veteran’s Hospital, a mental facility. About the same time he volunteered for a CIA study on the effects of LSD on psychological warfare.

Next week; Aaron Sorkin, Harper Lee, John Patrick Shanley, Richard Linklater & Stephen King

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Image credit: Creative Commons Poster Harry Potter (Before and After)  2007 by basibanget is licensed under CC By 2.0

Famous Writers’ Day Jobs – Part 1

David Silverman, MA, LMFT

A lot of careers can really knock you around. The compettiion is fierce, in graphic design, architecture, you name it -- especially in creative careers in Hollywood. Writers and performers get slammed with rejection constantly. If you're going through something -- anxiety, addiction or depression -- I help people like you get through it. And thrive. Let me help you get your dream back on track.

Please check out my website: My story: my brother grew up with a severe case of OCD, and while I just a kid --- in family therapy with him, I witnessed a miracle as he was transformed, and now is enjoying the life he deserves. I went to Stanford University to study Psychology, and USC Film. I've worked in FIlm/TV and experienced high levels of anxiety, and got slammed with rejection myself. I learned how to get through it. Today, I love to help people to regain the lifestyle they deserve.

David Silverman Psychotherapy

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APA Reference
Silverman, D. (2016). Famous Writers’ Day Jobs – Part 1. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 5, 2020, from


Last updated: 20 Jun 2016
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