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Famous Screenwriter’s Day Jobs

Just about every famous writer we admire lived a life filled with struggle; 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.”

Some of these famous writers include;

J.K. Rowling

Rowling is known for writing probably the most popular series of young adult novels of all time, the Harry Potter books. She as written screenplays adapted from some of her other novels, including her five part Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them series. She’s also written screenplay adaptations for some of her other works including The Casual Vacancy.

Rowling has 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.

David O. Russell

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.

James Cameron

Everybody knows Cameron for the Terminator film series, and his box office-shattering and critically acclaimed Oscar winning films Titanic and Avatar. Before all that, however, he grew up in Orange County and studied physics at Cal State Fullerton.

His interests changed at some point and he switched his major to English and then dropped out.

Back when he was still dreaming of a film career he worked at a machine shop, became a school bus driver and a truck driver.

Cameron was kind of a genius at design, especially of aliens and monsters, and found a job working as a miniature model maker at Roger Corman Studios. There he got the chance to direct his first commercial film Piranah II, which he was unceremoniously fired from by some hack producer.

Stephen King

King is widely known for his novels Carrie, The Shining, The Stand, Misery and Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption. All of those novels have been adapted for film. King wrote the screenplays for the films, Pet Semetery, Creepshow, and the television miniseries, The Stand and The Shining.

When he first started out, however, he worked various odd jobs including gas pump attendant, laundry worker, and high school janitor, which is where he was inspired to write the novel Carrie.

Still a struggling writer, King earned a teaching certificate which allowed him to teach high school. Since he couldn’t find a teaching job right away, he started selling short stories to various magazines such as Cavalier.

He eventually landed a teaching job at Hampden Academy in Maine. While he was teaching he finished the manuscript for Carrie for which he received an advance for $2,500.

John Patrick Shanley

Shanley is an Academy Award winning screenwriter for Moonstruck, and a Pulitzer Prize winning playwright for Doubt. He also wrote the screenplay for the film version of Doubt.

Early in his life Shanley enlisted in the Marines during the Vietnam War. However, he never saw active duty, being stationed in the States. After the Marines he returned to college and after graduating worked as an elevator operator, a house painter, a bartender and a moving man.

Richard Linklater

Linklater has made some classic independent films including Dazed and Confused, Slackers, Before Midnight, and Waking Life, and more recently the Oscar nominated film Boyhood. His first day job growing up in Huntsville, Texas, was parking cars at the local prison rodeo. At that point he had dreams of becoming the first professional baseball player/serious novelist.

After the baseball/novelist dream went by the wayside, he found work on an oil rig off the shore of Houston, for about two years.
When he went to the mainland for breaks he always made trips to art house theaters. He was kind of a loner, but had friends on the rig who were writers.

Aaron Sorkin

Sorkin has written a number of dramatic films including A Few Good Men, The American President, Steve Jobs, and the Academy award winning Best Picture The Social Network.

After graduating Syracuse University with a degree in Musical Theater he became just another struggling writer working day jobs such as a limousine driver, tending bar, handing out fliers for a hunting and fishing show, and delivering singing telegrams.

After the Broadway and film success of A Few Good Men Sorkin landed the ultimate “day job,” as a contract writer for Castle Rock, doing rewrites and polishes, working under the mentorship of Academy Award winning screenwriter William Goldman.

It may help you to realize that even the best, most successful, 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.

They’ve all made sacrifices, they a had to pay the rent. Some had to raise families, working all day, finding an hour here, or there to write. They wrote in the early mornings, or into the night. They didn’t wait for inspiration. They couldn’t afford to. Don’t feel bad, it’s not just you. It’s the norm.

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


Famous Screenwriter’s Day Jobs

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. (2018). Famous Screenwriter’s Day Jobs. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 26, 2020, from


Last updated: 3 Mar 2018
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