When we think of our favorite writers, we often imagine them sitting behind beautiful wooden desks, completing their manuscripts on fancy typewriters or with quills and parchment. It seems so strange to consider that before achieving literary stardom, many of these authors worked regular day jobs. Often, though, these jobs helped inspire the literary masterpieces that would get them out of working them.
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Charles Dickens is widely considered one of the most important writers in history, largely because his books had such a significant impact on the child labor laws of his day. He was likely able to write about these subject matters with such accuracy because as a young child, he himself worked in a factory under harsh conditions. During his time there, he met a boy whose last name was Fagin, who would inspire one of the most iconic characters of his beloved classic Oliver Twist.
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Before he ever wrote anything, a young Arthur Conan Doyle studied medicine and later worked as a doctor on multiple ships. Upon returning to land, he practiced as an independent surgeon and took to writing stories in-between helping patients. Although he quickly finished a novel, he continued to practice medicine. Five years later, though, he took to writing full-time when his first Sherlock Holmes story was met with unexpected success.
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Anyone familiar with the work of Jack Kerouac will likely not be surprised to learn before and during his writing career, he worked many different jobs and frequently paid tribute to them in his books. Fans of On the Road will remember that Kerouac worked as a night guard while those who have read Desolation Angels will remember his time as a fire lookout. Kerouac’s diverse resume includes many other positions, though, such as dishwasher, railroad brakeman, cotton picker and gas station attendant.
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Another writer who didn’t write until adulthood was Agatha Christie. During the war between Germany and the UK, Christie spent four years working as a volunteer at a military hospital helping wounded soldiers. In 1917, she became an apothecaries’ assistant, a position she held for the remainder of the war. Her time spent working in the medical and pharmaceuticals fields would serve as inspiration for much of her writing, both in her novels and plays.
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An interesting example is Jack London, who made money as a teenager by stealing oysters from farms around the San Francisco bay and selling them at a nearby Oakland marketplace. After losing his boat, though, London worked with the California Fish Patrol, then joined the crew of a boat that hunted seals. This tenure likely helped to inspire his later novel The Sea-Wolf, which shared similar elements with his classic The Call of the Wild.
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