Some of the greatest books ever written were written by accountants. Or lawyers, or construction works. The decisions you make as a little tyke don’t necessarily have to dictate who you’ll always be. Here are some of our favorite writers who did not always think they’d end up as writers, including debut novelists Isabelle Ronin and Leah Weiss!
1. Kurt Vonnegut owned a car dealership
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Before his groundbreaking novel Slaughterhouse-Five, Vonnegut had a tough time supporting his family. He worked as a journalist for Sports Illustrated, and a PR exec for General Electric. Probably most bizarrely, though, he owned a Saab dealership in Massachusetts.
Regarding this part of Vonnegut’s life, his daughter, Edie Vonnegut, said, “We were part of presenting this very elegantly designed piece of technology and it felt very sophisticated. It felt more about art and cutting edge design than about cars.” It doesn’t seem too out of character if you think about it.
2. George Saunders worked as a geophysicist and swam in monkey shit
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Probably one of the most famous contemporary short story writers (who published his debut novel Lincoln in the Bardo this year, which is amazing), Saunders got his career start as a field geophysicist working on the Indonesian island Sumatra.
Saunders’s time as a field geophysicist didn’t last more than a couple years, though. He retired early after “swimming in a river that was polluted with monkey shit” and getting sick. But the writing didn’t immediately start then. Saunders then worked as “a doorman, a roofer, a convenience store clerk, and a slaughterhouse worker.” What a life.
3. Leah Weiss worked as an executive assistant for twenty-four years before writing her first book
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Just last month, Weiss published her insanely good debut novel If the Creek Don’t Rise. What’s crazy is she didn’t start writing until she was fifty-years-old. Before she got into writing, she worked as an executive assistant to the headmaster at Virginia Episcopal School. She did that for twenty-four years! At seventy-four-years-old, after a full career as an executive assistant, Weiss has published her first novel. Let that be a call to action for anybody feeling discouraged.
4. Stephanie Danler was (pretty unsurprisingly) a waitress
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Danler’s debut novel Sweetbitter focuses on Tess, who has just moved to New York and lands a job in an upscale restaurant. She is subsequently sucked into the world of wine, food, drugs, sex, and love. Danler’s previous occupation? Unsurprisingly, it was that of server at an upscale restaurant. She actually met her editor while serving him. She now has a two book deal, a huge fanbase, and a TV adaptation of Sweetbitter on the way, produced by none other than Brad Pitt.
5. Isabelle Ronin studied nursing before writing called her away
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Isabelle Ronin was studying to be a nurse before her Wattpad story Chasing Red became an international sensation. Ronin was born and raised in the Philippines and moved to Canada when she was twenty. Her family were very traditional, and she was raised with traditional expectations—to graduate college, get married, and start a family. She found herself jumping from one thing to the next, looking for something about which she felt passionate. She settled on nursing for a time, however dropped out to pursue writing. Once she focused on that, she told Bookstr, it was magic.
6. Bram Stoker was a crazy actor’s personal assistant
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The creator of Dracula was better known during his life time as actor Hentry Irving’s personal assistant and manager of London’s Lyceum Theatre than a writer. Henry Irving was reportedly extremely famous and extremely mad. He thought Dracula was dreadful and refused to appear in any adaptations of it. Before his PA life, Stoker received his degree in maths, worked in civil service at Dublin Castle, and wrote some unpaid reviews of plays.
7. Arthur Conan Doyle was a ship surgeon off the coast of West Africa
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Like John Watson, the fictitious narrator of the Holmes tales, Doyle was a surgeon during the 1880s. He studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh, and served as a surgeon aboard the ship SS Mayumba during a voyage on the coast of West Africa. When he returned, he started taking his writing career more seriously. In 1887, A Study in Scarlet was published and he became known for his Holmes stories. Oh, and he tried to become an ophthalmologist in the 1890s. He failed. He was bad at it.