If you watched the Oscars last month, odds are you probably weren't thinking about the writers nominated for awards or the grueling hours those writers spent at their keyboards. Oh, you were? Well, you probably weren't thinking about the jobs those writers worked before they became Academy Award-nominated screenwriters, right? I certainly wasn't. So it was shocking to me when the New York Times published a piece about Michael Punke, author of the novel The Revenant (the basis for the film of the same name) and holder of a pretty big deal 9-5 job as the Deputy United States Trade Representative and US Ambassador to the World Trade Organization.
I'm always interested in stories about writers who work jobs outside of writing and maintain successful careers as authors, but I'm just as interested in writers whose careers flourished on the fringes of the daily grind. Yes, plenty of writers are fortunate enough to have families or patrons to facilitate their craft, but that's never been my story. Maybe that's why I was so inspired when novelist John Brandon visited the MFA program I was attending years ago. What I remember, more than his reading, is Brandon's tale of drafting his first novel in between shifts at a windshield factory. Actually a series of factory and temp gigs, as he tells The Rumpus , allowed him to be "able to write a ton ... because [those jobs] demand so little of your brain. And when you punch out, you might as well step off the planet, as far as you’re concerned."
For those of us whose favorite parts of movies are the training scenes, where the heroine is hunched over a stack of books in the library or running through an obstacle course of tires, writers working day jobs are our bread-and-butter, our motivation when the going gets tough. Frankly, the going is always tough. And these 7 authors inspire me to find the energy to hit the page — even after I've punched the time clock.
1. Junot Díaz
Among other jobs he worked to put himself through college, delivering pool tables left fiction writer Junot Díaz’s with a bad back but fodder for one of his characters in his latest collection of stories, This Is How You Lose Her.
2. Mary Gaitskill
I think every Mary Gaitskill fan knows that the Bad Behavior author's salacious reputation stemmed from the work she did as a stripper and a call girl in her twenties, but she also Eliza Doolittled it in San Francisco, selling flowers.
3. Edward P. Jones
Out of college, fiction writer Edward P. Jones, whose 2004 novel, The Known World won the Pulitzer Prize, wrote press releases for the National Park Service.
4. Stanley Crawford
Crawford's books are cult classics: if you haven't read The Log of the S.S. the Mrs. Unguentine, you're in for a treat of the rarest and most idiosyncratic kind. If you're more of a foodie, though, check out Stanley Crawford's A Garlic Testament: Seasons on a Small New Mexico Farm. That's right — since the 70s, Crawford has actively maintained a farm that produces garlic. Lots and lots of garlic.
5. Merritt Tierce
Tierce only got an MFA after putting in her time in secretarial jobs and waitressing gigs, like the one at a ritzy steakhouse that inspired her novel, Love Me Back. But it's her career advocating on behalf of other women (she's served as Executive Director of Texas's Equal Access Fund, which helps abortions be accessible for all) that's truly inspiring.
6. David Sedaris
The personal essayist transformed working at Macy's as Crumpet the Elf into raucously funny material for his 1992 piece "Santaland Diaries," which was first broadcast on Morning Edition that same year — and helped launch him to literary superstardom.
7. Kevin Killian
Kevin Killian is an uber-writer, one of those multi-genre masters whose work is somehow mostly confined to the indie lit scene. But, though he doesn't get paid for it, one of Killian's other pastimes is about as mainstream as it gets: he pens reviews on Amazon. He's authored over 2000!
Images: Negative Space/Unsplash; Wikimedia Commons