We dedicate this blog to struggling writers and artists who regularly have to work odd jobs to pay their bills. The message is clear: Never ever give up hope. Many famous people had to surmount major obstacles on their path to success. Odd job was just a part of their lives.
By Mithu Das May 21, 2017
"To dream to become a writer while working in a day job to support your family can be pretty hard," said Mr Das, 43, a struggling writer. "And if you belong to a poor family, which live in a small town like Golaghat where opportunities are relatively limited, the whole situation could appeal to you sense of the ridiculous."
After his father died in an accident, Das, the eldest of five siblings, had to quit college and shouldered the burden of his family. Since then, he has been working different odd jobs to support his family as well as to maintain his enthusiasm for writing. He started his writing career in Assamese language in which he had written few articles for local newspapers and magazines. But soon after he realised that he could not afford to learn Assamese language— besides, after he was conveniently ignored by a local writer—he stopped writing in Assamese altogether and switched to English language. After Internet became widely available he has started to learn English grammar, creative writing and literature by online courses. Expecting to complete the courses within a few years, he hopes that he could pursue a career in writing.
Time will tell whether Das will succeed or not but their valiant efforts towards their goal is highly commendable. We know Das is not alone; there are many struggling writers and artists who regularly have to work odd jobs to pay their bills. To encourage these people we've provided a list (below) of famous people who had to work different odd jobs before they were famous.
When Charles Dickens was just 12 years old his father was sent to a debtors’ prison, and Dickens—to pay his father's debt as well as to support his family—worked at a shoe polish factory. He worked 10 hours a day for a monthly wage of 24 shillings. His early life experience are reflected in his many novels. He also worked as a freelance journalist and legal clerk in a London law office.
Like many struggling writers today, Franz Kafka had also worked on a day job to keep his writing alive. Kafka started work as a clerk in an insurance company where he worked 10 hours a day, although after a year or so he quit the job because he barely had time to concentrate on his writing. Few weeks later he joined the Workman’s Accident Insurance Institute of Prague where he had worked till 1922, during which time he had completed writing The Metamorphosis.
The author of the masterpiece Moby Dick, Herman Melville worked as a bank clerk, teacher and a cabin boy on a marchant ship. Melville got unforgettable experience during his employment on different whaling ships—he was captured by cannibals at the Marquesas Islands, involved in a mutiny and imprisoned, and worked as a beachcomber in Tahiti.
William Faulkner had never earned a high school diploma and after dropping out from school, he worked in carpentry and as a clerk at his grandfather’s bank, according to biography.com. Later he joined as postmaster at the University of Mississippi where he worked two years before handed in his resignation: "As long as I live under the capitalist system I expect to have my life influenced by the demands of moneyed people. But I will be damned if I propose to be at the beck and call of every itinerant scoundrel who has two cents to invest in a postage stamp. This, sir, is my resignation."
T. S. Eliot worked as a clerk in Lloyds Bank, eight hours a day, although he admitted that he had enjoyed the work. “It is not nearly so fatiguing as school teaching, and is more interesting." One of Eliot's best friend Ezra Pound had tried to rescue Eliot from employment, but Eliot didn't immediately quit the job and kept working till 1925. However, the next year he joined as an editor at the publishing firm Faber and Gwyer. Eliot's The Waste Land (1922), one of the most influential works of the 20th century, had been written during his employment in Lloyds.
Jack London's life, like his novels, was full of adventure, drama and action. At the early age of ten, London—who belonged to a working class family—worked as a newspaper delivery boy and a helper on an ice wagon. When he was fifteen he went to work in a cannery where he worked 18–20 hours a day. Later he bought a sloop and became an oyster pirate on the San Francisco Bay.
Harper Lee wanted to be a lawyer. After completing her graduation from Oxford University she studied law at the University of Alabama. Unfortunately, she dropped out after the first semester. In 1949, she arrived in New York and started to work as a reservationist for Eastern Airlines, all while she kept practicing writing in her free time. She had been working there for eight years until one Christmas day, a friend of hers—Michael Martin Brown—gifted her one year wages so that she could write full time. Lee quit her job and after one year she had completed her first draft of To Kill A Mockingbird.
Who on this earth has examined life more than William S. Burroughs? Burroughs was a drug addict, gun lover, bisexual, traveller, odd job seeker, one of the founders of Beat Movement and a great author. He joined the army and discharged; worked as a bug exterminator and bartender. Burroughs wrote different books on different subjects; he wrote The Naked Lunch (1959) on homosexuality; Junkie: Confessions of an Unredeemed Drug Addict (1953) on drug addition; and Exterminator! (1973) on his experiences on odd jobs.
John Steinbeck went to study in the Standford but he did not attend the classes regularly. Instead, he liked to work among labourers on ranches, in the sugar field and beet harvest. After leaving Standford in 1925—without completing his degree—he worked as a caretaker at a fish hatchery in Lake Tahoe and construction worker in Madison Square Garden. "His experiences lent authenticity to his depictions of the lives of the workers in his stories," writes Encyclopedia Britannica.
Nirad Chandra Chaudhuri started work as a clerk in the Accounting Department of the Indian Army. He also worked as a journalist and editor for a while. In 1941 he joined the All India Radio as a political commentator but he was fired from his job by Jawaharlal Nehru Administration. (Nehru was the then Prime Minister of India.) Chaudhuri was blamed for dedicating his book The Autobiography of An Unknown Indian (1951) to British Empire. After losing his job, Chaudhuri and his family lived in poverty. Later he moved to London and settled down there. Chaudhuri wrote a good many books in English as well as in Bengali language.
Maya Angelou was a poet, author, screenwriter, actress, dancer and civil rights activist. Angelou started work odd jobs at the early age of 16. She was the first black female cable car conductor in San Francisco. She also worked as a cook and a paint-stripper in a mechanic shop.
Kurt Vonnegut enlisted in the U. S. Air Force in 1943 and fought World War II, during which time he was captured by Germans and imprisoned in an underground meat locker. He was one of the survivors of the Allied firebombing of Dresden. After war he came back home and started work different odd jobs to support his family. He worked as a newspaper reporter, teacher, and public relations employee for General Electric. In 1957, he opened up SAAB dealership in Cape Code. Luckily, lack of customers helped him write Sirens of Titan, said Vonnegut.
After dropping out from Los Angeles City College, Charles Bukowski worked different odd jobs to support himself. He worked as a clerk in a post office, mail carrier, dishwasher and drove a truck. From 1946 to 1955 Bukowski had traveled across the U. S., "living the life of a destitute alcoholic drifter". He had quit writing for a while. However, at the age of 49, he started writing again and completed his first novel Post Office (1971).
"Remember, my talented friend, there are Michel-angelos begging everywhere in the streets of Rome," writes Stephen King in his horror novel The Shining (1977) on which he depicts the main character, Jack Torrence, as a struggling writer. The Shining is King's third novel. His first novel was Carrie (1974) which he wrote while he had been serving as a janitor for a high school.
Author of the famous books like The Handmaid’s Tale, Cat's Eye, and The Circle Game, Margaret Atwood started work as a teacher after completing her master's degree from Redcliffe. Later she joined as a counter girl in a coffee shop in Toronto. She didn't hate the job but she didn't like to manage the cash register either, which she described as "perverse".
John Grisham is famously known for his legal thrillers. Grisham involved in different odd jobs when he was studying at college. He worked at a nursery where his job was to look after bushes. However, after few months he left the job and started work as a plumber's assitant. This job—digging for pipes under a customer's house—was miserable, said Grisham. He also practised law and served as a Democrat for few years.
It was 1925. Langston Hughes was working as a busboy in Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, D. C. One day Hughes was pretty surprised to see Vachel Lindsay, the famous American poet, at the hotel. He met him and handed him three of his own poems. Reading the poems, Lindsay was highly delighted. "The next day, newspapers around the country reported that Lindsay had “discovered” an African American busboy poet."
A four-time Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Frost worked as a newspaper boy and teacher. In 1893—after dropping out from Dartmouth College—Frost worked in Arlington Woolen Mills changing light bulb filaments. It was a dangerous job, said Frost, "stand over going machinery on the top step of a stepladder with nothing to hold on to or brace a shin against and unsling an arc lamp from the ceiling for repairs."
Mahasweta Devi was a writer and social activist. She wrote in Bengali language. "In more than 100 novels and short stories, she wrote of India’s tribal communities and Maoist rebels, prostitutes and nomads, beggars and laborers" (The New York Times). After Mahasweta Devi got married, she had to involve in different odd jobs to supplement her husband’s income. She worked in a post office (from where she was fired for her communist leaning), selling soaps and writing letters in English for illiterate people.
According to Times of India Blogs, the Indian author Peru Murugan, who writes in Tamil language, sells fish at Zam Bazaar in Chennai’s Triplicane. "And when he is not in his shop, he writes short stories and translates English books into Tamil. Some of his stories are based on his daily work with fisherfolk and the activities in the fish market."Back to Top
Sources: Huffington Post; Writer's Digest; buzzfeed.com; poets.org; business insider.com; kafka-online.info; Biography.com; notablebiographies.com; Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Curry; enotes.com; Encyclopaedia Britannica; Wikipedia; Experteditor.com.au; Times of India Blogs.
Rajmohan's Wife, the first Indian novel in English, was written by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee in 1864.
Pink-headed Duck: Is It Still Alive?
Pink-headed duck has gone extinct due to hunting and habitat loss. Last seen in the wild in 1949.
Majuli: An Island Too Good To Be True
Majuli, one of the world's largest river islands, is not only famous for its Satras but also for its wetlands and birds.
Rongali Bihu: The Most Popular Spring Festival of Assam
People in Assam celebrate spring festival in mid-April. It is Rongali Bihu.
The Sad Story of Passenger Pigeon
No matter how superabundant a species is, excessive hunting and habitat destruction can wipe it out within few decades.
White Wagtail - A Common Winter Visitor to Assam
White wagtail is migratory bird found in Europe, Asia and Africa. Six species are found in Assam and NE India.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.