Before They Were Famous: What Some Famous Authors Did Before Hitting It Big
Sometimes, I get really frustrated, because I haven’t had huge amounts of success with this writing thing. Granted, I’ve only really been at it for three years, and most of that time, I’d say, was spent learning rather than earning. But, I’m human, and impatient, and constantly looking for inspiration to keep me going.
On the days when I’m juggling a puking toddler, a forgot-to-pay-a-bill notice, and the realization that I have to carve out time to buy groceries, finish up client work, and cook dinner before I can even look at my fiction, I turn to Google to help keep me going. Always curious, I often ask myself if writers like Neil Gaiman or J.K. Rowling ever had to deal with these things before they struck it big, and the answer is, yes and no.
Most writers (gasp) weren’t born successful. They had to work hard, put in their time at a crappy job they hated, and pay their dues before finding success. Here are a few of my favorites, and the things they did prior to becoming the awesome authors we know and love today.
The “Harry Potter” author is well-known for being a poor single mum on benefits when she drafted her iconic novel in Edinburgh cafes while her baby napped, but she was oh-so-much like the rest of us in many other ways, too. She started life being teased for her last name, went on to study courses her parents wanted her to, rather than those she really wanted to study, and held a job as a teacher before finding success as an author.
Rowling also had a failed marriage, lost her mother to a terrible illness, and worked for Amnesty International before ever putting pen to paper. These all undoubtedly helped shape her writing and the lovely person that she has become.
Horror writer Stephen King may have been born to be a writer, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t pay his dues with other jobs. He worked in a laundry while penning some of his earlier stories, and was a teacher long before his name was known in households around the world.
King’s success can be attributed to his dedication to the craft of writing; he simply never stops. In fact, in his early career, his pseudonym, Richard Bachman, was created because King felt it was too unusual for an author to release several books a year, so he created the alter-ego to split the publishing.
Neil Gaiman always knew he wanted to be an author. He wasn’t put off by his initial rejections because he was convinced that he had the talent, just not the “know-how” of how the publishing world worked. He has admitted that he wasn’t as great as the thought he was when he first started, but I’d like to point out that his faith in himself is one of the most important reasons why he did succeed. He simply did not believe he could fail.
Neil did work as a journalist and freelance writer to earn a living before getting published. He worked on learning all he could about the publishing process and honed his craft, great advice for every writer!
Admittedly, I’ve never read one of Sparks’ books, but he’s big-time famous round here in SC, so I thought I’d see just how he found success. I was surprised to find that this romance, feel-good writer had more than his share of tragedy and stress before finding success with books like “The Notebook.”
His first two books were never published. He wrote them while he worked at jobs such as a real estate appraiser, food service, and pharmaceutical sales.
His mother died in a tragic accident before his first book was ever published. His sister would later die of cancer, and his father died before Sparks began his first book became the smash-hit that it is today.
Still, despite all the bad stuff going on in his personal life, Sparks persevered, with his wife and kids standing firmly behind him. It just goes to show that if you have a great support network in place, and you never give up, you can succeed.
Want to know how America’s most prolific writer got so successful? He just kept writing, and used his knowledge gained by working in marketing to make his works widely known.
Controversial for his extensive use of ghostwriters, Patterson has learned the art of delegation can help turn creative ideas into actual books. He has sometimes given credit to his ghostwriters on the covers of his books, and he has always been open about giving back to his fans by promoting childhood reading.
Like him or loathe him, Patterson shows us all that if you ask for help, use all the resources at your disposal, and give back to your fans, you just can’t fail.
Cornwell’s most famous novels feature medical examiner Kay Scarpetta. The gritty thrillers have a LOT of information about forensics and medicine in them, primarily because the author is familiar with these subjects from her job in the office of the Chief Medical Examiner of Virginia.
Cornwell also wrote articles for her local newspaper, covering crime stories in the area. Her books reflect her knowledge, making them believable and easy to read. It just goes to show you that if you write what you know, people will find it much more palatable.
The next time you’re juggling your full-time career or family with your writing, remember, we’ve all got to start somewhere. Don’t give up, keep on writing, and who knows…you could end up on a list like this some day!