Before They Were Famous: William Faulkner

William Faulkner, one of the most distinguished modernist authors, received two Nobel Prizes for fiction and one for literature. Over the course of his writing career, he earned a robust reputation for not only his novels, which openly confronted controversial issues rooted in the rural south, but also his poetry, short stories, and screenplays. Despite his prowess as a literary juggernaut, Faulkner — much to the surprise of many of his most avid fans — encountered a number of personal and professional rejections during his early life.

Faulkner lacked an interest in formal education, dropping out of high school at a young age to pursue a career. To support himself, he worked as a bank clerk in the southern town of Oxford and wrote in his free time. Inspired by Algernon Swinburne, John Keats, and A. E. Housman, much of Faulkner’s earliest works were poems, a good number of which were addressed to his love interest, Estelle Oldham. Despite the young writer’s best efforts, Oldham’s parents disapproved of the couple’s courtship and encouraged their daughter to seek a suitor with better financial prospects.

In 1918, Faulkner attempted to enlist in the U.S. Army with the hopes of pursuing a career as a pilot. However, his application was denied when he failed to meet physical requirements. Determined to see action, Faulkner travelled to Toronto, Canada. Claiming to be an English citizen, he successfully joined the Royal Canadian Air Force. Unfortunately, by the time he reached France, the first World War had ended.

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Before They Were Famous: J.K. Rowling

J.K. Rowling

Joanne “J.K.” Rowling has earned her place as one of the best-loved and most widely recognized contemporary writers by authoring the Harry Potter series–seven fantasy adventures that captivated old and young readers alike, leaving much of the world spellbound.

Unsurprisingly, Rowling’s own story seems just as magical as the tales of the wizarding world she invented. Currently ranked the twelfth richest woman in England, Rowling once struggled to support her daughter, subsisting on welfare and battling depression.

Before writing the Harry Potter series, Rowling led the life of a struggling writer and single mom. After divorcing her first husband in her mid-20s, the now famous author was diagnosed with severe depression and spent nine months in cognitive behavioral therapy. However, in 1990, Rowling experienced a fantastic life change.

J.K. Rowling

While traveling by train from Manchester to London, a strange idea sprang into Rowling’s brain. Suddenly, her head overflowed with magical scenes of fantastic escapades involving an unlikely protagonist, a scrawny, glasses-wearing boy wizard. At the time, she lamented not having a pen to jot down the story, but soon she realized it possessed a certain magic that would require a great deal of carefulness and craft to transfer to paper.

For the rest of her trip, which lasted four hours, Rowling ruminated on her vision-like ideas, reliving those few precious daydreams that would eventually transform into the book we now know as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Once Rowling returned home, she immediately began writing her novel –a project she would labor over for the next seven years.

In June of 1997, she finally completed the book that would, despite being rejected by twelve different publishing houses, become one of the best-loved stories ever written.

J.K. Rowling launched a literary phenomenon, inspiring people of all generations to embrace a love of reading with a little unexpected sorcery. She taught us lessons in bravery, friendship, and family—a true feat of magic.

— Dominique Dusek, Assistant Managing Editor & Submissions Manager

Before They Were Famous: Stephen King

Steven King

One of America’s most beloved horror and suspense writers, Stephen King has published numerous best-selling titles including The Shinning, Misery and the Dark Tower series. The recipient of a Bram Stoker Award, an O. Henry Award and many other literary honors, King has penned 54 novels and nearly 200 hundred short stories. 

However, King’s early career was fraught with struggles as the now-established author suffered many rejections in addition to financial stress. While writing his first novel, Carrie, King became so discouraged he discarded his manuscript. Luckily, his wife Tabitha retrieved the draft from the trash and encouraged her husband to keep writing.

In 1973, Doubleday Publishing House accepted King’s Carrie for printing, paying him $400,000 for the paperback rights. This was a significant sum of money for the struggling writer. This was King’s first major publishing success and the one that would solidify his career.

In the decades since then, King has continued to publish profusely both as himself and under the pseudonym Richard Bachman. Despite his initial hardships, he has distinguished himself as a remarkable writer with a macabre imagination, a favorite among many for his strange and unsettling fiction. 

— Dominique Dusek, Assistant Managing & Submissions Manager

Discuss: Having a Day Job

As I’m sure you know, most people who try to make a living by writing tend to have a day job on the side. The reality of living a creative life is that you often have to supplement your creative work with something more menial or mind-numbing. Some of us may be lucky enough to have a job that revolves around words in some way, even if it does not consist of us writing and publishing our own work. But still, we are often unable to devote the majority of our days to writing itself.

Personally, I do have a day job. There was a time in college when I thought I could make a living simply by writing. But it soon became apparent that that was not a realistic option if I ever wanted to leave my parents home. So I, like many of you, “sold out” and got myself a day job to pay the bills. All of my writing progress is made during the evening and on weekends.

As I said, having a day job is often thought of as “selling out.” Or, at least, that’s what I thought. Recently I saw a quote from comedian Sara Benincasa on a website called Write For Your Life, which put a different light on the “day job.” The quote said, “Real artists have day jobs, and night jobs, and afternoon jobs. Real artists make things other than art, and then they make time to make art because art is screaming to get out from inside them. Screaming, or begging, or gently whispering.”

This was not an opinion that I heard of before. In general, I’ve always heard day jobs spoken of as annoyances that we have to go through because creative work doesn’t pay as much as we would like. If we didn’t have a day job, then we were thought of as “suffering” for our art rather than “selling out.” But, in this quote, Sara Benincasa makes having a day job necessary to the creative lifestyle. These jobs are a necessity to take us away from our art for a time so that, when we do return, we’re ready to create to our heart’s content.

I must say that I like this quote and this take on the whole idea of a “day job.” I may be biased because I have a day job myself, but this makes sense to me. Sometimes you need distance from the art you’re working on, you need to give your brain a rest, so that you can return fresh and ready to create again.

What do you think about this quote? Do you agree? Share your thoughts on the “day job” in the comments!

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan