Every writer has a different story about how they got started – and each story will inspire you in a different way. In this article, a guest author shares how seven successful authors started their writing careers…

Whether you’re a budding writer aspiring get published or curious about the mind from which your favourite story came, then huddle round as Christie Cluett tells you the story of how some of the world’s most famous authors began. She writes for GKBC.

When Harry Potter became a worldwide sensation J. K. Rowling was thrust into the limelight. Many people know her ‘rags to riches’ story and some may even know where she went to school, how she takes her coffee and what’s in her bins, but there are plenty of other authors waiting in the wings to reveal the secrets of their illustrious beginnings.

To learn more about how this successful author got her start, read How J.K. Rowling Followed Her Heart to Fame and Fortune.

And, here are snippets of the lives of six other successful writers…

Early Starters

Some novelists’ first words were probably at least four syllables. Noted children’s writer Jacqueline Wilson got started early, having written her first 18-page novel by the age of nine. She clocked up an impressive 40 books before the massive success of her most famous creation, Tracey Beaker.

Though, compared to Christopher Paolini she’s a slow learner. He wrote the first draft of his trilogy of novels, The Inheritance Cycle, at the tender age of 15. An example to all of us who were too busy looking moody at school discos!

Backed by a supportive family, he self-published it in 2001 at the grand old age of 18, promoting the book at libraries, bookshops and schools dressed in a medieval outfit. The book finally came to the attention of a publisher and went on to become a best-selling, four-book series.

The “Black Sheep” Authors

No art-form is complete without its black sheep and this is where you’ll find them, at the end of a dark alley, in an establishment few people dare to enter, scribbling notes on the back of a receipt.

Like many others, Hunter S Thompson’s writing career began as a journalist but soon swerved off-course. Gonzo journalism was born during an article he was writing on the Kentucky Derby. Having become so involved, the piece ended up being more about his turbulent time watching the race, fuelled by alcohol and drugs, rather than the event itself.

Throughout his career Thompson crossed back and forth between observer and participant, writing Hell’s Angels and most famously leaving readers questioning reality and fantasy in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

Edgar Allen Poe was also known for his errant ways, portrayed as a womanising, drunken madman. The original starving artist, he resorted to gambling and burning his furniture in order to survive. His famous poem, The Raven, only earned him $9, not enough to save the table, or the chairs.

However it’s thought his wild persona was created in his obituary as revenge for Poe’s harsh critique. Poe’s soul had the last laugh though, as his new bad boy reputation lifted sales of his books through the roof.

Write What You Know

Most advice on how to become a writer will include the old adage of writing about what you know. If your life is a tumultuous whirl of intrigue and mystery then so much the better.

John Le Carre writes from experience and it shows. His books draw you into a world of conspiracy while wearing a beige Mac and whispering to you from behind bookshelves. Le Carre insists that he was never a spy, however to those of us without a secret handshake, flashing his MI5 credentials would be enough to make most of us admit to anything.

The most famous spy of all, James Bond, was born out of Ian Fleming’s time working in British Naval Intelligence during the Second World War. Fleming’s own codename was 17F, which sounds more like a cleaner’s store room than a deadly assassin.

For Agent 007, Fleming combined the characteristics of all the secret agents he met, shaken obviously but not stirred. He wrote Casino Royale after the war at his Goldeneye estate in Jamaica – which he had built himself – and this was the first step in a series of books that would cement James Bond into popular culture.

Are You Headed for Fame and Fortune?

It seems that whoever you are, from the halls of the secret service to the smoke-filled dens of iniquity, life is providing you with excellent fodder for your stories, tales and yarns. For those aspiring writers among you this could be the basis of your first novel, for others simply the source of your best anecdotes.

If you haven’t read Lionel Shriver’s books, you’re missing out (she’s the author of We Need to Talk About Kevin). Her road to publication wasn’t easy – learn about it in Courage to Write – Tips From an Anxious Bestselling Author.


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7 thoughts on “How 7 Successful Authors Got Their Start”

  1. What I feel saddening (or makes me melancholic if sad is too heavy a word) is the fact that many writers never receive the due appreciation and often one writer encashes one good work and keeps on selling rather crappy write ups later. There are some platforms working to bring unknown authors to the forefront. Not saying that all these writers deserve appreciation but we cant discard them without trying out either.

  2. There are probably as many different stories of writers paths to success as there are successful authors. Though they are all a bit different they all more than likely have one common attribute. The writers found a way to find and capture readers.

  3. Christie,

    Thanks for contributing this article! It was interesting to read how authors – some I’ve never even heard of – got started in the biz. It gives me hope for the future 🙂

    What are your plans – are you pursuing a writing career?

    All good things,

  4. Hi Christie,

    This is a good list of authors, thank you. My favorite writer is Julia Cameron, especially because she encourages new writers to find mentors to help them stay motivated to write.

    She said, “You are on the look out for experience, strength, and hope. You want to hear from the horse’s mouth exactly how disappointments have been survived. It helps to know that the greats have had hard times too and that your own hard times merely make you part of the club.”

    If you can find a writing mentor, you’ll be more inspired than if you just learn about authors who succeeded.

  5. Michelle, I completely agree. It’s difficult to know who to include as a writer’s path to success is never easy.
    There were loads of amazing authors that got the chop. Stephen King has a great story, you’re right. Once he got going though, there was no stopping him. He had to come up with a pseudonym, Richard Bachman, to help take the strain of how much he was producing!

  6. You’re forgotten to add Stephen King to the list. His first book received 30 rejections, causing him to give up and throw it in the trash. His wife fished it out and encouraged him to resubmit it, and the rest is history! 🙂 behind every great man, is a great woman!