"I shut my eyes in order to see."
Spain's greatest literary figure spent his early life not writing, but in a series of itinerant adventures. He served as a soldier in numerous campaigns, lost the use of his left hand at the naval battle of Lepanto, then was captured by Moors and lived as a slave for five years in Algiers. He tried four times to escape, and was finally ransomed by church officials. Upon returning to Spain, he worked as a tax collector and a purchasing agent for the Spanish Armada, and was thrown in jail several times for discrepancies in his bookkeeping.
By his own account, it was during one such stint in a jail in La Mancha that Cervantes conceived of his masterpiece, Don Quixote. Two years in writing, it was published to nearly instant acclaim. Within his lifetime it was translated into French and English, read and praised by many of the greatest writers of the day, including Shakespeare.
In Don Quixote, Cervantes gave birth to the modern novel. It was so influential that, even today, in France and Spain, Spanish is still known colloquially as "the language of Cervantes."