Just two years later, the family was back on financial hard times. Fourteen-year-old Dickens withdrew from school for the last time and went to work. He took a job as a law clerk in London. He also started hanging out around London's theater district, nurturing what was to be a lifelong love of stagecraft and drama. (He later began acting in and writing amateur plays.) In 1828, when he was sixteen, Dickens got his first gig as a professional writer, working as a freelance reporter covering the courts. His exposure to the legal system – and to the disproportionate number of poor people who became embroiled in it – later helped inform novels like Bleak House.
Dickens also fell in love for the first time. He met Maria Beadnell in 1830. Her well-to-do parents were not excited about the relationship, and they sent her away to school in Paris to discourage the couple. In 1833, the relationship ended. Maria Beadnell surfaced again twenty years later in Dickens's thinly-veiled, not-so-nice portrayal of her in Little Dorrit.
In December 1833, Dickens's first piece of fiction writing, a short story called "A Dinner at Poplar Walk," appeared in Old Monthly Magazine. The story was published anonymously, and Dickens did not get paid for it. But his obvious talent for descriptive writing drew the attention of his editor at the Morning Chronicle, who suggested that he start writing vignettes, or sketches, of life around London. Several of these narratives were published together in 1836 as Sketches by Boz, Dickens's first book. (Boz was his nickname.) A legendary writing career began.