Me and Stephen King

I finally got around to reading Stephen King’s book “On Writing”. It’s a book I’ve been wanting to read forever because I’ve heard so many good things about it. It didn’t disappoint. I loved Mr. King’s stories about his childhood and growing up, the good times and the bad times in his life, his working process, and the stories and inspirations behind some of his books. I felt as if he were in the room with me, telling his story. Potty mouth and all.

As writers, Stephen King and I are about as far apart on the spectrum as we can get. King writes suspense and horror, and I write romance. King likes to write by the seat of his pants, taking a “What if?” question and spinning it into a story that may go in directions even he can’t predict. I like to know where my story is going before I write word one. Stephen King is a superstar mega-writer, and I’m…not.

So I was surprised to find points of similar experience with him, and agreement in philosophy on our very dissimilar journeys as writers.

King speaks lovingly of his wife Tabitha, crediting her for encouraging him to stick with his story when he tossed the opening pages of “Carrie” in the trash, and bringing him back from the abyss when he was consumed by alcohol and drugs. King says “When asked for the secret of my success…I sometimes say there are two: I stayed physically healthy…and I stayed married.” A stable marriage and a partner who believed in him, even in the bad times, made his writing life possible. He says that if his wife had told him to forget about writing back when he was a struggling young writer, working a full-time day job and just barely making enough money to take care of his family, he probably would have given up. It’s so easy to quash a writer’s confidence in the early stages when things don’t look good. But Tabitha always believed in him.

My husband has always been my rock. He’s never told me that I’m wasting my time writing. Trying to chase this career has meant that I’ve worked part-time instead of full-time for many years, and it’s meant less income. But he’s never complained. He always jokes that he really hopes my career takes off because he wants to be a “kept man”. I would love nothing more than to make that happen.

King believes in his writing muse, but he also believes in hard work. He says “There is a muse, but he’s not going to come fluttering down into your writing room and scatter creative fairy-dust all over your typewriter or computer station…You have to do all the grunt labor.” I agree. Writing is hard work and you can’t rely on some kind of divine inspiration to help you. You have to get in there and put in the time. My hope is that my hard work will help me rise from being a “competent” writer to a “good” one.

King told a story about being made to feel ashamed about his writing when he was a kid. He’d come up with the idea of writing a horror/thriller short story based on a movie he’d seen, making copies of it, and selling them to his friends at school. A teacher made him give back all the money, saying that he was wasting his talent on this kind of ‘junk” writing. Despite loving what he wrote, then and later, that shame didn’t go away. King says he was about forty before he “realized that almost every writer of fiction and poetry who has ever published a line has been accused by someone of wasting his or her God-given talent.”

For many years, I didn’t even tell people I wrote, let alone that I wrote romance. Despite its popularity, romance doesn’t get much respect. Even now, after publishing ten romance novels, I get asked if I’m going to write “something else”.  I’m definitely not ashamed of my work, but there certainly can be an embarrassment factor at times. It’s something I’m still working on.

I will likely never reach the heights of fame and fortune that Stephen King has achieved, and I doubt I’ll ever be as good a storyteller as he is. But it was comforting to know we’re not so different after all.


Me and Stephen King — 9 Comments

  1. Great post, Jana. And honest. I feel that, too, when I say I write romance and they say “oh, I never read that” or something obnoxious about bodice-rippers–both embarrassed and exasperated!

    My husband would like to join yours in the “Kept man” status! :)

    • I think a lot of people who say they never read romance are probably lying, because clearly, somebody’s buying these books! I don’t remember the exact figures, but romance outsells just about every other genre combined. But it gave me a feeling of “You feel that way too?” when I read Stephen King say that he was made to feel ashamed about his writing. Of course, he can thumb his nose at the nay-sayers as he laughs all the way to the bank!

      I would so much like to make my husband a kept man. He deserves it!

  2. I really enjoyed that book, too, Jana. I read it when it first came out and it was a huge factor in motivating me to get serious about getting words on the page. In fact, it played a large role in our decision to get rid of television, a habit we still maintain.

    • You got rid of your TV? No wonder you’re so prolific! I wish I’d read the book when it first came out in 2000, though I think I’m too addicted to TV to ever completely go cold turkey.

      I think one of the things I loved most about the book was the way he talked about loving the act of writing. He finds great joy in putting the words on the page. Sometimes I get so caught up in marketing and schedules and life in general, that I forget to simply enjoy what I do. This book was a good reminder to find the joy.

      • We got rid of cable, which meant no watching anything unless we deliberately rented it. But yes, I do think it’s made a huge difference in both my creativity and productivity. Breaking that addiction was huge for me. And yes – taking joy in it is SO important!

  3. Okay, now I need to read that book because my husband would like to become a kept man. It’s always been his goal for my writing. And I’d love for him to be able to quit his job and take care of the business end of writing for me. Yeah, I know. Dream on.

  4. I read this book, the only Stephen King book I’ve ever read, since I’m not a fan or horror. I absolutely LOVED IT. I love that he was completely honest about his experience, even the not-to-pretty parts. I also loved the story about his wife retrieving Carrie from the trash. I’d forgotten about the part about him being made to feel badly about his writing, early on. Thank you so much for this wonderful piece on the book. Makes me want to break it out and re-read it.

    • I’ve only read one other Stephen King book, “The Shining”. I’m a total wimp when it comes to horror. My favourite part of “On Writing” was when he’s told that the rights to sell “Carrie” in paperback sold for $400,000, of which he got $200,000. The Kings were living hand to mouth; they didn’t even have a phone. When his wife heard the news, she just broke down and cried.

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