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.