If you are a fan of Stephen King or an aspiring writer, reading Stephen King’s On Writing. It is 6 foot wide vein of pure gold as he shares his journey. It’s especially fascinating to learn about his early life before all the fame and fortune.
Here’s what I’ve learned from Stephen through his personal story:
1. Following bliss while putting food on the the table. Stephen married and had 2 kids very early. He was not established as a writer. He was lucky to get a short story published in a magazine for a few dollars. To provide for his family he worked in a laundry facility. Then he became an English teacher and cleaned laundry in the summers. His wife, Tabby worked at Dunkin’ Donuts. They lived in a double wide trailer.
Throughout these long hours, low pay and a poverty line lifestyle, Stephen never stopped writing. He made the time to follow and live his bliss around putting food on the table for his family.
2. The partner and people in your life have a direct impact on your work. In the early stages, there were near breaking points. Sitting at his teacher’s desk hung over from drinking the night before, the thoughts of his 50 year old self with 10 unfinished manuscripts in his desk drawer felt real and haunted him. It was the closest he came to packing it in.
It was Tabby that saved him. She was his boon, his pillar of support through these unprofitable years. Despite years of unsuccessful writing, Tabby never suggested he change his life direction. Her encouragement, support, and belief was the one constant Stephen could depend and lean on.
Not only did she save him, she also saved “Carrie.” “Carrie” was intended to be a short story for a magazine. Stephen didn’t like it and threw out the manuscript. Tabby went into his office one day and saw the manuscript in the garbage. She pulled it out and read it. That night, she told Stephen, “You’ve got something here. See this story through.”
Stephen did so. He expanded it into a novel and took a swing with the publishers. Months later, in his shitty four room apartment he received a phone call. “Carrie’s going to published. The rights have been sold to DoubleDay for $400,000 and a $200,000 advance to the author.” It was the first book ever published by Stephen King and began his prolific streak of superb novels and blockbuster hits.
3. Life isn’t a support-system for art. It’s the other way around. Stephen was alcoholic, albeit a functioning alcoholic during his first 10-15 years writing. He starting abusing drugs as well. The intervention came. His wife, family and children didn’t want to see him kill himself through drugs. They gave him the choice: Stop using or lose your family.
He was afraid if he stopped using he wouldn’t be able to write. After the intervention and buying a couple weeks to think things through, he said, “I would trade writing for staying married and watching the kids grow up, if it came to that.”
Stephen cleaned up. He traded his huge desk in the center of the den room for a smaller desk and put in the corner. The centerpiece of the den now became a place for his family. Pizza, basketball games and movies with his kids. Stephen realized the love and support his family gave him. He embraced this fully. He learned life isn’t a support-system for art. Art is a support system for life.
4. Keep working. You’ll find your rhythm again. There is this myth that artists need to be drunk, high or in an altered state to be creative. Despite the Hemingway romanticism, this is simply bullshit. After recovery, no doubt there was adjustment period for Stephen. He had to learn how to work and write sober again. It was tough at first.
He plowed through some dull projects, put in the bottom drawer of his desk and then moved on to the next project. Through movement, through action and through yes, some choppy seas and bad writing, he found his rhythm again. He realized everything was still there. His imagination, his talent, his tools, his bliss.
He built his writing muscles up again, but it took the daily exercise of writing to get there.
5. Health, Relationships and Work – He hates answering what the secret of success is because there is no answer to that. But if he had to choose, it would b 2 things: his health, and his relationship with his wife. He said, “My health and my wife made the continuity of my working life possible. I also believe the converse is true. That my writing and the pleasure I take in it has contributed to the stability of my health and my home life.”