Recently I re-read Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ and for me, it still stands out as one of the best books focusing on ‘the craft’. The memoir conversational style of writing throughout creates a very honest and accessible account of King’s journey to becoming a best-selling author, with the technical advice neatly threaded into the narrative in a way that makes you think this guy clearly knows what he’s talking about, as you can read he’s a natural storyteller within the pages of this book.
Things that struck me this time around when I was reading was the fearlessness and tenacity King showed as a young writer when he would study the stories in numerous short story publications, then submit, submit, submit. If he got a rejection (and there were many as he started out), he simply kept going, often re-working and quickly re-submitting elsewhere, all the time consciously developing his craft. He did what we should all do really – don’t dwell on the ‘no’, just strive to get better and to find your story a home where it fits. (Keep reading on and I’ll share a challenge which might help with this)
Ironically the one time King nearly gave up on a piece of writing was with Carrie, his debut novel that launched his career. When he started to write Carrie, it was as a short story, and he felt it just wasn’t working. I love the way King threads in stories about his wife Tabitha, often reminiscing about how she has supported him at key moments throughout his career. Nothing better illustrates this than when Tabitha retrieves the crumpled pages of Carrie out of the bin and tells King to keep going because she wants to see how the story ends. King reflects on what his experience with Carrie taught him and I’ll quote an abridged version here;
Don’t stop a piece of work because it’s hard (emotionally or imaginatively). Keep going even when you don’t feel like it, and ‘sometimes you’re doing good work when it feels like all you’re managing is shoveling shit from a sitting position.’ pg.82
Another section which stood out to me was when King described ‘the first time in (his) life, (when) writing was hard’. This was when he was working as a teacher, and even although he acknowledged the good parts – loving the kids and co-workers – he described ending the week feeling like he had ‘jumper cables clamped to (his) brain.’ (pg. 76) and it was the one time he, ..’came close to despairing about (his) future as a writer.’ I’ve included this in this post as it’s something, even with dropping a day at work, that really resonates with me. With a caseload of close to one hundred young people (doing indepth one to one work), and I’m now in an education setting one day a week, I understand the ‘jumper cables clamped to my brain’ description very well. It takes a lot to decompress, and stay creative.
Staying motivated to write when you have a lot of other things competing with your time is difficult. Especially if you don’t always see much reward.
So, something else I read lately which caught my attention, and actually gave me a spark of motivation, was an article about setting yourself Rejection Goals. You can read ‘Why You should aim to get 100 Rejections a Year’ here (The author of the article Kim Liao actually references King’s On Writing and the way he collected his initial rejections, nailing them to the wall, like a badge of honour).
The idea behind the 100 rejections goal is the more you submit, the more acceptances you are likely to get, and it quietens ‘your fragile ego.’ The perfectionist in me, never mind my fragile creative ego, thinks the psychology of this one is quite clever – if I can trick my brain into thinking my aim is to reach 100 rejections, I’m going to let go of any nagging doubts that I’m not good enough, and to let go of any disappointments of ‘set-backs’ because that simply is no longer the objective of my task.
So if you’re reading this and it seems like a great new challenge to embark upon, why don’t you join me?
We can sail into 2023 with the aim of racking up a lot of ‘nos’, or in the case of modern publishing, a big empty silence of never hearing back …