Those who sometimes get asked that question have a steep advantage over the rest of us. They’ve “made it.” It’s like asking Brad Pitt what it’s like being an actor. Or Tom Cruise. Audiences want to hear about the new house they just bought in Aspen, or the new Ferrari they added to their collection of 21. Audiences want to dream, as if they were starring in their own version of “Lifestyles of the Rick and Famous,” replete with Robin Leach announcing their every bowel movement.
But those answers are cheating.
Or are they?
Who really wants to know that J.K. Rowling was living on welfare and on the brink of being evicted before her first Harry Potter book hit? That’s not glamorous! That’s what we peasants go through every day. We want hope! We want potential! This world of ours was borne from rags to riches stories, and we continued to buy into each and every one of them. We don’t care about the things that went into all that stardom, we just want the icing…you can keep the cake.
Here’s an interesting tale:
This is the story of Stephen King’s early writing career. If you’ve already read it or heard it, skip down.
On January 2, 1971, King married Tabitha King (born Tabitha Jane Spruce). In the fall of 1971 King took a teaching job at Hampden Academy, earning $6,400 a year. The Kings then moved to Hermon, a town west of Bangor. Stephen then began work on a short story about a teenage girl named Carietta White. After completing a few pages, he decided it was not a worthy story and crumpled the pages up and tossed them into the trash. Fortunately, Tabitha took the pages out and read them. She encouraged her husband to continue the story, which he did. In January 1973 he submitted “Carrie” to Doubleday. In March Doubleday bought the book. On May 12 the publisher sold the paperback rights for the novel to New American Library for $400,000. His contract called for his getting half of that sum, and he quit his teaching job to pursue writing full time. The rest, as they say, is history.
He threw the pages away.
Let that sink in for a moment.
That, my friends is a Cinderella story. What it doesn’t tell you are the months and hours he put in BEFORE he wrote what would become the bestselling novel Carrie. Here’s some perspective.
I began seriously writing (well, what I called serious writing) in 1997. Of course, that was the same year I tried quitting an addiction to drugs and alcohol cold turkey. Doesn’t leave a lot of room for creativity when you’re puking your guts out most of the day. I sold my first story about ten years ago. That would make it 2006. I earned $15. I took myself out to McDonald’s for dinner to celebrate.
My first real novel was begun in 1998. I’m still writing it. There’s an incredibly steep learning curve to writing. Now with the laughable “self-publishing” industry allowing any Tom, Rick, and Henrietta to publish their book, the market is flooded mostly with totally pure, unadulterated shit. Don’t get me started on self-publishing.
My so-called ‘magnum opus’ is still being written, but…and this is a huge deal breaker for me…I’m don’t feel, even after all these years, that my craft is worthy of the writing of it. No matter how many awards I win, or how many people tell me I made them cry with a story, I still find myself anxious over not being able to tell the best story in the best way possible. See, that’s what self-publishing leaves out. Not EVERY story should be told. Or written. Just as not every person should be a writer.
Here’s a hypothetical question: would you marry your brother or sister and then have kids by them? No: Why not?
Because something happens to those genes we should not be mixing together. They get screwy. The same thing happens when everybody thinks they can write. The gene pool gets so diluted, eventually stories will make little sense, and we will no longer care.
It’s true what they say about storytelling being an art form. No, not ant farm. A first grader’s finger painting, while worthy of a place on our refrigerator door, has no business being in the Louvre.
My caution to you is: do the work. Publish traditionally. Don’t fumble about in the shallow end of the gene pool lest your offspring come out resembling one of Stephen King’s characters. And NOT in a good way. Some writers deserve the fortune they’ve worked for. Some don’t. Learn to tell the difference.