King’s ‘On Writing’ — a little reminiscence

I remember a moment in the book, like a glorious picture, since the first time I read it.

One Sunday not long after that call, I got one from Bill Thompson at Doubleday. I was alone in the apartment; Tabby had packed the kids off her mother’s for a visit and I was working on a new book which I thought of as Vampire in Our Town.

“Are you sitting down?” Bill asked.

“No,” I said. Our phone hung on the kitchen wall, and I was standing in the doorway between the kitchen and the living room. “Do I need to?”

“You might,” he said. “The paperback rights to Carrie went to Signet Books for four hundred thousand dollars.”

When I was a little kid, Daddy Guy had once said to my mother: “Why don’t you shut that kid up, Ruth? When Stephen opens his mouth, all his guts fall out.” It was true then, has been true all my life, but on that Mother’s Day in May of 1973 I was completely speechless. I stood there in the doorway, casting the same shadow as always, but I couldn’t talk. Bill asked if I was still there, kind of laughing as he said it. He knew I was.

The scene continues on for a bit more, with Stephen King asking Bill to reinforce and repeat that number until it could penetrate through his bubble of disbelief. Then, later, there is a beautiful moment where he is filled with excitement but is unable to share it with the one person he wants to share it the most, his wife, Tabitha until a little later. When he actually does share the information later that evening, armed with a silly, yet endearing, hair-dryer gift, she cries.

The first time I read it I had tears in my eyes too.

Stephen King had been my favorite author for a while. And for a long time, I had this hidden aspiration to be a writer someday; someone who could create stories a tenth as powerful as Stephen King does.

I had bought On Writing out of respect for the author and a fascination about what he has got to say about writing as a craft. If it had been a book about grammar rules and writing tips, I might have plodded through it, underlined choice tips and continued on with my life, hoping to follow these rules when I did get down to write someday.

But, On Writing was something else. About a half of the book is Stephen King’s journey as a writer, a tale that I found gut-wrenching and inspiring at the same time. It was a celebration of the passion for writing and yet a kick-in-the-ass for whiny creators who put in some effort and complain that they’ve not made it.

That particular moment, when he sells his first book contract, coming in the context of all the hardships and his intense desire to make it as a writer, made me tear up.

This was the book which gave me a kick in the ass to keep writing. It wasn’t about making it big. It was about the passion. It would remain the most inspiring book personally for me, although I have read enough books that would be deemed ‘better’ in an objective sense.

Writing would be the end-goal in itself. It would be nice if it did pay for rice but that isn’t the point.