“When I got my rejection slip…I pounded a nail into the wall above the Webcor [phonograph]…and poked [the rejection slip] onto the nail…By the time I was fourteen (and shaving twice a week whether I needed to or not) the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing.” – Stephen King
Stephen King’s memoir, On Writing, is one of the greatest insights into how even one of the most influential writer’s of our time had struggled trying to capture their big break. For those of us in artistic based fields it can be easy to see prolific creators and automatically assume they’ve been creating incredible work from day one. That is rarely, if ever, the case. Johnny Depp was a telemarketer before he made it into acting, Oprah Winfrey was working for a radio station before she got her chance in the spotlight and making her career in television, and Rod Stewart was busy playing football for a local club before he made his music career.
On Writing explains just how how hard it is to break through the door and how even the greatest artists of our generation, and past, have had to work just as hard if not harder to get to where they are. It pin points valuable lessons and turning points King has learnt along the way.
1) King tried to sell his writing from the very beginning and as such got brutally honest feedback
No one bursts into their field 100% perfect (despite what they say). To be the best you need to fight to be the best. To train, to constantly keep learning and practicing, to stay ahead of the competition by finding new ways to do things, by learning how others do things, to find out what the trends are, and learn from the criticism no matter how devastating.
Gordon Ramsay is one of the top chef’s in the world, how he did it? He started at the bottom of the food chain in a restaurant and worked his way up to head chef. Once he got there do you think he stayed? Nope. He quit, moved onto a new restaurant, started at the bottom and worked his way up to the top all over again. The more knowledge you have the better, the more you know about your field the better your tool kit to climb that mountain and get to the top!
2) He constantly aimed above his current skill level
Dress for the job you want, not the one you have. Have you ever heard that saying? It’s not just a line from a movie, it applies in real life. While you may have thought your mum was a little bias when she said you are worth more than you think you are, she was right. You need to be your own best and worst critic. ‘Worst’ pushes you do better, while ‘Best’ gets you the job. You need to sell yourself and believe in your product, if you don’t believe in what your selling who is going buy?
3) There was a huge gap between King’s first write to his first published novel
King started writing while he was in school and didn’t publish his first novel, Carrie, until he was 27. Now unless you are like Joey from Friend’s who spent more than a couple year’s in high school/secondary school that’s a seriously long time to ‘make it’. And that was only to make it into the field, to officially start his career, that doesn’t include the amount of work to continue to build up his profile and in turn his career to the point it is.
Take a minute to think about what you were doing 10 years ago. Just graduating school? Backpacking across Europe? Learning to drive? Or younger still when the most concern you had for the future was what you were going to eat that day, or when you got to see your friends? Chances are you weren’t working on research, training, or practicing your skills for your current career.
One thing King can teach us, if your parents haven’t already, patience is a virtue. Keep plugging away. Keep creating. Take care of the process behind your work and the outward success will eventually follow. Trust the King, he literally is…the King.