Horror writer, Stephen King was born on September 21, 1947, in Portland Maine. He lived with his older brother David and his mother, Nellie Ruth Pillsbury King, who at the time was one of America’s first early-liberated women, but not by choice. King’s father left them when he was only two years old, leaving Stephen and his family moving around from place to place. He lived a strange childhood, with many odd experiences. At six years old he was pulled out of his first-grade class, unable to finish due to health reasons. He spent most of his time off in bed reading comics, John Swift and Jack London, and it was during this period of sickness that Steve wrote his first story. Although he copied the story word for word from one of his many comic books, he would add in his own descriptions where he saw fit. He then showed the story to his mother, and she suggested that he make up his own story. This caused an immense feeling of possibility that urged young Stephen to write his very first story, which involved four magic animals who rode around in a car, helping little kids. He finished the story and again took it to his mother. She paid Stephen a quarter a piece for the four different stories about Mr. Rabbit Trick, and his friends. This was the first buck King ever made in the business.
In 1960, King submitted his first story for publication to Forrest J. Ackerman’s magazine, “Famous Monsters of Filmland,” but it was rejected. Forrest Ackerman kept the story for his personal collection anyway, in which he did with many of the stories that were submitted. Twenty years later, Forrest appeared at one of King’s book signings with his original manuscript in hand for an autograph. This of course was a shocking moment for Mr. King. Another of King’s story ideas was published in a horror fanzine issued by Mike Garrett of Alabama. The novella was published under the title, In a Half-World of Terror,” but King’s original title; “I was a Teen-Age Grave Robber” was his preferred title. The very first original story idea of Stephen’s was called “Happy Stamps.” This story, he sent to Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. It was sent back to King three weeks later with a rejection slip attached. Alfred Hitchcock’s unmistakable profile in red ink wished King good luck with his story. After receiving this rejection, King pounded a nail into the wall above his desk and typewriter, wrote “Happy Stamps” on the rejection slip and poked it on to the nail. By the time Stephen turned fourteen the nail no longer supported the accumulating rejection slips, so he replaced the nail with a spike.
In June 2002, King released a short book that he wrote while recovering from a horrific accident, in which a van hit him while taking a walk. On Writing is a fascinating book combining King’s autobiography and advice on fiction writing. It’s an encouraging but very honest look at what it means to be a fiction writer, if you’re an aspiring author especially if you secretly worry about not being clever enough or educated enough to write fiction. It’s a book I highly recommend.
“This is a short book because most books about writing are filled with bullshit. Fiction writers, present one included, don’t understand very much about what they do – not why it works when it’s good, not why it doesn’t when it’s bad. I figured the shorter the book, the less the bullshit.”
King gives great advice on how to choose what genre to write in (one you read, and love), and how to create a ‘situation’ for your story and write good descriptions and dialogue. He strongly believes in setting writing goals and recommends a minimum of a thousand words per day, six days a week. You may prefer to set your own goal, but King himself writes two thousand words a day whilst working on a book, I suspect his advice is aimed at those who want to make fiction writing their career.
Stephen King has and will always be an inspiration to me when it comes to fiction writing. In his book On Writing, he gets straight to the point and offers his knowledge on becoming a great writer. A lot of his points and experiences hit personal nerves and fears in me that I didn’t know existed, but with the help and advice from his book, I can turn things around and push away the fears of being a writer. Stephen King has gone through as much in life as the next person has, maybe more, but he’s still doing what he loves and what he knows how to do best.
“There is no idea dump, no story central, no island of the buried bestsellers; good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing right at you right out of the empty sky. Your job isn’t to find these ideas but recognize them when they show up.”
King, S. (2002). On writing. (p. 320). New York: Simon and Shuster.