Stephen King, the famous horror author once told me “Chris, you’ve got a lot of talent and some great ideas. But you lack discipline. You’ve got to get those ideas out of your head and onto the paper. Dig deep into your soul and rip out the guts of your inner self and fling it around for the whole world to see. If you do that, you’ll be successful. I promise.”
Ok, that may not be EXACTLY what he said. It was more like, “Yeah, can I have a pack of Marlboro Mediums, please?” (He used to come into the convenience store where I worked years ago) But this was my idol, Stephen King… talking to me! I knew what he really meant. And now here I am, years later taking his advice (sort of).
King was an inspiration to me. I started reading The Stand at age 12 and was hooked. I don’t know why it was him above all other authors, but it was his writing that first planted the seed in my head that maybe, just maybe I could do what he did. Not horror fiction necessarily, but writing for a living. I did take a stab at horror when I first began putting pen to paper (Literally pen to paper. This was before personal computers were common) but the only thing horrifying was how terrible the story was.
It was years later that I discovered I had a modicum of talent for humor and satire. If I reigned in my biting sarcasm just enough, I managed to piece together some rather funny bits. I found I could make people laugh. Later still, I found I could make them think. Occasionally, I can inspire people to do both at the same time.
On King’s website his FAQ page gives an answer for a question I’m certain he’s asked all the time which is, “Why did you become a writer?” His response was:
“The answer to that is fairly simple-there was nothing else I was made to do. I was made to write stories and I love to write stories. That’s why I do it. I really can’t imagine doing anything else and I can’t imagine not doing what I do.”
I’m not sure I would have given the same answer, but then I’m not a writer. Or at least, I’m not a paid writer (yet) and according to King, that’s an important distinction. I don’t know if I was made to write. I admit, it feels natural to sit here and type away, letting my thoughts flow out onto the screen. It’s been a dream of mine since I was a teenager to be an author but I suppose it was either a lack of enough passion or too much fear that kept me from pursuing that dream. Moreover, I CAN imagine myself doing other things. Initially I went to college to get my degree in Psychology and that made me happy… for a time. Then I trained to become a massage therapist and that made me happy… for a time. This cycle repeats itself throughout my life. Stop. Change directions. Cruise control. Stop. Either I can envision myself doing too many things or nothing at all. I never heard my calling. I never found my place in the world. Eventually I think I just stopped looking and decided to let the days wear on until that clock ran out on me.
In his book, On Writing, King says
“I don’t believe writers can be made, either by circumstances or by self-will (although I did believe those things once). The equipment comes with the original package. Yet it is by no means unusual equipment; I believe large numbers of people have at least some talent as writers and storytellers, and that those talents can be strengthened and sharpened.”
Now I’ve returned to writing after so many years because I wanted to find out, once and for all, if I had it in me. By “it” I mean the talent, courage, tenacity and most importantly, the voice to write successfully or as King put it, the “equipment”. Every writer must find their voice. It lives within us and I think it is screaming to get out. Mine has been locked away in a box for a long time, hidden away from the world. My voice is not always nice. My voice is not always politically correct. I have to reign in my voice sometimes for fear that I may go too far and say too much. And for some reason, I’ve always believed that no one wanted to hear my voice. So I silenced it.
I wrote in an earlier article A Life Without Fear that for most of my life, I’ve been afraid to follow my dreams. I’ve come a long way in my battle against that wicked voice in my head that still tells me to this day that I’m fooling myself and I’ll never achieve what I want. That evil little bastard only whispers now instead of shouting and once in a while, I’ll smack it in the head, just for good measure. But it still exists. I still hear it and once in a while, those old doubts creep back. What keeps me strong is writing. Every time I finish an article for my blog I feel just a little bit stronger, more confident. I get a thrill when I click that “Publish” button on WordPress and whoops, there goes another piece of me out there for the world to see.
So I guess that’s why I write. It gives me strength. It gives me something wonderful to believe in: Me. In some ways I’ve come to think of writing as my life preserver in a turbulent sea. And from a simple request for a pack of cigarettes, I let my literary hero inspire me to save myself. Thank you Mr. King. Without knowing it or even trying, you changed my life. But… smoking is bad for you. You really should quit. I want you around for a long time.
[Author’s note: After writing this I came across an interesting article by Dan Langendorf and in a way, it tied in with what I’ve said here. I’m not suggesting that Mr. Langendorf agrees with or supports anything I’ve said, but I liked his perspective and I agree that I have been guilty of being a bit casual with my writing at times. If you enjoyed my article, please read his. Taking the Art of Writing Too Casually]