I was watching a Biography Channel special on Stephen King. I used to read his work constantly when I was in high school. In college, I remember being so frightened by one story, "The Mist", that I didn't want to be left in my apartment alone that night. No lie, I had to go to my friend Tamisha's apartment for a couple hours so my heart would stop racing. I would trade a year of my life for the secrets to how that man does what he does. I say that I want to be the Black Edgar Allan Poe, but it wasn't always that way. Originally, I wanted to be the Black Stephen King. So, I tend to jump at any chance to learn more about the man and his work and his process.
I knew some things about his story before watching the show. I knew he was in a bad financial situation when he got Carrie published. I knew he didn't like Carrie when he first wrote it. He threw it out and his wife had to save it from the trash. What I didn't know is that after Carrie was published and he started making a name for himself, he went to some old novels he had written and tried to get them published too, even though they had been rejected by others. This was when he got Rage published under his pseudonym, Richard Bachman.
Now, you've got to understand that I think Mr. King's best work was Carrie and Rage. His later books are awesome, but I thought those were AWESOME. Carrie ought to be required reading for anyone learning to structure their own story. He experiments with storytelling techniques and I think he succeeds marvelously. And Rage was such a surprise wonder to me. I read that story in high school and I remember thoroughly enjoying it, even if I didn't understand it all. Chris Leon, my best friend at the time, and I debated its meaning and characters' motivations as if we were in English class.
Here's what bothered me about what I saw in this show, however. First, Mr. King wrote for a long time before he landed Carrie - long enough to have a cache of novels to go back to to review for publication when the opportunity came. That takes patience and drive. LOTS of patience and drive. I'm working on one novel now and it's driving me insane. I can't picture working on novel after novel after novel and not getting proper responses or respect for any of them. That's what he faced and he kept fighting on. I wonder if I have that in me, and I fear that I don't. Will I try a couple times, fail as most writers are doomed to fail, and give up? Or will I have the heart and the balls to power through and keep getting smacked down again and again and hope that I have something - SOMETHING - in me that will be publishable one day? No, neither option sounds particularly enticing.
But, that's the problem - it's not an "option". I used to call writing "my madness" because getting a story stuck in your brain is like having a mental illness. I remember my brother used to ask me who I was talking to when no one was around, but I was acting out some scene I imagined my characters in some story going through. A story gets in your veins and goes to your brain and you get hooked on it. You feel euphoric when you get a scene right and depressed when you can't figure out exactly what dialogue a character might say. You get to this point where you've GOT to finish writing the story. You're obsessed! Food? Don't bother me with trifles such as food when I've got the lives of a collection of slaves in my hand and I need to get them to safety! THIS IS IMPORTANT! I MUST figure out what drives my main characters and why they constantly conflict, yet seem to love each other. This is no "option"! This is a central force of my life!
As I watched this biography and thought of the man's work, I realized that success in an art form is a mixture of so many things, including a healthy portion of luck. Whenever you have someone who relies on luck, they have a secret that most people don't consider: If you play any game of luck enough times - stick to it long enough - you're bound to get lucky to some degree at least once. Are you guaranteed to hit the trifecta? No, but at least one of you horses will come in if you bet enough times. Win the lottery? No, but you'll hit the Powerball a couple times - giving you just enough money to buy more lottery tickets. Write enough books enough times and send them to enough people and - if you've got ANY true writing talent - you're bound to hit on something at least once. It may not be the big win, but it certainly won't be a loss.
I want the Big Win, however. So fine, there's luck, but I want his other gifts. Mr. King found the right stories to go with his particular voice. Every artist needs to find the subject that matches his technique and style. Picture the David carved by Rodin. Mona Lisa by Picasso. Ode to Joy by Quincy Jones. None of that makes any damn sense, does it? Why? Because the artists are talentless? Not at all! Each one is a master craftsman. The subjects were bad? No, they are beautiful each one. But put the right two together - the right subject/work with the right artist - and you've got lightning in a bottle. Pick the wrong combination and you've just got your basic flashlight. Only Stephen King could have written Carrie, Rage, Firestarter, It, The Stand, Misery, Christine, etc. Those were his masterpieces and they ring with his voice.
I have no freaking voice. I haven't found it yet. I don't know how I sound when I sing, so I don't know what song sounds best from me. I don't know what I want to say or how I'm going to say it yet. Right now, I'm floundering and hoping a hit on something that says "Craig Wrote Me and I Am AWESOME!!!" Instead, my work seems to say "Craig Wrote Me. Read Me if You Have an Hour To Kill."
This novel I'm writing isn't great and it's frustrating me. It's average. It's mediocre. I set out to write the definitive ghost story and I fell like I've kept the "definitive" and forgotten the "ghost story". I spend so much time explaining everything and I don't spend enough time scaring anybody! Explanation isn't scary! After months of work, it hit me yesterday that what is UNKNOWN is scariest. The reader will be far more traumatized by what is hidden by the mist than by what they see. What's a freaking ghost story that isn't scary? I'm almost afraid to have anyone read it because I don't want to defend its mediocrity.
So here I am looking at my work and this story and wondering "What would Stephen King Do?" The story isn't done yet, but it doesn't seem to be going how it should go. Do I trash it and hope someone saves it for me? Do I finish it and then put it on the shelf for consideration later? Do I just move on to a new story and come back to it when I rediscover my love for it? I feel as if I'm at a crossroads and I don't know where to go. Do I press on, turn left, turn right, or just abandon the whole damn thing and turn back?
I've been working on this story under the advice I got from a book on writing. The advice was "FINISH THE DAMN NOVEL!" It seemed like good advice, but I may not take it. I think it might be best to walk away from it for a bit and work on other ideas. Maybe I can find that voice I seem to be lacking.