Well, I’ve finally done it. Yesterday, I went to Barnes & Noble and purchased my very own copy of Stephen King’s recommended-by-everyone memoir, On Writing.
I can already see why it’s recommended by everyone. Actually, I could see why, after the three forewords.
One thing I’ve noticed is that when you’ve had a little success, magazines are a lot less apt to use that phrase, “Not for us.”
— Stephen King, On Writing
Among many other things I’ve read – and loved – so far in this book, this bit of wisdom resonated with me. What an amazing, humble way to address so many things at once.
The first thing it reminds me of – bear with me, here – is American Idol. Specifically, the audition process. I have not mentioned on this blog that I am an extremely musical person, and that I auditioned for the show back in July. I did it mainly for the experience, but with that tiny mustard seed of hope people get, the one that goes with-the-right-judge-and-if-I-don’t-screw-up-this-could-actually-happen!
Well, I did not screw up, and I got the wrong judge (a very nice lady who sent no one through to the next round, from what I could tell). Out of 12,000 Dallas hopefuls, not many made it through, and I was in the larger of these two divisions. I saw so many people bawling their eyes out and cursing, thinking the world had screwed them of their one and only opportunity, ever.
The reason this experience reminds me of the King quote is this: I did my best. I did great, actually, and I didn’t look half bad, either. It’s not only about that, though – it’s about casting a show, it’s about sheer numbers, it’s about hungry, cranky judges who’ve seen thousands of people sing (and scream and cry) and dang it they want their coffee. I don’t envy their position, suffice it to say.
I left the audition process with dry eyes and my head held high, and the world still went on. Perhaps if I’d been Kelly Clarkson or Christina Aguilera, I would have caught their attention, but I’m just me. Not a professional, not well-known.
Stephen King’s quote has threefold wisdom.
First: Don’t base your worth on what others deem valuable. Don’t get your feelings hurt at rejection, if you can say with all truth that you’ve done the very best you can do. It’s not always about you – editors and agents, like the cranky coffee-less judges, have to sift through their own piles of junk each day. Sometimes they miss jewels, and sometimes what we think are jewels are just cubic zirconia. The key is to just be confident, always try to make your work better, and don’t put too much significance in a faulty system.
Second: A little success doesn’t necessarily mean your work is awesome. Some things that get attention are of the cubic zirconia sort. One person takes notice, another takes notice, and then people are more likely to think your imitation diamond is the real thing. It’s kind of like the Atkins diet, or the Master Cleanse fads – they’re popular, but not necessarily healthy. Of course, that’s not to downplay your success if you’re lucky enough to have it – a lot of what’s published is done so for the right reasons. It’s just good to remember that not everything is, and that a rejection does not necessarily mean your work stinks (though it might).
Last: Be confident, do quality work, and submit your stuff until someone takes notice. Obviously, Stephen King didn’t curl up and stop writing when one magazine rejected him. He kept his head up, did what he loved, and eventually, people cared. The best lesson I’ve taken away from this quote is his persistence, and his resistance to the belief that other people’s opinions are everything that matters.