I have recently finished reading Stephen king’s memoir ON WRITING. It has given me a new insight to become better at creative endeavors.
Here is what king says about his initial efforts to get his writings published :
“When I got my rejection slip…I pounded a nail into the wall above the Webcor [phonograph]…and poked [the rejection slip] onto to 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. By the time I was sixteen I’d begun to get rejection slips with handwritten notes a little more encouraging.”
It took King ten years to get his first novel- Carrie- published.
The obvious lesson of this story is that King wrote a lot before he became good.
But there are two other important elements (that become clearer only if you read that memoir-but I will try to simplify them):
Firstly, King didn’t just write, he tried to get people to pay for his writing, by submitting it to magazines. The nice thing about money is that people don’t like to give it up. Therefore, when you ask people to give you money in exchange for your product, you’re going to get honest feedback.
Second, King was careful to always aim above his current skill level. His first published story was in a fanzine — the 1960′s version of a blog. He moved from fanzines to second-tier mens magazines like Cavalier and Dude. After he cracked that market he moved on to top-tier mens magazines and top-tier fantasy and science fiction publications. Only once he could consistently hit those targets did he succeed in selling his first novel to Doubleday.
Let’s step back and summarize these key points of King’s training: lots of practice, driven by honest feedback and challenges just beyond his current skill level.
King’s rise to writing fame is a perfect case study of deliberate practice in action.