I was hesitant to read Stephen King’s On Writing because I was afraid I would find little in it that was unexpected. Keep sending out queries, ✔ check. Don’t use this or that part of speech except when it works, ✔ check. Read a lot, ✔ check. Write a lot, ✔ check.
But, I did finally relent, and one key theme in the memoir struck me as more insightful than anything I had read about writing for years. In fact, I think it merits a book of its own. I am talking about the critical influence of people other than the writer in the success of that writer. For King, the most important other-than-the-writer person is his wife Tabitha.
No matter how important individual determination might be, for a social creature like Homo sapiens there is no such thing as individual success. All success is cooperative. There would be no Stephen King (as we know him) if there were no Tabitha King.
So, today I want to share what I feel are the most revealing and inspiring quotes on Tabitha from On Writing.
I fell in love with her partly because I understood what she was doing with her work. I fell because she understood what she was doing with it …
Her poem also made me feel that I wasn’t alone in my belief that good writing can be simultaneously intoxicating and idea-driven. If stone-sober people can fuck like they’re out of their minds — can actually be out of their minds while caught in that throe — why shouldn’t writers be able to go bonkers and still stay sane?
There was also a work-ethic in the poem that I liked, something that suggested writing poems (or stories, or essays) had as much in common with sweeping the floor as with mythy moments of revelation.
– C.V. 23
My wife made a crucial difference during those two years I spent teaching at Hampden … If she had suggested that the time I spent writing stories on the front porch of our rented house on Pond Street or in the laundry room of our rented trailer on Klatt Road in Hermon was wasted time, I think a lot of the heart would have gone out of me. Tabby never voiced a single doubt, however. Her support was a constant, one of the few good things I could take as a given. And whenever I see a first novel dedicated to a wife (or a husband), I smile and think, There’s someone who knows. Writing is a lonely job. Having someone who believes in you makes a lot of difference. They don’t have to make speeches. Just believing is usually enough.
– C.V. 27
I did three single-spaced pages of a first draft [of Carrie], then crumpled them up in disgust and threw them away … The next night, when I came home from school, Tabby had the pages. She’d spied them while emptying my waste-basket, had shaken the cigarette ashes off the crumpled balls of paper, smoothed them out, and sat down to read them. She wanted me to go on with it, she said. She wanted to know the rest of the story. I told her I didn’t know jack-shit about high school girls. She said she’d help me with that part. She had her chin tilted down and was smiling in that severely cute way of hers. “You’ve got something here,” she said. “I really think you do.”
I never got to like Carrie White and I never trusted Sue Snell’s motives in sending her boyfriend to the prom with her, but I did have something there. Like a whole career. Tabby somehow knew it …
– C.V. 28, 29
Someone — I can’t remember who, for the life of me — once wrote that all novels are really letters aimed at one person. As it happens, I believe this. I think that every novelist has a single ideal reader; that at various points during the composition of a story, the writer is thinking, “I wonder what he/she will think when he/she reads this part?” For me that first reader is my wife, Tabitha.
She has always been an extremely sympathetic and supportive first reader. Her positive reaction to difficult books like Bag of Bones … and relatively controversial ones like Gerald’s Game meant the world to me. But she’s also unflinching when she sees something she thinks is wrong.
– On Writing 11
The former Tabitha Spruce … knows when I’m working too hard, but she also knows that sometimes it’s the work that bails me out.
– On Living 6