Why Stephen King Felt Ashamed
Miss Hisler summoned Stephen King to the principal’s office because he had written and sold a horror story to his classmates. He earned over nine dollars in one day. Each copy went for twenty-five cents.
Miss Hisler rebuked the young author for writing trash and made him give all the money back.
“What I don’t understand, Stevie,” she said, “Is why you’d write junk like this in the first place. You’re talented. Why do you want to waste your abilities?”
“She had rolled up a copy of V.I.B. #1 (V.I.B. stood for very important book) and was brandishing it at me the way a person might brandish a rolled-up newspaper at a dog that had piddled on the rug. She waited for me to answer. To her credit the question was not entirely rhetorical, but I had no answer to give.”
“I was ashamed. I have spent a good many years since, too many I think, being ashamed about what I write.”
“I think I was 40 before I realized that almost every writer of fiction and poetry who has ever published a line has been accused by someone of wasting his or her God-given talent. If you write (or paint or dance or sculpt or sing, I suppose), someone will try to make you feel lousy about it, that’s all.”
That summer vacation Stephen published an original story and sold 40 copies or so. He says in a way he won. “But in my heart, I stayed ashamed. I kept hearing Miss Hisler ask why I wanted to waste my talent. Why I wanted to waste my time? Why I wanted to write junk?”
From, “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft,” by Stephen King.
How will you make someone believe in themself today?
Over 350 million copies of King’s books have been sold. Several have been made into movies: The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, Misery, and It, for example.
Unless you tune your talents 100% toward widget-making, this is what you get told every day in the workplace.
That’s disgusting and absolutely appalling.
Indeed it is. But companies do it anyway. After all, you can always replace Stephen King with a widget maker…
It’s pretty easy to knock people down.
Great article. I spent my entire life being told that I was going to amount to nothing and live under a bridge. As a kid I had a hard time learning in school, was always in the bottom of my class…
It turns out I liked grappling more than school (I grew up in Rio de Janeiro), I liked the beach more and didnt enjoy school one bit. It was boring and mundane…
It wasnt until college (which at the time I had a .4 GPA- .4 is crazy) when I met my now wife, that I heard the first voice of confidence and love over me.
I now have 5 degrees, my salary is good. I still found college extremely mundane and boring…
I now have a job fighting wars…
I still hear those voices is my head from my parents from time to time
It is VERY, VERY important that it doesnt matter how against what your beliefs someone’s skills and desires are, or how weak someone is at something that you NEVER EVER put them down, but instead come from a place of love and concern.
The difference between challenging someone to be there best and putting them down is profoundly important.
Loved this one. I started writing at 16.
Passed on to 21 year old Grandson who writes!
Thanks for jumping in, Brad. You must enjoy seeing your grandson doing what he loves.
How will you make someone believe in themself today? Build them up, its easier then knocking them down! The rewards for building a broad foundation are far better than not chosing to build a foundation. Start small and grow!
Everyone faces obstacles in life, believing in ourselves is the first hurdle, getting others to believe in us is right beside it.
Sometimes you just have to ,let things roll. “If you have control fix it”, if you don’t have control learn to let it roll and move on…
Thanks Tim. I think the idea of start small and grow can be dissatisfying for people who hope for dramatic change. I think about plants growing. They grow everyday without us noticing and then one day we think, Wow, this plant has really grown.
Perhaps not noticing growth is good. It might protect us from getting arrogant.
This story reminds me of an Albert Einstein quote “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by it’s ability to climb a tree, it will live it’s whole life believing that it is stupid.”
Thanks Brandy. That’s a great quote. I’m not sure it’s Einstein, but it’s good whoever said it.
We seldom get to see the lasting impact we make on the individuals who cross our paths so we must take care that our outlook is optimistic, our words encouraging and uplifting, and our tone positive. It’s a sad state of affairs when the leaders of our educational institutions can so easily scar with carelessly placed words. I’ll bet those kids wish they had a copy of that original story now!
Thanks Laurie. Wonderful insight. It’s easy to go dark when you’re dealing with so many problems. I admire those educators who face the challenge with grace and resolve.
Leadership is about identifying and recognizing the God-given talents in our staff and empowering them to utilize those gifts! Our team is stronger and our organization more effective when we put people in their “sweet spot” (i.e. allowing them to fully purpose their innate talents)!
Thanks Angela. Sometimes the most obvious things are least noticed. It seems obvious that maximizing people strengths takes everyone further. But sometimes we forget.
Many “leaders” (I use the term quite loosely) work on the principle that the way forward is to ensure people make widgets in the company-approved way, irrespective of what their gifts and talents might be. Why?
Yes, many creative people consistently suffer the fear their talents evoke in others. It becomes what you might call “everyday trauma.” Not the trauma of severe beatings, or war and death – but nonetheless trauma that cuts to the core that many of us learn to live with as we also navigate the shame.
I used to try to make money from things I loved doing as a kid. Puppet shows for a dime appalled my mother. I’d sell seedlings I grew for a penny each. Wanted to be an actor at an early age to demonstrate that feelings were good to parents and kids, like Timmy on Lassie did. I was shamed or ignored by my parents for all of the roles I played in high school plays, some leads. I got myself into one of the top 10 Universities for theater, went to Hollywood, etc. And though I’ve worked hard on it, that shame is always in play. Now I work to help others find the gold in their feelings.
Thank you whitfordsa for stopping in today. It’s encouraging that you broke the cycle of shame and actually used it as motivation to serve others. It seems that the difficulties we face can be useful, even though we wouldn’t with them on anyone.
We ought to constantly encourage people to express themselves creatively.
The world is not only a better place when the people who receive the product of that creativity, but when the person who expresses themselves becomes a newer, better version of themselves through that act of creativity.
And someone needed to swat his teacher with a rolled up newspaper…. IMHO.
Good post Dan! I ended up listening to responses in a day of back to back meetings looking for shaming behaviors.
That teacher lacked empathy in that moment. Her response attacked who he was and tempted him to question is own value as a person. When we disagree with someone or don’t like what they do or what they stand for, it can be difficult to NOT attack the person.
SHAME within us seeks self preservation and disrupts/destroys connection.
EMPATHY values others and seeks out understanding by maintaining/building connection.
I would venture to say the teacher’s own shame issues came out in that interaction.
This may sound simple but as a leader I try to avoid phrases that convey judgement (“that doesn’t make any sense”, “that’s a dumb idea”, etc). When my inner self wants to say those things, I fight back by asking clarifying questions.
I also try to focus on behaviors and impact when giving constructive feedback. Without that, it just comes across as criticism and leaves others wondering what needs to change…and our own shame will often lead us down the path of thinking there is something wrong me…rather than something I need to and can change about what we are doing.