Business Insider, that bastion of cultural and intellectual values, has just pulled together “22 Lessons From Stephen King On How To Be A Great Writer,” for its Strategy section, more usually associated with juicy topics like “9 Traits Of Highly Promotable Employees” and “How To Reduce Stress Without Even Leaving Your Desk.” Culled from King’s celebrated primer On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft , the “valuable insights” are packaged as the insider tips that “earn him an estimated $17 million a year.”
Of course, in any list like this, it’s always possible to pick out stuff to quibble with. Actually, I think it’s possible to pull out a counter-example for every single point. Not least King’s notorious war on the adverb, in Lesson #8, which drives me, posthastily, to boldly move the foundation of the Society for the Protection of the American Adverb (SPAA). But leave all that on one side for now. What really grabs my attention is what this whole exercise shows about how King is seen these days and what he stands for.
King is the new motivational speaker and business coach’s ideal writer, like Hemingway used to be. He’s not about words: He’s about sales and bucks. He’s about Success. Capital S. This highlights why Stephen King is a worry for me as a Lorelei for those would-be writers who think that because Stephen King did it, they can do it too – and make $17 million p.a. Author Solutions is probably well thankful for his example, which probably earned them more bucks from naive hopefuls than any other single source.
King is now almost the American icon of the Small-Town Boy Made Good Who Kept His Roots, straight from Durham, Maine, and like so many of America’s sacred monsters, he’s only got more grotesque as he got bigger, and as the stretch between what he is and what he claims to be gets wider. Dark Forces and Alien/Government/Foreign Conspiracies Attacking Good-Hearted Little People – well, if King is convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing, there’s an awful lot of fear at the spectacle of a big hard-to-understand world in there. But wait, who said Little People? A small-town boy worth $17 million p.a.? Give me a break. He’s One Percent all over.
Yet like so many multimillion-dollar brands, and so many U.S. political movements, I can share the unstated Lesson #22 of King’s success: Write More Cornpone. Yes, cornpone sells. Somewhere on the corner of Main Street U.S.A., there’ll always be a stall selling cornpone.
And lest anybody think I’m jealous: yes I am. I’d love to have King’s money. All $17 million p.a. of it. But I’d prefer to earn that in a decent profession. Like business, even motivational coaching. Anything rather than peddling cornpone. I’d love to have all King’s money, but I’d never want to earn it by writing like him.