Like many young-and-struggling writers, Stephen King and his wife Tabitha “Tabby” King toiled to make ends meet in their early 20s. They lived in a trailer with two young children. They drove an old, rusty Buick held together by baling wire and duct tape.
Tabby worked second-shift at Dunkin’ Donuts, and Stephen taught English at a private high school. He also moonlighted on odd jobs and worked summers at an industrial laundry to scrape by.
In his time off, Stephen worked hard at building a career as a writer and developed ideas for many novels. He sold short stories to men’s magazines.
One night, when working as a janitor in a school locker room, King struck an idea that eventually became his blockbuster first novel Carrie. It was about an eccentric high schooler who, with newly-discovered telekinetic powers, goes on a killing spree to exact revenge on her bullies.
Carrie almost didn’t make it beyond three pages!
When King started writing Carrie, he wrestled with acute self-doubt. He didn’t yet feel confident in his work’s quality or marketability.
One evening, just three pages into the draft of Carrie, King sat hunched over his desk littered with crumpled up bits of paper and cigarette butts. In frustration, he decided to give up on his idea for the novel. He slammed his fist on the table, hurled the first three pages of his book in a trashcan, and stomped out of the room.
Later that evening, Tabby saw the wrinkled balls of paper in the bin. She pulled them out, shook off the cigarette ashes, smoothed out the wrinkles, and sat down to read them.
When she was done, Tabby told Stephen, “I think you’ve got something here. I really do. You ought to keep it going.”
Tabby’s glimmer of hope surprised Stephen.
Tabby continued, “You can’t write about women. You’re scared of women.” She pledged to support him and offered suggestions on the main character and how she’d think.
Over the next few weeks, Tabby guided her husband through the world of women. She gave him guiding principles on forming the characters and helped him write the now-famous shower scene.
Nine months later, the final draft of Carrie was finished
King had gotten rid of his phone to save on expenses, so Thompson sent a telegram that read, “Congrats, kid—the future lies ahead.”
Yet, Carrie only sold 13,000 copies as a hardback. Dispirited, King grudgingly signed a new teaching contract for the 1974 school year.
Soon, Thompson was back with more significant news, “The paperback rights to Carrie went to Signet Books for $400,000 … 200K of it is yours. Congratulations, Stephen.”
As a paperback, Carrie sold over 1 million copies in its first year despite a mixed critical response. It became one of the most popular novels of all time.
Tabby encouraged Stephen King to keep going at that pivotal moment
Tabby’s simple action changed the trajectory of Stephen King’s career. Carrie launched one of the most successful careers in modern American writing. King is now one of the world’s most well-renowned and prolific authors.
King won the 2003 Medal of Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. In his acceptance speech at the National Book Awards Ceremony, King didn’t talk about his success or literary style. He spoke about how Tabby had rescued Carrie from the rubbish and inspired him to keep going:
There is a time in the lives of most writers when they are vulnerable—when the vivid dreams and ambitions of childhood seem to pale in the harsh sunlight of what we call the real world. In short, there’s a time when things can go either way. That vulnerable time for me came during 1971 to 1973. If my wife had suggested to me, even with love and kindness and gentleness, that the time had come to put my dreams away and support my family, I would have done that with no complaint. But the thought never crossed her mind. And if you open any edition of Carrie, you’ll read the same dedication: “This is for Tabby, who got me into it—and then bailed me out of it….”
A nudge of encouragement goes a long way!
As with Stephen King, a little boost of encouragement can lift somebody else’s spirits and help them move forward.
Encouragement is about believing in people, particularly when they don’t believe in themselves.
What’s one thing you can do today to boost somebody’s spirits beyond whatever is holding them back? Is there someone who needs you to believe in them today? Someone you can get unstuck today with a bit of nudge of encouragement?
- Could you offer a sympathetic ear to a colleague in a spell of self-doubt or in a tangle and ask, “How can I help?”
- Could you talk to a teenager who has suffered a setback, remind her of her virtues, and cheer her up by saying, “you’re a strong, confident person, and I know you’ll get through this.”