Stephen King on his wife’s support

Stephen King’s book “On Writing” is a fantastic read. He elegantly talks about his life in the first part of a book. He is a great story teller. I found myself chuckling and seeing his personality through his writing. “If I was going to be presumptuous enough to tell people how to write, I felt there had to be a better reason than my popular success. Put another way, I didn’t want to write a book, even a short one like this, that would leave me feeling like either a literary gasbag or a transcendental asshole.” It’s no wonder he has numerous best selling books under his belt.

One thing that really caught my eye in this read is how much he loved his wife. He met her while he was a junior in college and got married a year and a half later. Very early compared to people’s age today when they get married. He talks of how they met:

“Her name was Tabitha Spruce. We got married a year and a half later. We’re still married, and she has never let me forget that the first time I met her I thought she was Eddie Marsh’s townie girlfriend. Maybe a book-reading waitress from the local pizza joint on her afternoon off. – 23 – It’s worked. Our marriage has outlasted all of the world’s leaders except for Castro, and if we keep talking, arguing, making love, and dancing to the Ramones — gabba-gabba-hey — it’ll probably keep working. We came from different religions, but as a feminist Tabby has never been crazy about the Catholics, where the men make the rules (including the God-given directive to always go in bareback) and the women wash the underwear. And while I believe in God I have no use for organized religion. We came from similar working-class backgrounds, we both ate meat, we were both political Democrats with typical Yankee suspicions of life outside New England. We were sexually compatible and monogamous by nature. Yet what ties us most strongly are the words, the language, and the work of our lives. We met when we were working in a library, and I fell in love with her during a poetry workshop in the fall of 1969, when I was a senior and Tabby was a junior. 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. I also fell because she was wearing a sexy black dress and silk stockings, the kind that hook with garters”

Their early life wasn’t easy. Stephen King was making what today would be minimum wage. This was a crucial point in his life as a writer. He had been rejected multiple times for his writing, and each time the rejection letter came in, he would take it and tape it on the wall in his room as a reminder. He started teaching which gave him an incrementally better pay than what he had before, but it wasn’t much. During this time, his free time was committed to his passion for writing! His wife’s decision during this time was critical for his development.

“My wife made a crucial difference during those two years I spent teaching at Hampden (and washing sheets at New Franklin Laundry during the summer vacation). 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.”

Because of her support during this time period, Stephen King truly understands what it means when writers dedicate a novel to a husband or wife.

“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.”

There comes a point in many peoples work where they don’t think it is valuable, especially in creative fields. Stephen King had this moment when he was writing his first novel. Here is what he had to say.

“I couldn’t see wasting two weeks, maybe even a month, creating a novella I didn’t like and wouldn’t be able to sell. So I threw it away. The next night, when I came home from school, Tabby had the pages. She’d spied them while emptying my wastebasket, 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.’”

When Stephen King became an alcoholic, his wife’s incredible support manifested itself yet again when it was needed the most.

“Not long after that my wife, finally convinced that I wasn’t going to pull out of this ugly downward spiral on my own, stepped in. It couldn’t have been easy — by then I was no longer within shouting distance of my right mind — but she did it. She organized an intervention group formed of family and friends, and I was treated to a kind of This Is Your Life in hell. Tabby began by dumping a trashbag full of stuff from my office out on the rug: beercans, cigarette butts, cocaine in gram bottles and cocaine in plastic Baggies, coke spoons caked with snot and blood, Valium, Xanax, bottles of Robitussin cough syrup and NyQuil cold medicine, even bottles of mouthwash.”

“The point of this intervention, which was certainly as unpleasant for my wife and kids and friends as it was for me, was that I was dying in front of them. Tabby said I had my choice: I could get help at a rehab or I could get the hell out of the house. She said that she and the kids loved me, and for that very reason none of them wanted to witness my suicide.”

I have yet to find a truly successful person who didn’t have a great support system. Ronald Reagan during his presidency wrote letters to his wife Nancy about how much he loves her and owes his success to her support. She collected these letters and published them in a book.

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