The Most Helpful Stephen King Quote Ever. I Mean This.

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 13.266% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

My dear friend Kara, who’s got her own fantasy series coming out soon and a couple of nonfiction books on the shelf, was angsting a bit at the state of her career.  I got an agent.  Maybe she should have gotten an agent!  Is she doing writing wrong?
To which I always think back to the most helpful thing ever told to me by a writer, and of course that writer is Stephen King:

If you wrote something for which someone sent you a check, if you cashed the check and it didn’t bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented.

Seriously.  I love that quote.  Because on one level, selling enough writing to pay the light bill is not that hard.  In Ohio, that could be $75 depending on the time of year and your house.  It’s a tiny sale.
On another level, selling that fiction is hard.  That’s a three-cent-a-word story, and the markets for those are ridiculously competitive, and getting in there is a hell of a job.  Or self-publishing in an overcrowded, noisy market well enough to stand out and make $75 from individual people is a hell of a job.
Seriously x2.  Writing is a tough goddamned business to be in, and most writers I know have this magical ability to erase all of their past accomplishments and focus on what they don’t have, leading to the inevitable neurosis string of I’d be happy if I just sold a story.  I’d be happy if I just sold a story to a pro market.  I’d be happy if I just sold three pro stories to get into SFWA.  I’d be happy if I just got nominated for an award.  I’d be happy if I just won an award.  I’d be happy if I got an agent.  I’d be happy if I….
This is why sane people don’t marry writers.
And yeah, Kara hasn’t written her bestseller yet.  Maybe she hasn’t earned tens of thousands from her writing.  But damn, selling enough to pay a light bill is a mark of courage, and in her rush forward to better things let her (and us) not forget this grand achievement.
And if you haven’t yet paid your light bill, let me tell you: one story to the right market can do it.  And then, quite seriously, I’ll consider you talented.  I may consider you talented without any story sales, of course, but paying one light bill is the perfect goal for a beginner: it’s both really difficult and very much within reach.  And it’s a fine mark of distinction.
Get out there.  Get your light bulb on.


  1. Mishell Baker
    Mar 14, 2014

    Sometimes I worry, because I’ve stopped having that “moving target” thing. I’m completely happy now and consider myself a success. I wonder if that means I’ll stop trying. Don’t get me wrong; I still believe my writing has lots of room to improve, and I’m still motivated to become a better writer, but as far as measurable accomplishment, I have checked off everything on my list, and I no longer feel that sense of inadequacy that used to drive me. I got what I wanted when I was six years old, and I’m just… happy about it, even if my novel never sells a single copy. Maybe that will change once the book comes out, who knows.

    • TheFerrett
      Mar 14, 2014

      You’ve just been happy lately. That’s not a bad thing.
      Also, you never formally announced your book sale! I knew about it, but never saw it on Twitter!


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