Fear of Failure

I’ve been reading Bare Bones, a collection of Stephen King interviews published in 1988. This is from a 1983 Playboy interview with him, about his young hungry days before he was published:

PLAYBOY: How did your marriage stand up under those strains?
KING: Well, it was touch and go for a while there, and things could get pretty tense at home. It was a vicious circle: The more miserable and inadequate I felt about what I saw as my failure as a writer, the more I’d try to escape into a bottle, which would only exacerbate the domestic stress and make me even more depressed. Tabby was steamed about the booze, of course, but she told me she understood that the reason I drank too much was that I felt it was never going to happen, that I was never going to be a writer of any consequence. And, of course, I feared she was right.

I’d lie awake at night seeing myself at fifty, my hair graying, my jowls thickening, a network of whiskey-ruptured capillaries spiderwebbing across my nose — “drinker’s tattoos,” we call them in Maine — with a dusty trunkful of unpublished novels rotting in the basement, teaching high school English for the rest of my life and getting off what few literary rocks I had left by advising the student newspaper or maybe teaching a creative writing course. Yechh!
Even though I was only in my mid-twenties and rationally realized that there was plenty of time and opportunity ahead, that pressure to break through in my work was building into a kind of psychic crescendo, and when it appeared to be thwarted, I felt desperately depressed, cornered. I felt trapped in a suicidal rat race, with no way out of the maze.

Sometimes we let fear of failure keep us from embracing our writing and making sacrifices to it. King is the first writer I’ve heard of who let fear of failure drive him to keep writing. For him, it was success or nothing — no other options were tolerable. That attitude made him miserable… but it also got him published.

Bare Bones

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