Stephen King, Bullies, and Conquering the Voice of Self Doubt

In the past week I’ve had two different writers tell me the same thing. They started out with a great idea for a story and then, coincidentally, that night ended up watching a movie with a plot that almost exactly matched their idea. Both writers told me they were discouraged and thought about scrapping their idea. After all, they now had confirmation it had already been done, right?


This situation has happened to most writers at one time or another. But successful writers know that you really don’t know anything…until you write your story. Before we embark on the creative journey, we tend to believe that we’re in control. We decide on the story, the characters, the cliffhangers, the big dramatic conclusion. But the truth is that we’re a lot less in control than we think we are.

Your story will have your creative fingerprints all over it no matter what you do.

For example, let’s look at two of my favorite artists. Stephen King is known as the master of horror, and David Lynch is known for his weird films. But each of them is so much more than scary or weird. Have you ever noticed that bullies pop up in every other King story? Or that David Lynch always includes music from a 1950s crooner in the background of his scenes? I’m willing to bet that this isn’t something either one of them does consciously. These themes are their creative “fingerprints” and they probably couldn’t wipe their work clean of them if they tried.

Your writing has your own creative fingerprints on it. There are themes, phantoms, images, certain phrases, and other ephemeral bits of life, that have been implanted into your subconscious too, as you went about the business of growing up and living your life. Some of these things might grow into artistic obsession, and some will be content to make a cameo appearance in an episode of whatever piece of writing you’re working on at the moment. But that means that no two writers every truly have the same idea.

No two writers have the same set of creative fingerprints.

But when an idea is still up in your head you have no way of knowing this. It’s easy to get tricked by the sneaky voice of resistance coming from your ego that urges you to give it up, scrap the story, and decide the creative effort is useless.

The truth is that you’re going to have to be vulnerable and trust in your idea. You’re going to have to put in time, energy, and work to flesh it out and follow it down the road to completion. Vulnerability, trust, and hard work are anathema to the ego, which wants nothing more than for you to stop doing that thing that is making it so uncomfortable, and to stop doing it right now.

Maybe that’s why Stephen King writes about bullies so much. Because he knows they work on the same wavelength as self-doubt and resistance. And he knows that if we found a way to conquer them we just might be able to align ourselves, instead, with one of the most powerful creative forces in our world.

If you liked this article you might also be interested in:

The Beast of Self-Judgment

The Real Reason You Can’t Stop Procrastinating

Avoiding Roadblocks to Creativity: The Eat Sleep Write Interview

The Hidden Key to Creativity

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  • Reply Margit Sage 19 February, 2014 at 10:20 am

    Great post. I took a workshop on voice last summer, and the author’s unique fingerprint is what it’s all about. Some authors have a stronger voice than others, but we all have a voice.

    • Reply Lauren Sapala 19 February, 2014 at 11:44 am

      I absolutely agree. I think finding your true voice is sometimes the hardest part.

  • Reply Kara 19 February, 2014 at 10:20 am

    Thanks for your ongoing inspiration in these posts.

    • Reply Lauren Sapala 19 February, 2014 at 11:43 am

      Thanks for reading them on an ongoing basis Kara! 🙂

  • Reply Catherine North 19 February, 2014 at 12:21 pm

    Thank you Lauren – this is really reassuring, because I frequently worry that my themes and story lines aren’t original enough. But I’ve resolved to be vulnerable and trust in my idea. And I love the idea of creative fingerprints!

    • Reply Lauren Sapala 19 February, 2014 at 1:16 pm

      I think every writer worries about it. In fact, I even have a book on my shelf that I’ve been putting off reading because I’ve been afraid that I will find out that the storyline is just like the storyline of the novel I’m currently writing. That’s going to be my resolution, to read that book and know that no matter what my story will be different.

  • Reply Megan Cashman 19 February, 2014 at 6:38 pm

    I love the part about creative fingerprints. I’ve noticed some parts of myself come out in my stories, and sometimes I don’t realize it right away. But yeah, there’s always that issue or consequence that haunts some writers, and our books are our way of sorting them out.

    Excellent post!

  • Reply Paul Sutton Reeves 22 February, 2014 at 4:33 am

    You’ve hit the nail on the head as usual, Lauren. It’s always easy to find a reason for not doing something challenging. After all, most of Shakespeare’s plots and story lines were borrowed but his plays have arguably never been bettered. It was his unique talent and graft that made them what they were.

  • Reply Marie Ann Bailey 22 February, 2014 at 1:16 pm

    I really enjoyed this post, Lauren. I definitely have experienced the deflating experience of seeing “my” story idea played out on the big screen or heard it told to me through an audiobook. Your post is a great reminder that my story isn’t written yet and the idea, once set to paper, may turn out very different from the movie or book that I think beat me to it. As for my creative fingerprints … I’m still dusting for those 🙂

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