From poverty to prosperity: The inspirational journey of Stephen King

Stephen King, famous writer

Stephen King, a name synonymous with spine-chilling suspense and riveting horror, is widely regarded as one of the most successful authors of all time. But the journey to success was far from easy for King.

His is a tale of rags to riches, a narrative woven from hardship, perseverance, and an unwavering dedication to the craft of writing.

Stephen King’s early years

Born on September 21, 1947, in Portland, Maine, Stephen Edwin King’s early life was marked by adversity. His parents, Donald King (who worked as a merchant seaman) and Nellie Ruth Pillsbury King, married young. They had two sons, Stephen and his older brother, David.

When King was just a toddler, his father left the family under the pretext of going to buy a pack of cigarettes. He never returned. This left Nellie Ruth a single mother, raising Stephen and David on her own.

She moved the family quite frequently for many years, seeking work to support her sons. They spent time in Wisconsin, Indiana, and Connecticut. When King was eleven years old, Nellie moved the family back to Maine to be near family.

According to the biography on Stephen King’s website:

“Her parents, Guy and Nellie Pillsbury, had become incapacitated with old age, and Ruth King was persuaded by her sisters to take over the physical care of the elderly couple. Other family members provided a small house in Durham and financial support. After Stephen’s grandparents passed away, Mrs. King found work in the kitchens of Pineland, a nearby residential facility for the mentally challenged.”

The absence of a father figure and the struggle to make ends meet in a working-class household would later echo through King’s writing. It would manifest in themes of paternal abandonment, flawed fathers, and the harsh realities of poverty.

Early writing attempts

From a young age, King demonstrated a keen interest in storytelling. Inspired by a box of fantasy and horror books found in an attic, King began to write for fun. Despite the family’s financial struggles, Nellie Ruth supported her son’s interest, purchasing him a typewriter and fostering an environment where creativity was encouraged.

Yet, King’s pathway to literary stardom was filled with rejection. He famously nailed rejection slips to his wall, an early testament to his unwavering perseverance. King recalls in his book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft:

“By the time I was fourteen the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing.”

Low-paying jobs and years spent honing his craft

Education played a vital role in King’s journey as a writer. A bright student, King pursued a degree in English at the University of Maine at Orono. To help pay his tuition, he wrote a weekly column for the school newspaper and sold short stories to men’s magazines.

Through his college years and well after graduation, King worked a series of low-paying jobs all while relentlessly honing his craft. At various points in his career, he worked as a gas station attendant, janitor, and laundry worker.

Years later, these work experiences provided fodder for some of King’s most memorable scenes. In his book On Writing, King discusses how his summer job as a high school janitor inspired the girls’ locker room scene in Carrie.

After graduating college, King worked as a laborer in an industrial laundry facility. This experience provided inspiration for his short story “The Mangler,” which tells the tale of an out-of-control laundry press machine that “mangles” its victims in a series of grisly deaths.

Tabitha King saves a masterpiece

In 1971, King took a job teaching high school English classes at Hampden Academy in Maine. During this time, he continued to write, often working on his novels and short stories in the evenings and on weekends.

It was during these years that he married Tabitha Spruce, a fellow student from the University of Maine. Tabitha’s support proved instrumental in King’s career. She provided emotional sustenance, constructive criticism, and financial backing, working multiple jobs to support the family.

When King discarded an early draft of what would become his first published novel, Carrie, it was Tabitha who retrieved it from the trash, insisting he continue.

Tabitha, a talented and respected writer in her own right, would go on to author a series of novels (such as Caretakers, The Trap, and Pearl) featuring her fictional community, Nodd’s Ridge.

In the below video from CBS Sunday Morning, King talks about his deep affection for his wife and how this impacted the writing of his best-selling novel, Lisey’s Story:

“I love my wife like crazy and I always have going back to the beginning. She’s my equal in many ways and my superior in many other ways. So, I love her, I depend on her, and those things all played a part in the book.”

After years of rejection and false starts, King’s big break

The publication of Carrie in 1974 marked a turning point in King’s life. The novel, which explored themes of isolation and retribution, was a success, allowing King to leave teaching and write full-time.

In the above CBS Sunday Morning video interview with Jane Pauley, King recounts how he used the proceeds from the book to help his ailing mother, who at 60 years old was battling cancer:

“The hard cover advance was small, but the paperback advance just bowled us over, it was like $400,000 in 1974. It was a huge amount of money and my brother and I talked a little bit about it. We went to the Pineland facility where she worked. She was in her green rayon uniform. I never told this story before. But she was stoned, totally stoned on over-the-counter medication. She was in excruciating pain by that point. And my brother and I said ‘Mom, you’re done.’ There is enough to take care of you now because the book sold for a lot of money, and you can go home. She just put her hands over her face and cried.”

King’s career continued to blossom after the success of Carrie

He produced a prolific array of novels, short stories, and screenplays. Many of these works, such as The Shining, It, and Pet Sematary, reflect the imprints of King’s upbringing, featuring characters grappling with paternal abandonment and economic hardship.

King’s journey has seen him climb from the trenches of poverty to the pinnacles of literary success, collecting numerous awards and accolades along the way.

His writer’s website lists a seemingly endless number of nominations and awards. These include the Bram Stoker award for The Green Mile, the International Horror Guild Living Legends Award, and the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Allan Poe Best Novel Award for Mr. Mercedes.   

What is Stephen King’s net worth?

According to Celebrity Net Worth, Stephen King’s net worth is an estimated $500 million. In 2014, Forbes stated King had earnings of $17 million for the year. The publication ranked King number 82 on their list of 100 World’s Highest Paid Celebrities.

The year was a banner one for King, who made money from Under the Dome, a television series which premiered the previous year on CBS. Other sources of income for King came from the third movie adaptation of Carrie in 2013, which grossed $84 million worldwide, along with income from the Haven television series, which was based on King’s novel The Colorado Kid.

King receives substantial royalties from his books, which have sold 350 million copies worldwide. He also earns from foreign rights sales and the adaptations of his work. These adaptations can include everything from films, television series, miniseries, audiobooks, and even comic books.

One notable fact about King’s earnings is that he is willing to “share the wealth” with up-and-coming creators. He has famously sold the film rights to some of his stories for just $1 to allow aspiring filmmakers a chance to adapt them. These are known as his “Dollar Baby” deals.

Stephen King’s inspiring rags-to-riches story

There’s no doubt Stephen King is a prolific author who has earned his wealth through his consistent effort as a writer. He has written over 60 novels (including several under the pen name Richard Bachman), several non-fiction books, and hundreds of short stories.

His work remains grounded in the gritty realities of life. Through his nuanced exploration of hardship, he transforms his own struggles into universal narratives of resilience.

His story is a testament to the power of perseverance. It is proof that personal hardships, rather than hindering creativity, can fuel it. He has turned his experiences of poverty and abandonment into compelling narratives that touch millions of readers worldwide. His journey, marked by determination and an unyielding passion for writing, is an inspiration to aspiring writers everywhere, reminding us all that even amidst struggle and rejection, success is indeed possible.

Elizabeth Blessing

Elizabeth Blessing is the founder of Windfall Wealth Report. She has over 10 years of experience as a freelance personal finance writer. Her clients have included Investopedia, Investing Daily, The Lazy Trader, and Leeb Financial.

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