On Writing: But Look at J.K. Rowling!

It is impossible to live without failing at something…unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all. In which case, you fail by default.”

 –  J.K. Rowling


Quick! By a show of hands: how many unpublished writers have talked about their work and added, “But, of course, writers never make any money.” And how many have received the all-too-casual reply of, “Well, unless you’re J.K. Rowling”?

If so, you’re probably too frustrated at hearing this much repeated response to bother telling the person that you are, in fact, not J.K. Rowling. Nor have you ever been J.K. Rowling, as cool as that might be.

Don’t get me wrong: Rowling is amazing. She’s my idol, actually. When I got a reply to the letter I wrote her last fall, I was ecstatic. Even though I didn’t start reading the Harry Potter books until middle school, I still grew up with those things. I was at the midnight premieres for the last two movies, I saw Half-Blood Prince with my best friend the night before he moved, and I’ve re-read each book probably five to ten times.

It’s easy to see why Rowling was richer than the Queen by 2003, and it can be just as easy to assume that yes, if you write an amazing book (or, better yet, book series!), you’ll soon have enough cash to quit your day job, move to the city, buy a mansion, and spend your days sipping sparkling water, with your biggest worry being that an earthquake will come, sending your stacks of money toppling down on you.

Which, incidentally, was death 333 on 1000 Ways to Die.

But I digress. The point is that, sadly, one of the reasons Rowling is considered to be such an incredible exception to all the rules is because she’s exactly that: an exception.  She went from dirt poor to billionaire. That doesn’t happen every day. In fact, getting a book published, period, doesn’t happen every day.

We always hear and talk about success stories like those of J.K. Rowling or Suzanne Collins. But we never hear about the hundreds of manuscripts rejected daily, or the thousands of turn-down slips that aspiring authors get in the mail. Even though Rowling received more than a handful of those, it’s never mentioned. I think she herself summed it up best in an interview with Oprah:

Failure is so important…it doesn’t get spoken about enough. We speak about success all the time…but, you know…I’ve met some extraordinary people through Harry Potter, and not one of them didn’t have their failures.”

And thus, I want to close by once again saying how much of an inspiration J.K. Rowling is to me. She’s a rich woman who gives most of her wealth away to charity. She’s one of the most famous (not to mention one of the most influential) people in the world, yet she always acts with humility and has enormous respect for her fans.

And if you’re a fan of hers, too, I would strongly recommend you check out the movie called Magic Beyond Words: The J.K. Rowling Story. It’s a TV movie that came out a few days before the final Harry Potter last summer, and tells the author’s journey from her childhood, to the writing of the first book back in 1990, to the publishing process and the success that followed. The movie is on iTunes, and in my opinion it’s well worth the money.


So, those are my thoughts on one of the most famous authors alive today. (I’m currently reading her new book, The Casual Vacancy, which I’ll review soon but will make no mention of yet so as to spare you its less than pleasant details.)

I could go on and on about how much I could say to this woman. But instead of making a ten-page list—which, believe me, I could do—I’ll instead close by saying what I believe to be my most important sentiment. One that, I think, quite a few people my age would like to say, too.

Mrs. Rowling, thank you for my childhood.