March 14th, 2018

10 Success Tips from J.K. Rowling

Top 10 List

Over the last few years, I’ve been able to experience the joy of sharing the Harry Potter books with my daughter. We’re on Order of the Phoenix (Book 5) and going strong, so J.K. Rowling is a bit of a celebrity in our house. 

She’s a celebrity to me as a writer. She accepted that snippet of story from the universe, about a boy with a scar on his forehead who finds out he’s a wizard, and cherished it through multiple books. She built an empire from her fingertips through hard work and there are wonderful lessons inherent in that.

Here are Rowling’s Top 10 Tips for Success (for writers and non-writers)



1. Failure helps you discover yourself.

Winston Churchill said, “if you’re going through hell, keep going.”

There are people I’d deem a success who have gone down in flames at various points in their career. J.K. Rowling. Michael Jordan. Steve Jobs. Thomas Edison. They all failed and failed and failed. They gained strength through their failure, and learned what didn’t work. Then, they  picked themselves up to try again, because they believed in their passion.

Rowling’s words about the lowest point in her life: “Failure meant a stripping away of the essential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and I began to direct all my energies to finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one area where I truly belonged.”

2. Take action on your ideas.

What if single mother, Joanne Rowling, depressed and poor, had given up on her story? What if the rock bottom she experienced while writing her first book had made her stop writing and take up work as a barista? Even if you only write one page each day, in between all your other responsibilities, at the end of the year, you will have a book.

Side note: Ever wondered how much others write? Here are the daily word counts for 39 famous authors.

3. You will be criticized.

I don’t know if I’m alone in this, but I feel warm toward people who like my writing. It’s human nature to want people to like the creative efforts we put out into the world. But many people won’t like your work, and some will be very happy to tell you so in a negative book review. (How rude is that? What about the whole “if you don’t have anything nice to say” deal? Geesh.)

Cheer up tip: When criticism gets you down, I recommend watching funny cat videos or this Honey Badger vid on sea otters. Or, as Jayne Ann Krentz says, “throw it away!” (In modern times, that means “close the screen and stop looking at it.”)

4. Remember where you started.

In the video above, Rowling goes back to the apartment she lived in while she wrote the first Harry Potter book and she starts crying. The memories of being tired and depressed are clearly etched on her soul. And even though she’s a multi-millionaire by the time that video was filmed, she never forgot what those beginnings felt like. Ray Bradbury never forgot that he rented a typewriter in the basement at UCLA for ten cents an hour to pound out Fahrenheit 451.

Remembering our beginnings keeps us humble.

5. Believe.

Jack London received more than six hundred rejections before he sold his first story. Louisa May Alcott’s family encouraged her to find work as a servant. At some point, you just have to dare to believe in your own talent. And if you can’t do that for yourself, find someone else who will believe in you while you work up to the idea.

6. There is always fear and trepidation.

Of course you’re scared. You are exposing the tender underside of your heart in the pages of your story and then inviting people to explore it. Use that fear to do your best.

No one gives a better pep talk on this than Linda Howard. I was lucky to hear her live in San Diego and this is what she said:

“The sad fact is that no matter how hard you try, the music and the magic of your dreams will never be equaled by the words you put on a page.

Do it anyway.”

7. Life is not a checklist of achievements.

If you want to hear the very sweet way Rowling says this, it’s at 6:09 in the video above. “If I had a time-turner, I’d go back to my twenty-one year old self…”

8. Persevere.

Emily Dickinson only sold seven poems during her lifetime. Van Gogh sold one painting during his life (to the sister of a friend). We don’t know where this journey is going to take us. We can only do what we were born to do and hang on for the ride.

Rowling’s words on perseverance: “I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realized, and I was still alive… and so rock bottom became a solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.” 

9. Dreams can happen.

If you despair of ever making a living at this writing thing, remember J.K. Rowling who took five long years, several of them on public assistance, to finish her first Harry Potter novel. It took two more years and a dozen rejections before she sold it. It only takes a single “yes” to launch a career.

Inspiration: If you need to see some amazing monetary success stories, here is a list of the top grossing authors of last year.

10. We have the power to imagine better.

“We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: We have the power to imagine better.” ~ J.K. Rowling.


If you had a time-turner, what bit of writing advice would you give to your younger self? Which of these ten bits of wisdom do you struggle with the most?

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About Jenny Hansen

By day, Jenny provides training and social media marketing for an accounting firm. By night she writes humor, memoir, women’s fiction and short stories. After 18+ years as a corporate software trainer, she’s delighted to sit down while she works.

When she’s not at her personal blog, More Cowbell, Jenny can be found on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, or here at Writers In The Storm.

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