Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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March 14, 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.

72 comments on “10 Success Tips from J.K. Rowling”

    1. You are a wonderful author's cheerleader! (p.s. I nominated you for RWA Pro Mentor) And you are closer to home for me than the lovely Ms. Rowling. I can just call you up when I need a boost. 🙂

  1. J.K. is 'right-on' with these 10 Success Tips! 🙂 Love them all. NEVER give up. I can't imagine doing so with what I am passionate about, which is writing. Since a young girl, I write, because it seems 'innate' for me. I enjoy it and when writing, feel like I am doing what I am meant to. And like J.K. states, these are 10 tips not just for writers, but for anyone passionate about whatever it is they are...Unexpectedly a month ago I lost my mother and am that the lowest point of my life yet am dragging myself back to my writing and researching. Though my heart feels broken, much of what I write and am passionate about focuses on the heroic military, political and Civil Rights efforts (abolitionists) of my ancestors so it gives me comfort and motivation in knowing that I am not only honoring them but ensuring that others may learn from their brave actions. And with the sale of my manuscripts/books someday, I hope to help support veterans causes and preserve sacred battlefields, something my ancestors fought for before me...On a side note, just last week my oldest son, Ryan Winch, and friend met J.K. Rowling on a gondola at Zermatt, Switzerland. Ryan, a junior and film and tv major at UVM, studying this semester in London, was wearing a Gryffindor hat. J.K. said, "I love your hat." Ryan answered, not recognizing her in a helmet, "Thank you. Are you a fan?" Too funny. Ryan is a HUGE fan and said she was so nice, spoke of her charities and offered ideas of what to be sure to see in London. They had a great conversation.....Keep fighting on! 🙂 FIGHTING FOR NELLIE sarahtracyburrows.com

    1. I'm so sorry about your mama. It's dreadfully hard to slog through the grief of losing a beloved parent. The work will help keep you going...truly.

      And I adore that story about your son!! What a memory. And what a gift to have J.K. Rowling to yourself in a gondola. 🙂

  2. Fantastic advice/reminders, especially 'remember where you started.' Once we hit a milestone, we are wont to expect to maintain that level and feel like we've failed when things drop off. There will be ups and downs in all aspects of life.

  3. Her story overflows with lessons-learned about pains, pleasures, perseverance and possibilities. Her stories do too. So, buck up all you word warriors and keyboard jockeys out there. We've got work to do and stories to tell.

  4. If failure helps you discover yourself, I now know myself inside and out, every single cell. 😉 Actually, that "Remember where you started" one is a great message for me right now. Because sometimes it feels like I'm not where I want to be, but when I look at how far I've come...that's pretty cool. I won't forget how I started this journey, and I want to be thankful for every step I've made toward the dream.

  5. My grandchildren learned to read with Harry Potter. When one of my granddaughters was in the second grade, she barged though the Harry Potter books and with her mother, stood in line at 4:30am to get a copy of the next book in the series on the day it was released. Later that same year, still in the second grade, my granddaughter was diagnosed with cancer.

    Through a very odd set of circumstances, a friend who knows my family knew of a friend of a friend who knew J. K. Rowling. At his request, J. K. Rowling wrote a personal letter to my granddaughter encouraging her in her battle against cancer. The kindness, understanding, and empathy in that letter was beyond touching.

    The letter was my granddaughter's prized possession during her multi-year battle with cancer.

    In every sense of the work, J. K. Rowling is a class act!

  6. Wonderful encouragement! Sometimes I get in this pity-party thing where I imagine everyone else is more successful than me and, not only that, they are effortlessly writing three times the amount of words per day than I do. (1,000 daily for me unless I'm editing or plotting)

    And those sea otters? Adorable!

    Thanks, Jenny!

    1. Is this gig effortless for anyone? I imagine that sometimes too, but I think I'm full of the hooey. Writing is a hard slog. You have to be compelled to tell your story to get through the marathon of a book. And think on this - 1000 words a day is a stellar day for our Laura Drake and look at how far she has come in a few short years. 🙂

  7. Wow -- so needed this today! Perfect, pithy wisdom from a writer that my family and I so greatly admire! Am happily mulling over our power to "imagine better." Thank you for writing this--for this magnificent blog with its heartening wisdom and perceptive encouragement!

  8. Great piece, Jenny, and a nice shot in the arm on as I slog through a deeply detailed timeline for my next book. I clicked that link on the daily word counts of famous authors and was astounded by some of them. I write nonfiction (for now), and I try to hit 1,000 words a day minimum. Three thousand, six thousand TEN THOUSAND words a day? Not in my wheelhouse.

    1. "Deeply detailed timeline"... *shudders* That is indeed a slog for the creative mind. One of our writers here at WITS, Laura Drake, tries for 1,000 words every day even though she is a slow writer. But she does it EVERY day, even when she misses and has finished way more books than I have that way. Slow and steady will win this race, Bryan.

  9. Love, love, love your post. Brilliant list from J.K. Rowling.

    I promoted it on Fb. Hope hundreds more read your blog!

  10. Ten no-nonsense, "simple" steps that are so rational in the often irrational world of a writer. Thanks for this, Jenny. (I loved seeing the clips!)

  11. Thank you for this! If I had a time-turner, I would tell my twenty-one-year-old self to persist. I missed out on years of practical writing experience because I believed those who told me writing was a waste of time.

  12. I love this post and Rowling's encouragement. At age 69, I just released my first novel, which I self-published. When I began selling the books, my biggest fear was that people would not like it. This morning, I phoned a friend in another state about a planned trip to see her. I did not know she had read my book, and her comment was, "Ann, I was scared to start. What if i didn't like it? What would I say to you? But I loved it, and couldn't put it down!" I'm on a bit of a high right now, thanks to similar wonderful feedback, but when I'm bogged down in my next WIP and wondering if I'm really a writer at all, those reviews will sustain me. Now to convince my sceptical daughters... (none have read it yet.)

  13. This inspiring list must have been written for me. I am almost to the finish line on my second book but the checkered flag, ribbon, goal post, is just beyond my fingertips. Thanks for keeping me in the race.

  14. Great advice. Thanks for sharing. Writing is hard - at least to do it well. Don't give up - that's the surest way to fail. It only takes one yes.

    1. Sometimes I wish it wasn't so hard, Tracy. And then I think of all the shiny gems this calling pulls out of us and I'm glad we have to work for it.

  15. […] https://writersinthestormblog.com/2018/03/10-success-tips-from-j-k-rowling/ “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.” I watched these recently. I do admire how J.K. Rowling came from nothing to everything. […]

  16. I’ve watched J.K.’s Harvard graduation speech many times and always find inspiration. Thank you for a wonderful post!

  17. Absolutely agree with this post. I can say the toughest part is receiving criticism. Makes me want to start over or throw my story altogether. However, I give it a day and I feel better. Thanks for the awesome tips! 🙂

    1. Nobody likes criticism, Jon. Nobody. But we're writers, which means we're tough. We can overcome rejection because our stories matter more than someone's unkind (or unwanted) words.

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