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Monday, September 24, 2007

What I Learned from JK Rowling

I was browsing YouTube yesterday and came across a 5-part interview with J.K. Rowling.

There are so many things I admire about this woman, not least of which is her indomitable spirit. She had pearls of wisdom in each of the five parts, but part four especially caught my attention.

In reference to a letter from a mother who told her that the end of Book 2 was too dark and that she'll check back to see if Rowling does better in future books, Rowling said: "I'm not taking dictation here." She wrote the mother back and told her not to read any more of the books.

(Wouldn't you have liked to have been a fly on the wall in that woman's house when she read that letter?) Rowling goes on to say that she cares profoundly for her readers but that doesn't mean she will allow them to dictate a single word of what she writes.

Strong stance. One I'm especially proud that she's taken.

I see a lot of writing by committee in critique groups. Not with my CPs though. The people I deal with are professionals. We might make a suggestion on how to word a sentence or what to delete or add, but we don’t dictate to each other, nor do we ask each other what should go into our stories. Those decisions are ours alone.

I've personally witnessed authors furiously taking notes and rewriting their stories to suit the tastes of their current focus groups. I don’t want to read something six other people told you they wanted to see. I want to read your vision.

This does not apply to new writers learning the ropes. We all have to learn by example and instruction when we start. But once you have the mechanics down, once you know the proper way to plot a story and layer character, you also need to rely on your instincts and have confidence that you've told a good story.

Rowling was so adamant, so confident about her story, despite its length and despite that it defied convention of what made "good" children's writing. I like too, that she wrote it for herself first.

EVERY major publisher in the UK turned her down, yet she didn't lose her belief in her story. In the end, it was the reading public who vindicated her.

An agent, a publisher, an editor have no ability to read the future. They're paid to make good guesses. And that's about all you can count on. In the end, it’s the reading public that decides whether to embrace a story. It's up to the author to write something he is passionate about, then you can let the chips fall where they may.

While I rarely get philosophical, (see my caveat in the upper right of this blog) I have come to the conclusion that you can't write by the whim of your audience, a potential agent, or publisher, or your well-meaning critique group. You must write something you love; something you feel good about.

You can only control your writing. The rest is out of your hands. Write well. Write from your heart. Then move on. Don't dwell on past mistakes or poor novels. Learn from your mistakes and write the next one better.

*****

And to put your feet back on terra firma, I want to steer you towards a blog I found by accident. Eleanor Arnason wrote a post in Wyrdsmith and also on her blog about the money the average author makes. (dated: September 20) Go over and take a look.

In the Wyrdsmith blog, it also posted comments from two other midlist authors who graciously listed dollar amounts for what they currently make on their books.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the link to Rowling interview, Maria. I enjoyed it.

Dorothy

rcloenen-ruiz said...

You can only control your writing. The rest is out of your hands. Write well. Write from your heart. Then move on. Don't dwell on past mistakes or poor novels. Learn from your mistakes and write the next one better.

This is lovely and true. Thanks.