Last month, I brought to your attention Neil Gaiman’s rules of writing. He’s not the only accomplished writer who ascribes to a set of rules. Today, I want to introduce you to JK Rowling’s rules of writing.
JK Rowling’s 8 Rules of Writing
You know who JK Rowling is. You know Harry Potter took the world by storm. You may even be aware that Rowling had trouble getting published at all. Nobody wanted to take a risk on Harry Potter (shock: publishers do not know everything).
Ms. Rowling knows the publishing world and can speak from both sides of victory and defeat. She’s shared a lot of terrific writing wisdom, but in my opinion, these are her eight best rules.
Be ruthless about protecting writing days, i.e., do not cave in to endless requests to have “essential” and “long overdue” meetings on those days. The funny thing is that, although writing has been my actual job for several years now, I still seem to have to fight for time in which to do it.
This is especially hard for those of us with family. Our loved ones come first, and while that is true, our loved ones need to understand that we need time to write.
Setting reasonable boundaries with those loved ones is a crucial step for a writer—even if they’re as simple as, “Mommy needs fifteen minutes of quiet time, okay?”
You’ve got to work. It’s about structure. It’s about discipline.
It’s easy to forget that writing is a job.
We don’t always feel like doing our job. We certainly don’t always feel inspired. To be writers, we must train ourselves to sit down and write even when we don’t feel like it. Those moments are the ones that really matter, even more than the shining, flying, writing moments.
I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me.
Yes, this is possible with another job.
Yes, this is possible with other responsibilities.
Are you a writer? (I know your inner critic snarled no, but I also know a tiny candle-flicker of unquenchable hope in you whispered yes with so much longing you could cry.)
You ARE a writer. That means you write.
A runner runs.
A painter paints.
A cook cooks.
You are a writer. You write. Accept this, fight to believe it, and be amazed how far that belief can take you.
Write what you know: your own interests, feelings, beliefs, friends, family and even pets will be your raw materials when you start writing.
This doesn’t mean you need to experience aliens in order to write about them. It means that all good stories have universal application. A great example is this month’s Google Doodle. (Trust me. I’m going somewhere with this.)
Take two minutes and thirty-six seconds to watch this.
It’s adorable, right? Without a single word, this video told an effective story. You felt for the little ghost, both when it was sad and when it was happy, right?
That was universal application. It doesn’t matter what culture you’re from or what language you speak; all human beings know what it is to be lonely, to feel left out, to be frustrated, determined, and to finally be with friends.
That story works because the creators used their interests, feelings, beliefs, friends, family and even pets to tell this story. (I’m fond of the kitty, myself.)
I’m greatly oversimplifying, but here’s the gist: you already know how to tell a moving story because you live one. If you’ve ever had emotions, ever responded to anything, then you already know what universal application looks like.
The practice and discipline of writing just helps you to put it on paper.
I always advise children who ask me for tips on being a writer to read as much as they possibly can. Jane Austen gave a young friend the same advice, so I’m in good company there.
The more you read, the bigger your arsenal of words will be. The more you read, the better your grasp of metaphor, poetry, beauty, passion, and empathy will be. The more you read, the greater you will be as a writer.
It’s like learning more dance moves or impressively difficult notes on an instrument. The more you learn, the better you’ll be.
Perseverance is absolutely essential, not just to produce all those words, but to survive rejection and criticism.
This is one of those unpleasant truths about publishing: you’re gonna get rejected. A lot.
I wish there were a way around this. Harry Potter was turned down again and again and again because that’s just the way it goes sometimes. And it isn’t only publishers: when you get published, and your work is out there, you’ll get bad reviews, too.
Mostly, they’ll just be people who don’t get what you’re doing. Intellectually, you’ll know that. Your heart, on the other hand, is going to break into a thousand pieces.
You can’t stop writing because of push-back.
You MUST NOT stop writing because of push-back.
Keep going. Don’t stop. When you get rejected, pick up your pen and keep going (and use the way you feel to put more universal application into your work).
What you write becomes who you are … So make sure you love what you write!
This is a deep one. Don’t forget your diving gear.
Writing is a little like a mobius strip, in a way:
Your beliefs and experiences and feelings all help craft your writing. However, your writing clarifies, corrects, and often reveals your beliefs, experiences, and feelings.
There are things you know that you have no idea you know—but your subconscious does, and that stuff will filter into your writing. As you write, you’ll discover things about yourself. You’ll clarify things, too, because it’s only as you come to write them that you realize they needed clarification in the first place.
Writing is a brave, bold venture, and life-altering discovery is part of the journey. Don’t ever let anyone tell you it’s easy.
Failure is inevitable—make it a strength. You have to resign yourself to the fact that you waste a lot of trees before you write anything you really like, and that’s just the way it is. It’s like learning an instrument, you’ve got to be prepared for hitting wrong notes occasionally, or quite a lot. I wrote an awful lot before I wrote anything I was really happy with.
And that is normal. Also, it is okay.
You’re going to write a lot of crap. You’re going to push past those things and write more crap. It may take you twelve years. It may take you a million words. If it does, then you’re on the right path—the same one your favorite authors walk.
Accept that it will take time, and that sometimes, your pencil won’t be your friend. If you accept it, then when it happens, you won’t throw in the towel and set the house on fire. Instead, you’ll be able to go, “Well, dang; that sucked, didn’t it? Knew it would happen. Time to write some more.”
You can do this, fellow writer. We’re all on that same path, and that means we can encourage each other on the way. Don’t give up.
It’s time to write some more.
Which of these “rules of writing” most speaks to you? Share in the comments.
Write what you know! Set a timer for fifteen minutes and take a single experience from your life—one that you responded to with emotion—and apply the universal application to your current story. Or, start a new story based on that experience. This may be about loss or love, anger or fear, rejection or acceptance.
Whatever it is, after you write it, post it in the comments, and don’t forget to comment on three other writers’ practice.