45 responses to “10 things J.K. Rowling taught me about writing”

  1. Paula B.

    Michelle,

    If I don’t write things down, I lose them. Tip #2 would never work for me.

  2. Chris Warren

    Michelle

    I think you’ve written one of the best and most valuable articles here that I’ve read in many a moon. Of course, there’s no single formula that guarantees success for a writer, but there are some basics without which nothing good will come out the other end, and I beleive you’ve nailed the main points here so succinctly.

    I’m a fantasy writer. My new book Randolph’s Challenge Book One – The Pendulum Swings has just been published, and I followed every opne of the points you have made in your article.

    Well analysed and an important read for aspiring writers.

    Chris Warren
    Author and Freelance Writer
    Randolph’s Challenge Book One – The Pendulum Swings

  3. Danielle Buffardi

    I like the post, but disagree with your opinion that Rowling’s first book was “pedestrian”.

    She is a a very educated writer, as she was a Classics Major in college.

    For “pedestrian” style writing look to Stephenie Meyer.

    Other than that, your post gives good insight into what you took away from Hogwarts.

    1. Ben

      I agree. The first book is well constructed and uses mystery-writing beats effectively such as the red herring in Snape’s character and the overall use of suspense. The other great strength of Harry Potter are the characters. They’re timeless.

      This was a great article thanks, but I don’t think facebook or twitter are equivalent to Minesweeper. I think social media is damaging to creativity and creative aspirations. 5 minutes on Facebook and you can begin to question your reasons for writing when all your friends are out having barbecues on beaches and experiencing social and vocational successes. It’s a bummer and a distraction to writing. I think it’s better that people look up great blogs like yours which are about writing. So it’s a distraction but still keeps you focused on the task at hand.

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  5. Elizabeth Fiorito

    I agree with Danielle. I think it’s way too easy to miss the fact that Rowling was writing to children, for children about a child in books one and two. Of course it changes in later novels. Harry is older. His audience is older. To call the first novels pedestrian is … wow. The descriptions? The concepts? The vast complicated world that she broke down for seven year olds to understand… uh… haven’t seen anyone do that as effectively. Ever.

    But I love your thoughts on her writing strategies and found the post very inspirational. Would like to add that I find her break down of chapters GENIUS as a model for writers to follow. I bet she wrote the chapter headings BEFORE she wrote the novel. Great way to keep a book focused.

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  7. Ondine Brooks Kuraoka

    J. K. Rowling is an example of passion-meets-discipline. Even if she didn’t feel on top of her Quidditch game every day, she slogged forward and had faith in her story. Harry Potter’s world helped me stay sane during my pregnancies and introduction to motherhood. I will always be grateful to the grand Rowling. Yes, it’s also heartening that readers cared enough about the story to allow leeway for improvement in her writing- and it did improve. I adore her writing voice throughout, though, and still feel nostalgic for the series. Time to reread!

  8. Write Blog Posts that Get Noticed | Blogging Basics 101

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  9. Jay

    Erm . . . Jelous much?

    “The writing in the first books in the series was downright pedestrian.”

    … and yet she has sold millions of books. A simple but concise writing style, with strong voice and little suggestions of relevant imagery such as Rowling’s, is downright hard to do. She just makes it look easy.

    Just because the writing is simple and easy to read doesn’t make it pedestrian, quite the opposite. Rowling’s writing is beautifully concise and age appropriate for her target audience. As her audience aged, her writing followed suit.

    I’d read a good story, simply told over big words and complicated sentences any day. It is very clear that Rowling worked hard on her books and deserves all the success that comes with it.

    1. Rand

      I agree fullheartedly!

  10. ...

    the harry potter books are amazing and the best theyre the perfect books for me but sadly im done with them and i feel as though the charecters in the books are my bestfrnds aswell as the books themselves. j.k. rowlings writing ,i think, went along with the age that harry is in a book the books also get a diffrent sort of humor after i think the 3rd book but its different humor cause the characters actions and thoughts are different and now that theyre older theres things they would obviously say or do like flicking ppl off which ron does afew times when he gets angry. i think its just the fact that her writing blends with the charecters and grows with them aswell since the books are mainly from the point of view of harry, who noticibly grows older in every book. the books are way to great and i cant wait for j.k. rowlings new book is finally said to be released.. i ve read somewhere shes writing another but its nothing to do with harry potter

  11. Jon Lukacher

    Paula B,
    I wonder if your checking this site! I am the same way. I have a poor working memory. If I get a thought, it must be written down, or it will be lost in the earth’s atmosphere!

    Jon

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  13. Leah

    I personally feel that not everyone is meant to become “A Famous Best Selling Author.” For many .. just getting their book on a shelf is sufficient. Many authors would like to have more.. be more, however.. they have families and children which don’t enable them to travel, conduct sufficient book tours and promote in the media to the extent they would need to for that fame to happen. Also.. many writers are driven and passionate about writing, that they allow their egos to get in the way. If .. your book is not selling or .. your not making the best sellers list after some time, perhaps it won’t and it may be time to branch out and find other areas of interest that you may be talented in doing. Many actors sing.. many singers act and write. Some dance. Its all can tie in together. You may get in the back way. Often times in the industry its being at the right place at the right time OR.. knowing someone who is.

  14. saralovesharrypotter
  15. World-Building Methods from “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” – Everyday Life | Michaela Tashjian

    […] is a fantastic writer, but no writer is perfect. Independent journalist and Harry Potter fan Michelle V. Rafter goes as far to say that Rowling’s early writing is “downright pedestrian.” Yet […]

  16. Rand

    I disagree with your thoughts on how J.K. Rowling’s writing is “downright pedestrian”. I find it to be simple, yet extremely full of imagery and imagination. I am sure that it was J.K.’s intent to make the writing fairly easy, so as to entertain a younger audience. I believe that she very well may have improved as a writer as she wrote more and more, but I also think that she could have written so it would be more difficult to read, yet she chose otherwise.

  17. What?

    #3???…Rowling’s no Hemingway? No, she’s better (although he did basically invent the popular fiction style)…the first book was written for children…that doesn’t mean it wasn’t unfathomably well written. In fact the HP story is pretty generic…it’s the incredibly tight writing that made up for a childish story. Jo Rowling has forever set the standard of clean prose.

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  19. Jesus

    If you seriously think that Rowling’s work is complex, you need to read some actual literature. #3 also gave me a little laugh. Her plotting and characters are as “pedestrian” and amateur as her prose. By the time she thought of trying to ad depth to her 2D character archetypes, it just looked tack on instead of just awkwardly executed. #8 is also humorous considering that her “love” of her creation caused her to write the absolute worst single section in the entire series (incidentally, the one you reference here), excluding the several hundred pages of pointless meandering that she padded book 7 with.

    1. Alex

      Jesus –
      How on earth can you think that her plot and characters are amateur? If her writing is so amateur, why are established universities around the country making Harry Potter English classes? Why did scholars from around the country gather at a university in Virginia to analyze her work? I’d like to see you try and create an entire non-existent world. I am a highly educated person and I love Harry Potter, and always will. I know English professors who love books like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, My Name is Asher Lev, Siddhartha, Fahrenheit 451 (which are all considered great pieces of literature), and yet they love Harry Potter as well. The fact that you criticized her so harshly makes me think that you didn’t thoroughly read all the books -have you met Snape? He’s the most complex character in the series. And how she tied everything together perfectly in the end -that’s probably the most amazing part. She subtly mentioned the Horcrux necklace in the 5th book, and the Vanishing Cabinet in the SECOND. I do agree with others that her writing is simple -but does that make it amateur? I don’t think so. When she describes a scene, you can picture it perfectly in your head. That’s good writing. If Harry Potter’s not for you, I respect that, but don’t say that the majority of her last book is pointless. She’s managed to get millions of kids off the couch and unglued from the T.V. Instead, they would rather pick up one of her books and read for hours. To me, that’s amazing and beautiful in and of itself.

  20. Really Random Randy

    I agree that JK’s style at first was on the simple side and evolved, but that is why I stuck with the Harry Potter series until the end. I grew up with these books, and every time one came out, it seemed to match my ever maturing reading level. And while she is not an epic writer on the level of someone like Tolkien, she can portray a character like no other. Harry in Book 5? Jeez, I wanted to slap him, but then I realized he was an emotional 15 year old, and incredibly believable. I have to give her props for the way she portrayed all of her characters.

  21. HRHAngelique

    Michelle,

    Thank you for this blog post. I thoroughly enjoyed it. While I can’t write many details here about how I came across this, I will say that the most hopeful and encouraging part for me, aside from the 10 tips, was this: “Could someone replicate Rowling’s rise to author stardom given what it takes to get a book published today? I’d like to hope so.”

    There’s a twinkle, a gleam in my eye that continues to grow daily, and your words help them sparkle even more.

    HRH

  22. Michael E. Newton

    “If the story’s good enough, the writing can be secondary.”

    A friend once said to me that JRR Tolkien was a bad writer. Perish the thought, but in a way, he is correct. Tolkien is not the best writer (though he certainly isn’t bad as my friend argued), but he is possibly the best story teller ever. It is much more important for us to tell our stories (fiction) or present our information (non-fiction) than to write perfectly. I know I’ll never be Thomas Paine, who IMHO is one of the best writers ever, but that won’t stop me from writing quality books.

  23. andrea escaffi-james

    I also learned about writing by JK Rowling reading the Harry Potter books. First of all, the way she developed her characters is wonderful. That is one of the MANY reasons why I became so attached to the characters. I love the theme of all the series, magic, but the boys and girls have such real personalities that I feel I personally know them. he rbooks are so well written, I feel Iam there at Hogwarts (or wherever else the setting is) watching it all happen.
    Michelle, I do have to disagree with one part of your observation; I do not think she is a mediocre writer. She is exceptional in telling a story. I have read Hemingway and many other great writers, and in comparison, I think Rowling is up to par. Style, themes, and approaches differ greatly, but Rowling writes an exceptional story.
    I also, don’t feel Rowling is writing “to children”, I feel her writing is for herself. She tells the story as it unfolds in her mind…how she sees it happening. Of course, I do no have the privelage of knowing her and knowing for a fact “who” is her intended audience, but it feels like a story she’d write for herself; how she’d like to read it.

    Anyways, thanks for a fun article.

    Andrea

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  26. Lisa-Marie Dutt

    Very informative and interesting post :] It is always nice to know which methods and ideas published authors use during their creation periods.

    I especially love the one about thinking things through. I need to do that more often. Usually find myself diving right in and making a mess of things.

  27. Daphne Gray-Grant

    My advice? Don’t try to be JK Rowling. If you try too hard to be someone you’re not, then you’re setting yourself up for writer’s block.

    Instead, focus on being the best writer YOU can possibly be. And concentrate on some reasonable goals. Not everyone is going to be able to take home pots of money, like good old J.K.!!

  28. FN

    It’s seems to me that we’re just post-facto trying to explain why success happens in today’s writing world.

    Fact is that the logic of big time publishers is both strange, inconsistent and inexplicable. Books’ success become self-fulfilling prophecies.

    Waiting to see someone explain the “success” of something as thrashy as *Fifty Shades*…. which is basically just porn mainstreamised and able to find huge audiences (in part because it’s so widely discussed and also available in all the places!)

  29. Monica Bhide

    What a fantastic post! I love it. I always learn so much from you. Thank you for writing this.

  30. Deborah Hyatt

    Nice write-up, thanks for reposting it. I also believe that studying Rowling’s success can be useful, if done with a clear eye, as you have done. Her accomplishments are founded on some extremely hard and dedicated work — including, as I recall, an enormous amount of self-promotion and marketing directly to children through book store events and such.

    Have linked to your post on my blog: http://www.omnidirectionalwriter.com/2012/10/21/on-the-interwebs-3/

  31. Michael Lewis Moore

    To denigrate the writing abilities of Rowling is in itself comical. What on earth are the standards in judging. The proof is always in the pudding. Rowling did what Mark Twain did in his life, and that is to motivate millions into reading books who would not otherwise have done it. What more noble accomplishment for a writer is there? She,like Mark Twain, gave us characters we will know for all of our lives. Who else does that? Rowling’s entire education and mind went into those stories and she rightfully will go down in history for what she accomplished. How many of us who play with pen and ink will ever get to say that?

  32. Deborah S

    Oops, I meant do you critique? As in take a look at writings from a beginning author such as myself?

  33. MuggleGirl

    I love what you said about thinking things through. I am trying to create a story of my own and I sometimes re-write scenes five or six times before I’m completely satisfied, and sometimes not even then.

  34. Michelle Rafter

    Compared to the later books, I don’t think the language in “Sorcerer’s Stone” was as elegant or nuanced. I think Rowling matured as a writer along with her characters and plot lines. But I will concede that even the early books in the series are better written than a lot of what passes as popular fiction.

    Michelle

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