Who is better to advise us on the top tips for writing a book than J. K. Rowling?
J.K. Rowling has a story to tell. No, I’m not talking about Harry Potter et. al. I’m talking about her – J.K. Rowling.
She epitomises a modern-day version of the classic rags to riches story. Her philanthropic efforts and ability to slay Trump on Twitter means we just have to love her.
This talented writer is known for being private. Her interviews are rare. But on those rare occasions, she sprinkles fairy dust on anyone struggling to feel motivated to write.
Here are her top 10 writing tips for writing a book. Not straight from her mouth, the ones I like the best from interviews and articles I have read about her.
#1 Fail to plan, plan to fail
One most commonly preached top writing tips is to plan well. Some people like storyboarding, others don’t. But one thing is true of all writers – they are rarely successful at writing a good story in one sitting.
‘Harry Potter’ was born in 1990, Manchester, on a delayed train journey to London. Rowling proceeded to spend the next five years outlining the plots for the other stories in the series before even writing her first novel.
#2 “Kill all the adverbs!”
Ok, so this is technically a Mark Twain tip which has been famously backed by Hemmingway. But, when searching for good tips for writing a book, scattering adverbs sparsely is one that Rowling agrees with.
When interviewed on the Charlie Rose show, she commented on how she wished she could rehash her earlier Potter novels and remove all the adverbs.
#3 “Sometimes you have to get your writing done in spare moments here and there.” J.K. Rowling
As writing is a creative sport, writers often feel like they can and should only write when they feel inspired. Rowling unguardedly disagrees and claims a work ethos that she drops into her top writing tips – treat writing like work.
Most aspiring authors are desperately trying to write themselves out of a 9 to 5 and if nothing else, can feel reassured to know that J.K. Rowling used to write through the night. Since having a family she waits for the house to be empty but still puts in a solid eight hours daily into writing. If you want your writing to pay out, treat it like a job.
#4 You are allowed to have more than one on the go
Many of us writers are guilty of this – pursuing more than one novel idea at a time and feeling guilty for doing so because none of them are getting finished. To our reassurance, listed in the J.K. Rowling tips on writing is her admission that she often does the same. She admits that novels get completed faster if you focus on just one but, it is not an unrealistic prospect to be working on multiple projects.
#5 She re-wrote her first chapter fifteen times…
No matter how well you have planned your novel, one of the top writing tips that J.K. Rowling imparts is that re-writing is essential. She herself reworked her first chapter fifteen times until it was perfect.
#6 Keep your readers on the edge of a cliff
Out of all the good tips for writing a book, this is the one that Rowling had to learn the hard way.
I flinch at the thought of it.
After J.K. Rowling had written her first of the ‘Harry Potter’ series, she realised that she had given away her entire plot – for all seven books! She had to re-write it in order to keep the readers wanting more. How? Well, that leads me to the next of the J.K. Rowling tips on writing.
#7 Write strategically
If you follow the first of these top writing tips you will be in a position to think strategically. In order to avoid the above-mentioned mistake Rowling made, you should ensure that you do not give too much away. This sounds obvious but, is, in fact, an easy thing to trip up on. This is because you know what is going to happen so can struggle to see it through the eyes of the unknowing reader.
#8 “What you write becomes who you are” J.K. Rowling
“… so make sure you love what you write!”
Any successful writer will tell you that they did not wake up one day and say to themselves “Today I have decided to become a writer”, they simply are one. If you want to write, just do it.
If your aim is to publish, one of the good tips for writing a book is to bear in mind that not everything is publishable. But, it is important to write from your heart. One of the most alluring things about the ‘Harry Potter’ series is its passion – the only thing that could possibly drive such a concept that has been so intricately designed.
#9 Create good characters
In a QA session hosted by Stephen Fry, at the Albert Hall, adult audience members asked questions about the Harry Potter characters – as though they were real!
One member asked “Professor Snape has always wanted to be Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. In book five he doesn’t get the job. Why doesn’t Professor Dumbledore let him be the DADA teacher?”
Create a world – it doesn’t have to be a fantasy based one – but one that your readers will be drawn to. After all, most readers read for escapism – make people want to escape into your world and hang out with your characters.
#10 Be patient
J.K. Rowling openly talks of her struggles to get published – it certainly wasn’t easy for her. Given that it took around a decade from ‘Harry Potter’s’ inception to being published, being patient is a crucial trait.
It is true that if you have been rejected by every publishing house in the world, it may be time to accept defeat but, equally, consider this.
J.K. Rowling – An Inspiration
An unknown Joanne Rowling, an unemployed woman living on state benefits became J.K. Rowling, billionaire author within 5 years. ‘Harry Potter’ was rejected by numerous publishers for a year. She waited patiently and it paid off.
Want to feel even more inspired? Listen to J. K. Rowling’s Harvard Commencement Speech.