I’ve met a lot of writers who aren’t great fans of JK Rowling. I think there is something about her amazing, impossible-to-repeat success that worries them. It’s as if it’ll somehow suck them in and they’ll believe their book will sell a million copies and they’ll be super-rich, when the reality is that there is no money in writing. I guess her story does make a lot of people think they’ll write a book and become rich and famous overnight, but for me, what I love about her personal story isn’t the rags-to-riches ‘plotline’, but her story of belief.
If you look into it, you’ll realise that her book was her emotional crutch through her lowest point in her life, a constant in an uncertain world. I’m sure for every JK, there’s a thousand writers whose emotional crutch of a novel never made it to publication.
But if you can take anything away from her story it’s that you have to believe in yourself – not so that you are blinded to realities, but that with hard work and determination you can get there. That sometimes feels like such a crime, doesn’t it? How arrogant to believe in yourself! It feels as indecent as if you had just flashed the Queen.
I’ve had a string of amusing incidents that have brought this home to me recently. First there was my brother telling me I should look at the vanity market. Then there was my mother who told me that because she hates fantasy, she’ll read the novel but “won’t like it”. Then today there were half-joking comments from friends. Jesus, I thought, is there anyone who believes I can write a decent novel?
But then I realised something, something I think is important for writers who lack confidence or don’t get a lot of support. With no belief comes no expectations. And at first, that might seem like a horrible thing, but when you think about it, it’s incredibly freeing.
No expectations means you can take your time, practise your craft, fail and try again. There’s no expectation to write a certain type of story, to get it done by a certain time, or write it in a certain way. The only thing holding you back is your belief in yourself.
That can be difficult – I still have problems describing any of my work as ‘good’; I usually describe myself as a competent writer and leave it at that. I can see so many flaws in my work that it just feels wrong to describe myself as a ‘good’ writer. This comes from someone who has had a load of non-fiction published. But then I think a good writer isn’t necessarily one who gets everything right, but one who constantly evaluates his work and continues to perfect his craft.
I really recommend watching the Oprah interview with JK Rowling. There was a lot of what she said that resonated with me, and whilst I severely doubt any of us will ever see a tenth of her success, you may get something out of it as well. Let’s face it, if we’d wanted to be millionaires, we would have become bankers!