Don’t complain about J K Rowling. Follow her lead instead.

The other day a novelist complained that J K Rowling was making it harder for other authors, and why didn’t she just stop?

By her own admission, this critic had never read a word of ‘Harry Potter’.

To me it came across as a ‘she’s had her turn, now it’s mine’ kind of argument.

From http://public-domain.zorger.comIt’s common enough in writing. I had something similar happen many years ago when I was working as a professional historian in Hawke’s Bay. A local history enthusiast rang up the local newspaper editor and actually told him I’d had my turn. Then she proceeded to gather up her enthusiast friends and conduct a public crusade against everything I did.

Not the worst display of malice I’ve been subjected to as a result of writing history, but the attitude was clear – ‘You’ve got my slice of pie, and I’m going to destroy you.’

Never mind that the targeted author actually created the slice that the rival author covets.

This is where ‘academic jealousies’ come from too. Ultimately, such selfish ambition highlights the darker side of the human condition.

It’s also entirely wrong. You see, the writing pie grows with its authors. We all have something to contribute. And if someone does so – spectacularly – then that’s good for all. Rowling is a case in point. There are kids who discovered reading through Harry Potter. She opened up a new world for them – a world where other writers get to add their part.

The same’s true for Rowling’s adult books. The publicity around them raises the profile of all books for all authors. ‘Hey guys – writing’s out here!’

See what I mean about the pie growing? It’s all to do with attitude. The people who get angry and want to destroy the success of others are the losers – they don’t realise that success is made. It isn’t handed out. And it isn’t a limited resource that must be taken off whoever has it.

Of course, human nature being what it is, that’s all too often what seems to happen. I’ve used writing as an example here – but it’s generally true.

My take? Don’t complain about people who’ve created something – knuckle down, do the hard yards, and join the fun, making sure you put your own original thought into what you’re doing. There’s more for everybody. And everybody wins.

Get that? Everybody wins.

A proverbial good thing. Isn’t it? Certainly better than jealously smashing something in order to deny it to its creator.

What do you figure?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014
Coming up: More writing tips, thoughts, science geekery and more.


14 thoughts on “Don’t complain about J K Rowling. Follow her lead instead.

  1. I was actually fairly astonished to read about this person the other day. I can’t say I understand that attitude at all.

    I’m not necessarily a good human being; I’m as susceptible to jealousy and pettiness as anyone. Or maybe I should simply say I’m heir to all the vices of frail humanity and leave it at that.

    Nonetheless I don’t believe I’ve ever, in my life, been jealous of another writer’s success. Partly that may be because I wrote my first novel when I was 14, and I’ve known, almost from the beginning, then, what kind of work — capitalize that, W O R K !! — writing actually is. If you put in the work you’ve nothing to be ashamed of in your own writing, and nothing to covet of anyone else’s. You might wish you could do things others seem to do so easily in their writing; but I think, after awhile, others might find something similar to admire in your own.

    My point is that writing is so totally individual an act that it leads me to agree totally with you, Matt. There’s no such thing as a single limited pie. Writers create their own success by writing, by doing the work. Now it may be that you do the work as best you can and for whatever reason commercial success eludes you. That doesn’t mean there’s only so much success to go around; it only means you haven’t encountered success yet.

    In any case blaming the success of others for your failures — or more exactly, your present (but not future) lack of success — is logically implausible. “You must fail so I may succeed” might work in warfare, but not in art.

    So, I’m going to get back to WORK! Good post, Matthew! Besides, I happen to think JK deserves every single cent that comes her way. She worked hard, she wrote a good product and created a great set of characters, and most important, she never lost faith in herself. That’s the hardest part. You must never lose faith in yourself.

    1. As always I agree with your thoughts! Every writer has something original of their own to contribute. Rowling did the hard yards and deserves what she’s earned. She’s a great writer and has done so much for the industry as a whole by her success. Effort always brings rewards, of course – not obvious, sometimes, to writers who’ve just fielded the 483rd rejection (a process I went through, way back when) but they ARE there. And, of course, it’s true of every other field of human endeavour.

  2. Another way to look at it: Look at how much Rowling’s achieved. I’m gonna try and surpass her. No achievement in doing that if she drops out of the race to give me a turn.

    1. It would be great to be able to contribute, in our own ways, as much as Rowling has to the world of reading… that said, I’d like to surpass her income, purely to have due creature comforts while writing. Working on it…(only another billion dollars to go…)

  3. If an author has something to contribute to the literary world, the ever growing world library – then let them be! Good for them for being successful in their passion!
    When I was studying holistic healing, one of my courses required me to read a book entitled Legal Guidelines for the Unlicensed Practitioner. It was interesting, basically going over the differences between licensed and certified. However, about the second half of the book you began to realize that this guy had tried and failed at becoming licensed and this book was just preaching against becoming licensed, that the whole system of licensing was a money scam and meant to be a secluded club. I wrote a very heated paper on that book about how it was clearly an expression of anger and jealousy for not being able to succeed in the area he wanted, so he was going on a crusade to halt others journeying too far along that path.

    1. It’s surprising how often people express their jealousies this way. Book reviews in New Zealand – where the field is so small that books are often given to rival authors for comment – frequently descend to this level. Here in NZ our recent Man Booker prize winner commented on the bullying that goes on that way. It’s a pretty sad indictment of the mind-set. Being inclusive isn’t hard – everybody has something positive to contribute and, as far as I am concerned, should be encouraged to do so.

  4. Similar to a comment I left on another blog on the same topic, I agree that the more successful authors there are out there, the more they can lift up other authors. The big-name authors may get more of the sales, but they can also get more readers excited about books and willing to pull out our wallets.
    I also think the fact that you were so maligned is a complement.

    1. The malice these people displayed wasn’t the worst I’ve been subjected to as a result of writing history, but it was up there. It got pretty intense, to the point where they were putting their houses and livelihoods on the line to pursue their crusade. That became obvious when one of them personally approached first my employers of the day, and then my publishers, to repeat an abusive fantasy they’d concocted about my supposed personal and professional flaws. It was a blatant attack on my repute and income that provided me with a clear case under the Defamation Act – so clear that it wouldn’t even have gone to court. It would have ruined the guy doing it if I’d pursued the issue – and he must have known the risk he was taking. But he did it anyway. Incredible.

      All this exploded out of nowhere – these people were total strangers to me – I’d never met them, and they never approached me at any time to discuss the problem they had with my working professionally in their field of interest. They just pursued a public crusade to damage my good name and repute, wholly behind my back. I guess it takes all sorts, but it wasn’t a great endorsement for the kind of people who seemed to be attracted to enthusiast history in that district.

    1. It wasn’t the worst malice I’ve been subjected to…that record goes to the military history community here in New Zealand. But it was pretty bad…and I rather wish they all realised everybody has something to contribute – and it all builds to a greater whole.

  5. Once again another extraordinary post on the writing world. So many times writers are their own worst enemies. As you say, there is more than enough pie for every writer who does the work. Every writer brings unique ingredients to fill a pie. Perhaps the crust is the structure. You know I can get with metaphor so I will stop.

    Want to add that I read several posts on this subject and not surprisingly, yours is the most thoughtful and practical. With a few broad strokes of your pen, you reveal that the jealous writer’s pie lacks substance. Thanks, Matthew!

    1. The problem, I suppose, is that some people tie their sense of self-worth to the status they imagine they draw by writing and publishing in their field of interest; and they also seem to imagine this status is a limited commodity which anybody else’s success takes off them. It becomes an emotional issue – hence the viciousness of the response. The fact that others might not share that view, or even the concept of status, doesn’t seem to enter the calculation. We have to accept people for what they are, of course; and all of us brings something to the calculation. But I bewail, sometimes, the energy wasted on tearing down others that could be so much more productively used building things up.

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