JK Rowling – who has not heard of that name? With 350 million plus people who purchased her books, who wouldn’t have? The only book to have beaten its number of translations is the bible. Even the books’ movie adaptations broke records by landing in the in the top 10 list of top-grossing films of all time.
Prior to 1997, when the first of the series Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was made public, author Joanne Kathleen Rowling, now better known as JK Rowling, has never been published before. She had zero credits to her name, zero insider info, and zero friends in the publishing business.
So how did she actually do this? How did she become from zero to hero, the first billionaire author in just a span of ten years?
Believe or not, the answer cannot be found in what transpired between those ten years, between the first book’s publication, to the last book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The answer can be found in what she carried out seven years before the first book’s release.
So don’t lose hope if you are an author who is yet to be published. You should actually make the best of this situation because it is during these circumstances, before your book gets printed, that you can have the strongest impact on its success.
Simply put, a four-step writing procedure was what JK Rowling followed, that can be helpful for you if you too want to be part of the bestseller list. The doubt in your mind probably now is, how can I actually follow her footsteps?
How to Be the Next JK Rowling
This step may be the most underestimated of the procedures in the process of writing. But in the end, it turns out to be definitely the most crucial.
Backtrack to the year 1990, JK Rowling was riding a train somewhere between Manchester and London. While looking out the window and staring at a field filled with cows, this was when Harry Potter took shape into her mind. Since the train was delayed, for the next four hours she kept on imagining Harry and the world he lived in, his allies and adversaries, the joys and perils he may face there. She had to visualize it all in her head because she did not have anything to write on. By the time the train reached London, the main cast of characters have been fixed in her head.
Contrary to what might have been expected, she did not race home to immediately write the story she has formed. JK Rowling instead devoted five whole years perfectly crafting and refining all the details of the wizarding world, covering the education and government structures, and even how the wizarding world compared with the muggle world. She has developed an extremely advanced system of magic that would in turn shape the foundation of her own distinct brand of writing magic. Before formally putting on paper the first book, she carved out the entire story first, planning the happenings and details of all the seven books.
Everything must start with a plan. Writing a book without comprehensive planning is like constructing a house with no basis. Ignore this step and your book will be doomed to fail.
When you write, you only write – not planning nor editing. After you have planned out your storyline, it is now time to put it in writing.
It took JK Rowling five years to plan out the Harry Potter series before sitting down and writing it. As she was writing the first book, it occurred to her that she was etching it out of a pile of notes. It was worth all the planning. She was able to dedicate herself to the real writing duty itself, conscious that all the characters, storylines and elements were already secured.
If you are thinking of making a novel, this is the ideal spot for you to be in. Novels can be very lengthy – normally more than 100,000 words and can even be longer than 200,000 words. So after you have effectively planned and constructed your storyline, researched and gathered your notes, then writing will surely be a pleasure for you, where you can be assured of a great possible outcome to your novel.
JK Rowling admitted that she felt she had to do it by the book correctly. She was truly convinced by the story so when it boiled down to writing, she made certain that she dealt with all the required preparations. If that’s taken care of, then writing will just be a breeze.
Did you know that JK Rowling rewrote the first chapter of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone for 15 different times? During her first try at the book’s Chapter one, her mother died after six months, and that caused a hysteria of rewriting, fundamentally altering everything. The Harry Potter series talk about death, propelled specifically by Harry’s parent’s death and the miracle of him being left alive. But when JK Rowling herself went through a crucial moment in life, she re-crafted the story to manifest and sort out her own suffering.
To write and re-rewrite are two different things. To write is to carve out the blueprint of the story. To re-write means to re-look and re-examine. More often than not, rewriting will reveal where the story has gone wayward and where unanswered questions would arise. With JK Rowling, she discovered after finishing the first book that she had already given away the complete storyline of the seven books. That’s why she rewrote it again, and withheld some points.
Authors who have reached success would say that you only write to rewrite. Even DH Lawrence admitted that after he finished his first draft, he trashed it and went back to zero.
The procedure of improving and refining your manuscript is editing. You may personally do this process or you may hire an external editor. More often it is recommended to let an editor go over your work before you pass it to the publishing house, because it is exceptionally hard to critique your own work and find what can still be enhanced.
Don’t worry, you do not have to follow all the remarks of the editor. Because in the end, it will still be your name on that novel’s cover, and you are absolutely accountable to its contents. That being said, an effective and keen editor can still bring you to the top. That you may not easily have done on your own.
If you have noticed, the first two of the Harry Potter series were hardly more than 200 pages but by the fifth and thereafter, the books were already more than 700 pages. With this we can assume that JK Rowling was edited tighter in the earlier books than the latter. It is more recommended to really listen to your editor in the early days of your career, especially if you are new to the industry. More often than not, less is more, and a condensed and focused book can possibly charm and draw more readers than a circuitous epic that persistently confuses.
Always remember that book writing is a process. Every step along the way is different and unavoidable. Be careful not to interchange them, and more importantly do not omit any step. Take that risk to your own demise.
JK Rowling has proven what can be achieved if you follow the fundamental process of the art and craft of story writing. So as you begin to write your own novel, always keep in mind the four steps in writing a story: planning, writing, rewriting and editing. Make sure to address each step properly.
And indeed maybe someday, you can be the next JK Rowling.