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Want to Be a Great Writer? J.K. Rowling’s Best Advice, Summed Up In Just 1 Sentence

One of the world’s most successful authors on why most advice on how to be successful is terrible.

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BY Betsy Mikel - 14 Jan 2019

how to be a great writer

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Think you know exactly what it takes to be successful? J.K. Rowling isn't buying it. Her tweet in response to 4 a.m. being the most productive hour of the day went viral. (She brilliantly said: "Oh, piss off.")

Yet as one of the world's most successful authors, Rowling's often asked to share her tips and advice for aspiring writers. "I haven't got ten rules that guarantee success, although I promise I'd share them if I did," Rowling wrote recently on her blog.

Generally she's not a fan of must-do lists. In fact, Rowling achieved success by going completely against the grain of what a writer "must do" to be successful. She wrote a very long children's book about a boy in boarding school -- not your typical recipe for success.

Her advice to anyone who pursuing a writing career is this: Forget the "must do's," and concentrate on the "you probably won't get far withouts."

There are no guarantees, in a writing career or otherwise. But you'll need a few solid building blocks to get started. These are Rowling's you-won't-get-far-withouts for aspiring writers.

Read. A lot.

Almost every single author will tell you how important reading is. Great writers are great readers first.

In his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King recommends keeping a book on your person at all times. Instead of staring at your smartphone the next time you're stuck in a long line, pull out a book. One CEO reads over 100 books a year by employing these hacks.

Embrace discipline.

Perspiration over inspiration, Rowling says. If you wait for inspiration to strike, you won't make much progress. You need to put your butt in the chair, turn off distractions, and get it done. Some authors set a daily writing quota. Mark Twain allegedly averaged 1,800 words a day.

"Sometimes you have to write even when the muse isn't cooperating," she explains.

Be resilient. Be humble.

Steel yourself for rejection. It's simply part of what it means to be a writer. Kathryn Stockett's manuscript for The Help (which remained on the New York Times bestseller list for over 100 weeks), was rejected 60 times. It took her five years of writing and over three years of rejections before an agent took a chance on her.

"Being able to pick yourself up and keep going is invaluable if you're to survive your work being publicly assessed," says Rowling. And often, writers are their own worst critics. Be patient with yourself.

Don't let fear of failure stop you.

To be a writer is to be courageous. It takes courage to submit your work to agents and publishers knowing that the chances of rejection are so high. But that's not a good reason to not do it.

What if Stockett had stopped submitting her manuscript for The Help after her first 15 rejections?

Be the person who finishes what you set out to do, Rowling says. Not the person who always talks about the book they would like to write one day.

Forget the must do lists. Pave your own path.

From 10-secrets-for-success listicles to pricey online courses, the internet is rife with advice of what you should be doing to become a profitable writer. There's an entire genre of self-help books on the topic and writing competitions galore purporting to pave your path to success.

Sound too good to be true? As the old adage goes, then it probably is. No one ever said writing was easy. Rowling closes her blog post with this:

"Ultimately, in writing as in life, your job is to do the best you can, improving your own inherent limitations where possible, learning as much as you can and accepting that perfect works of art are only slightly less rare than perfect human beings."

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