Friday, March 18, 2011

J.K. Rowling on Failure and Imagination

Like many readers, Harry Potter is the gold standard by which I judge all fantasy children's writing. Although it has its critics, J.K. Rowling's writing is ridiculously amazing, lush, captivating--the woman knows how to tell a good story. Still, my favorite thing she's written hasn't been in any of the Harry Potter books.
When she spoke at Harvard's commencement in 2008, she talked about two things: the benefits of failure and the importance of imagination. This should be required reading for every hopeful writer. In an industry where you're constantly told "no," where doom and gloom lurk behind every corner, where the only thing people seem to agree on is that you shouldn't quit your day job, you have to come face-to-face with failure on a daily basis. It ain't pretty. But at least you can learn from it.

So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.

J.K. Rowling Speaks at Harvard Commencement from Harvard Magazine on Vimeo.

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