Monday, June 9, 2008

Guidance for Writers from J.K. Rowling

Caroline Miller at Positive Psychology Digest provides an inspiring post on the Harvard commencement address of J. K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame.

In addition to a link to a video of the address itself, a video which will certainly be endlessly viewed in the coming months, Miller provides a very useful summary.

Briefly, Rowling hit on the following themes:

1. Don’t be afraid of failure. Rowling described herself as an utter and complete failure as she set out to write the only thing she’d ever wanted to do – tell an engaging story about a young boy named Harry Potter. At that point, she was extremely poor, a single mother, and a disappointment to herself and her parents, who had not wanted her to experience the same poverty they’d experienced, as well. With nothing left but her authentic heart’s desire of writing, Rowling said that she went after her dreams with gusto because she’d already lost everything external, and there was nothing left to lose anymore.

2. Treasure your friends. Rowling implored the audience to tend to the friendships they’d made at school because she noted that these relationships were what sustained her.

3. Use your imagination to have empathy for others. This part of Rowling’s speech was the most powerful and memorable by far. In moving terms, she described her job at Amnesty International when she was in her twenties, and how she’d seen courage and compassion exhibited by the Amnesty International workers on numerous occasions. She asked everyone in attendance to use their intellectual talents to do more than accumulate money or possessions, and to instead imagine the pain and plight of those less fortunate to be generous with their time and energy.

Many academic authors long to have a wider audience for their thoughts, and an opportunity to make a real difference in life. We need to turn our souls from the very real but limited allure of academic recognition and start learning how to write for those wider audiences.

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