Monday, April 6, 2015

The Harry Potter Mindset

You know when you are in those situations where you think about all the things you should have said after you have finished the conversation? Yeah, that is me right now.

On Friday I went to a college interview for a scholarship program—I had thought we would talk about academic stuff, but they mostly wanted to talk about how I consider myself a writer. Which I am, ‘cause I write.

I kind of don’t like talking about my writing. I mean with other writers it’s okay—other writers understand the process more or less, other writers know about giving other people space, and sure, there’s business to discuss but we’re in a business of creativity. It doesn’t have a 100% chance of sucking.

With other people… I don’t know. It just never goes well. 

At the interview, for example, we got on the subject of Harry Potter. As in, do you think you’re going to write the next Harry Potter
via Goodreads
I was kind of at a loss for words. What is that even supposed to mean? Are we talking plot? Are we talking about the next series that will make me more money than any author previously? I tried to argue for myself, I suppose. I said I didn’t know, and that it was hard to tell—I mean, J.K. Rowling was on welfare before she got Harry Potter published. She makes $250 million dollars more a year than Tom Clancy, the next best-selling author (source).

But the way I was being interviewed, the matter was mostly do you think you have the drive to get the next Harry Potter published? 

Um, probably?

Which, if I could go back in time, I would ask, “How much drive did J.K. Rowling have?”

Because if we’re totally honest I do not have a list of successful authors and their drive readings. Sure, she got rejected twelve times, but Kathryn Stockett was rejected 60 times before she got accepted with The Help (source, source). It hasn’t made nearly as much money but she clearly had to put in the extra effort to get it published. Rowling has written several books—does she have more drive creating a children’s series than someone like Harper Lee, who has published one incredible work of literature and only now is about to publish a second?

There isn’t a good way to answer that question.

I think I have enough drive to get published. I have never completely edited a MS, I have never even tried to write a query letter, I haven’t researched anything, and as far as I’m concerned any career in writing I might have is totally up in the air.

But if it turns out it’s that important to me, then sure, I could get published. There are a lot of things that play into getting published, and it’s hard work, but with work, yes, I could try.

Asking me if I’m going to write the next Harry Potter, though—that’s insulting. It’s hard to say why, but I think, for me, it is because it reduces my work as a writer because you are setting the most profitable writer ever to be the standard that every writer should reach.

Because I either cannot or will not reach that standard, my writing is therefore subpar.

Here is something I believe with all my heart: Harry Potter is not the best series in the world. In fact, I don’t even have it on my favorites shelf anymore, although it remains a popular story to this day. That’s fine. I encourage you to love what you love—but it is still not the best series in the world.

I believe that because there is no best series in the world. Majority of preference does not make something the best. If more people liked blue than red, would blue become the best color? No. Because it is good that there are blue things and red things, and while some of us may enjoy one color over the other, one color is not necessarily better than the other.

The same goes for books. Yes, there are some books that are just plain bad and there are other books that I spend an unholy amount of time believing everyone should adore… but when it comes down to it, success is not dictated by preference.

And I don’t want my success dictated by Harry Potter, either.

I don’t know if I’m ever going to have a writing career. I don’t know if people would love my books or hate them. I don’t really know what I want from my writing career—I kind of left that interview feeling like I didn’t have my life together and my planlessness was an embarrassment.

But I do know this: I don’t want to write the next Harry Potter.

I really don’t. I don’t write for money, I don’t really write for people. Sometimes I don’t even write for myself. Sometimes I write just to write.

That’s okay. Even if tomorrow I decide that writing isn’t for me and I never write another word, it’s okay.

Harry Potter isn’t my standard, and monetary success isn’t my goal. For now, I am satisfied to say that I spend time writing. I try to be a good CP. I fangirl with my best friend and I do my best in school. If that is all writing ever is to me, then okay—it satisfies me. 

Yes, my Potterless self is satisfied, and that’s good enough for me.

Do you ever get swamped with assumptions that J.K. Rowling is the standard writer? How do you cope?

(P.S. If you have a few minutes, I would appreciate you answering a short March/Fan Month recap survey—it will help me plan another event and keep me on track with this blog. Thanks!)


  1. I love this post!
    Although I'm a huge HP fan :P
    Your post reminds of an advertisement that airs here in India in which kids are asked if they'd be next *Insert a famous name* and they reply they'd be first *Insert kids name*. :)

    1. Well, it's not that Harry Potter is BAD... It's just that I don't like that everyone thinks that Harry Potter is the definition of what publication is like...

      That's kind of true, though. I'd rather be the next me than the next anybody else, for sure! :)

  2. What a stupid question! I love Harry Potter, but I hate that now everybody is expected to write huge blockbusters and "the next" whatever. There's nothing wrong to comparing a book to others with similar storylines, but I don't want to read the same kind of book over and over again, and putting so much emphasis on finding "the next Harry Potter" paves the way for ripoffs.

    1. Indeed... I mean, there's no such thing as a new story, but at the same time, every writer brings something else to the table, and encouraging people to focus on that something else instead of the previous successes would probably give us many better books than those we might have.

  3. Heather, this was such an inspiring read.

    I do love the Harry Potter series - not because it's an amazing piece of literature, but because it represents my childhood - but I will never, ever be the next JK Rowling. No one will. There is no 'next', only 'now' (wow, this is getting much more philosophical than I'd expected!). Success and achievement are in the eyes of the beholder.

    We're told not to compare ourselves to others - it's not realistic to be that thin; it's not realistic to earn that much money; be happy with what you've got - but then in all aspects of life we're judged. You go to an interview for your scholarship and you're compared to other people - some of whom just happen to be world famous authors. Surely that's not realistic either?

    Anyway, good luck with your scholarship programme (although with an interview like that, maybe you're better off without it!). Keep on enjoying the writing!!

    Beth x

    1. Thanks.

      Harry Potter was pretty much my life between 3rd and 6th grade, so I know what you mean—but yes, Rowling is not really something we attain. And I agree with your philosophy—numbers don't mean the same thing to everyone.

      That's actually a good point—looking back on it I don't think the interview really gave me realistic expectations, which was probably something that bothered my brain. I like realistic things. You're absolutely right, though! We say not to judge ourselves, but instead give ourselves up to be judged by everyone else. It hardly seems right.

      Thank you so much, and thanks for sharing your philosophy. I liked the way it made me think! :)

  4. Well said, Heather. I'm really tired of seeing books being placed as the next Harry Potter, or the next Hunger Games, or TFIOS. It gets repetitive, and we find an influx of unoriginal content because authors are led to believe that they won't "make it" unless they're the next something.

    I know that publishing is a lucrative business, but there are plenty of original works out there that didn't need to be the next Harry Potter to be successful.

    I've never wanted to write the next Harry Potter because to me, having my book compared to another one makes me feel like a copycat somehow. But that's just me. :/

    1. I think Hunger Games has been the one I've seen the most, just because I read in that genre more. But advertising something as something it is like sort of does the book a disservice, sometimes. People try to buy into a trend, I suppose, and that sometimes works, but also, it breaks down the walls we want to build.

      Agreed. I mean, if Harry Potter was successful because it was more original than other works, wouldn't we want to encourage more original works than the repetitive Harry Potter idea?

      That's true, also. I don't like being a copycat, either. :/

  5. Well said. It's a ridiculous question, although I guess I can understand why they would ask it. They probably want to sort out the copycats from the writers who have original ideas. Or so I would hope.

    I love Harry Potter. I wish I could write half as good as J.K. Rowling. But I most certainly do not want to be her or publish the next Harry Potter. I'll just be myself and maybe, perhaps, possibly one day publish my own original work.

    I hope you get the scholarship. I had a scholarship interview Thursday at the college I'm going to. So glad it's over with!

    1. I don't think it was that, just because the school is mostly focused on business rather than any kind of writing. I don't really know what they wanted so I have no idea how I did. *shrugs* Oh well.

      She did write well, but indeed, it's not my intention to try and follow in her footsteps to the millimeter. We'll see what works out.

      Thanks, I hope the same for you, and I know what you mean!

  6. I love Harry Potter, but sometimes, I feel terrified about that fact that people would possibly be potentially comparing my books and calling it "the next Harry Potter." When I publish, I want to make my own mark, not being compared to someone else is what I'm trying to get at. :/

    xoxo Morning

    1. I know; we're all going to face criticism someday but receiving that kind of praise is a little overboard. With luck, we'll all make our own mark someday, and it will be awesome. :)

  7. YES. I love Harry Potter, but it's not the best series ever.
    Writing shouldn't be about making money. And every writer is different, you can't be another J.K. Rowling.

    I hope otherwise the interview went okay :)

    1. It's good, but it's not best. And no, it isn't. :) I'm glad I'm not the only one who thinks so.


  8. This is a spectacular post, and I'm glad you had your chance to rant about this particular conundrum. Whenever people find out that I write, their immediate response is, "What do you write?" And, inevitably, the conversation progresses as follows.

    Me: "Fantasy."

    Them: "Like Harry Potter?"

    Me: "Well, that's the general sub-genre, but I write about things more like vampires, demons, and the fae. Sometimes time-travel"

    Them: "Like Twilight?"

    Me: "No." (Thinking: what, did you ONLY hear vampires and your brain shut off? Did Meyer release a new book about time traveling demons that I missed?)

    Them: "Oh. Well, are you going to be the next J. K. Rowling?"

    Sooo ...

    I totally get what you mean. Because most of what you've written flits through my head as I try to think of a remotely appropriate response. No, I don't want to be the next J. K. Rowling. I'd be absolutely THRILLED if I could be as successful as Patricia Briggs and Kim Harrison and Richelle Mead, and others of their calibre and success.

    But I'm ok with just writing for the sake of writing. Do I want to publish someday? Yes. Am I going to be heartbroken at rejection letters? No. Do I want my primary source of income to come from writing? Honestly, no. I think I'd go crazy (not that I'm not there already). It would be lovely if writing could be a supplemental source of income one day, but in all honesty, I'm perfectly happy having it as nothing more than a hobby. At least, that's where I'm at right now.

    Thanks for sharing, and I hope that your interview was at least successful in spite of the frustration.

    1. I think I've moaned about that before, too. It's like Harry Potter, Hunger Games, and Twilight are the only books out there anymore. Blah.

      Being called the next pre-existing writer is simply a struggle, but I would enjoy being successful as other authors I love as well—or even just evoke the same emotions they give me in my writing! :)

      Writing for the sake of writing is a good way to start, I think. I mean, for many people it gets to the point where they want to start writing full-time, and that's good for them. But even if you decide to not make money with your writing, I still think that's an okay way to go.

      Thanks, and also thanks for reading and following! :)


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