Originally Published: February 24th, 2014; Updated: June 24th, 2014*
When I saw the title of this piece, “If JK Rowling Cares About Writing, She Should Stop Doing It” that was originally published on HuffPost Culture this past weekend, I felt a familiar rage bubble to the surface before I even read the first sentence, which, by the way, was this: “When I told a friend the title of this piece she looked at me in horror and said, ‘You can’t say that, everyone will just put it down to sour grapes!'”
I’m going to, for a second, ignore the fact that the author, Lynn Shepherd knew titling a piece like that would garner a lot of attention and, again, for a second, play devil’s advocate. Had she tackled this subject with an extensive knowledge of JK Rowling’s work, which includes the complete seven book Harry Potter series, I would have been open to hear what she had to say because, you know, she’d at least present her opinion with something other than hearsay fueling her words. Alas, that wasn’t the case here.
However, before I get into the real reason why this “article” rubbed me the wrong, let me first address this statement, that appeared in the first paragraph: “No struggling but relatively ambitious writer can possibly be anything other than envious [of Rowling]. You’d be scarcely human otherwise.” As a struggling, but relatively ambitious writer myself — I spend all of my free time either polishing my two completed manuscripts or querying literary agents or even blogging about writing — I rebuke this statement. Actually, “rebuke” is a mild word; I resent this statement with every fiber of my being. I am able to say that I surround myself with a lovely batch of talented writer friends. I graduated from a Masters program that produces more published authors than a Dunkin’ Donuts produces doughnuts. I personally know writers who have gotten hefty six figure deals for the publication of their first novels. I personally know writers who have gotten modest advances. Am I jealous of them? Am I bitter at the fact that some of these people that I went to school with, took classes with, are able to make writing books their full-time jobs? Absolutely not! I’m actually happy for them! Weird concept, eh? These are extremely talented people who wrote extremely wonderful books and were able to get noticed for their craft and talents. How can I be jealous of that? Do I wish I were able to not work and instead stay at home and write novels for a living? Absolutely. That’s the dream. But that doesn’t mean that my ambition creates blind jealousy of other writers who have made it doing exactly what I’m doing right now. As a matter of fact, those writer friends have spent a lot of time the last six months helping me with my manuscript, giving me invaluable feedback that has shaped my work in ways I couldn’t even begin to thank them for.
That’s the nature of being a writer.
So many people think writing is a solitary job, but really, it’s so much more than that. Yes, the act of writing is something that happens alone, but the rest? The feedback, the workshopping, the discussion, the beta-reading? That’s equally as important, and the writing community at large can be your biggest ally.
Or your worst enemy, Lynn Shepherd.
Oh, and did I mention that all of my writer friends with the six-figure deals and the modest advances and all of the success? They are all young adult authors, a genre of writing that Shepherd clearly deemed childish, reducing an entire crop of extremely talented writers to nothing more than doe-eyed
dreamers dopes who scribble doodles on paper. Shepherd wrote:
“I didn’t much mind Rowling when she was Pottering about. I’ve never read a word (or seen a minute) so I can’t comment on whether the books were good, bad or indifferent. I did think it a shame that adults were reading them (rather than just reading them to their children, which is another thing altogether), mainly because there’s so many other books out there that are surely more stimulating for grown-up minds.”
First things first: Shepherd is admitting here that has never even picked up a Harry Potter book. Then she claims that it was a shame that adults were reading them. My question is this: How can she “think it a shame” that adults read them if she never read them herself? Hypocrisy at it’s finest. Secondly, some of the most well-written books I’ve ever read were young adult novels. YA writers are ground-breaking, heroic lyricists, paving the way for future generations of writers and free-thinkers; most YA books are genre-defying and significant to the cultural landscape. There is so much more room for creativity with text in the YA genre than in adult fiction (not that I’m knocking adult fiction by any stretch; #PropsToAllGenres), but it’s obvious that Shepherd hasn’t bothered to understand the genre that she’s trying — and failing miserably — to critique. The Harry Potter series is exquisitely written; Rowling’s prose is poetry, carefully crafted and artfully planned. There is a reason why the Potter fanbase is so extensive, so genre-defying, so expansive that it extends so far beyond wide-eyed children to those who are able to enjoy Senior Citizen discounts. And that has nothing to do with them being “kid” books, but rather them being exquisite pieces of modern literature (that just so happen to define a generation and a pop culture lexicon.) When will the YA genre be recognized as legitimate by adult fiction writers? And why isn’t it already? Is it because it’s the most commercial genre in publishing? Is it because big budget movies starring jaggedly flat actresses like Kristen Stewart and Miley Cyrus’ ex-armcandy Liam Hemsworth are adapted from YA novels? Is it jealousy? Whatever the reason, JK Rowling and YA writers are responsible for keeping the publishing industry afloat. In other words, JK Rowling allows us to keep the dream alive of being a struggling professional writer.
Shepherd pleads to Rowling, “By all means keep writing for kids, or for your personal pleasure – I would never deny anyone that – but when it comes to the adult market you’ve had your turn. Enjoy your vast fortune and the good you’re doing with it, luxuriate in the love of your legions of fans, and good luck to you on both counts. But it’s time to give other writers, and other writing, room to breathe.” First, it’s extremely generous that Shepherd would allow Rowling to write for her own kids or even for herself. I mean, that’s every writer’s dream, right? To spend an infinite amount of hours slaving in front of a computer screen or pouring their soul into a notebook just to put on a shelf and never have anybody experience it. Rowling is in the position that every writer who ever lived and will live could only dream of being in: being able to write whatever she wants without having to cater to a specific formula or preconceived publishing trend. Nobody can take that away from her, not even bitter jealousy. Secondly, if Shepherd knew anything about Rowling and her “vast fortune,” she would know that Rowling donates an absurd amount of money to charities, so to degrade Rowling’s honest earnings is, quite frankly, petty. Rowling’s success has nothing to do with Shepherds, just like her success has nothing to do with mine. Those grapes sure must be sour. Thirdly, Shepherd is under the assumption that Rowling’s success is somehow hindering her own. Again, Rowling’s adult books have nothing to do with Shepherds lack of success. In fact, Rowling wrote under a pen name so that she could write with more freedom. Is it her fault that it was unceremoniously leaked that she was the woman behind “Robert Galbraith”? Again, sour grapes.
Fellow Potterhead Dinah Alobeid responded to Shepherd’s asinine article by saying, “Every person’s experience is completely different. We have an infinite number of stories to tell.” Who is Shepherd to decide that Harry Potter’s creator should stop writing stories? Shouldn’t she, as a writer and fellow member of this wonderfully supportive community, give props to Rowling and her success, instead of trying to bring her down in order to bolster her own standing? Shepherd needs to realize that being a writer means being a part of a creative collective, and it’s that support that writers, good writers, real writers, live for and survive off of.
Here’s my plea to Lynn Shepherd: Show some support. There is room for everyone. Write what you love, and love what you write. Don’t concern yourself with others and what others write. Don’t let jealousy manifest itself into this unfounded fear that you won’t get the recognition you deserve because of JW Rowling. If every artist in the world hated the people who came before them, who paved the way for them, then we wouldn’t have new art. So create new art, don’t hate on the old art that you don’t even understand.
* This post was featured on BBC News, y’all!