Why It’s Bad Form to Tell a Writer to Stop Writing

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!


  1. There is nothing to say other than, “extremely well said old chap.” It was alarming to read this woman’s original “article” — and not just because it was riddled with grammar errors, incomplete thoughts, and a lack of writing cohesiveness. The very idea that writers should “stick to their own genre” or stop writing altogether is ludicrous. And not the good kind… Aka the rapper. I’m sure he would join me in wholeheartedly telling this Lynn to “move bitch, get out the way.”

    Everyone, from every walk of life, is a writer. Some of us write our stories with dance, some of us are verbal storytellers, and some of us keep all of that creativity inside and have one hell of a witty inner monologue. There is no finite number of books that can be written and stories that can be told. A true writer would never begrudge another writers success… Mild jealousy is natural of course, just ask my pal Hemingway. But he didn’t sit around whining about how he hadn’t gotten a book deal yet. What he did do was surround himself with artists and writers, and support them. Unconditionally. Building an incredible community that birthed some of the most iconic 20th century writing.

    That is the spirit of writing. The unbridled and uncontrollable desire to share the human experience. This “writer” doesn’t seem to get that and has resorted to an inflammatory, “click-worthy” headline and joke of an article to get some recognition and hopefully short-lived attention.

    Long live JK and every single person in the world, adult and child alike, that writes.

    1. Thank you, fair lady!

      I think this woman’s article was so alarming because of how extremely uninformed it was (not to mention the grammar! Oh, the horror! I didn’t have the brain power to tough upon those grammatical errors!) The writer of the original article is just a product of blind jealousy, something that I wouldn’t expect coming from a girl who apparently has her book published in both the UK and here in the US. You would think she would be happy to sit on the same shelf as a literary great like Rowling. The problem is that she is jealous of Rowling’s unparalleled success and isn’t familiar with Rowling’s writing prowess. I could understand her point MAYBE if she, like me, were unpublished; but she’s not. She’s not grateful for HER platform. She’s not grateful that she gets to write books and have readers all around the world read her words, which, by deduction means that she’s not in the writing game for the love of the written word. She want’s Rowling to step down so that others (namely her) could have the possibility to make the Benjamin’s. She’s in the wrong business.

      I write because I love it, because I can’t live without it. I don’t write to be JK Rowling. And I don’t write about hating those who have somehow turned writing into more than just a full-time job, but a luxury.

  2. Oh my word, what a great response piece this is! Indeed, competition is the worst model a writer can ever follow. Hopefully girlfriend was just having a “woe-is-me-diva-on-a-tangent” moment.

    I just.. I have no more to say because you and Dinah have already encapsulated it so well.

    Write on, my brothas and sistahs!

  3. Wow, I can’t believe Shepard put her insecurity and ignorance (re: JK Rowling and YA fiction) in writing for the world to see. Your response is perfect.

    And I second the fact that J.K. Rowling is an inspiration to me (and millions of other writers I’m sure), period. Not someone who I wish would stop writing to “make room”. That just sounds ludicrous.

    1. Yeah, I would be VERY embarrassed if were her right about now. Twitter is blowing up about this…and every single comment has been negative.

      I second your second-ing! Rowling’s career alone is something to admire and aspire to, not wish bad thoughts on.

  4. Love it. Good on you. I am now thinking of what will happen to this writer’s “career” at this point. She’s unleashed something huge. She’s like the Ann Coulter of writing, isn’t she?

    1. Unfortunately, I’ve had readers write to me telling me that people are flooding onto her Amazon page to trash her in reviews.

      Honestly, I wish her well. I think she made a silly error in judgment by allowing that piece to go live, as it will definitely have a negative impact on her career. Hell, BBC News even wrote a piece on it (where I am featured: (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/blogs-echochambers-26331650.) However, after having looked into her more, I found out that she has a Ph.D. in English; for someone THAT educated to write a piece like that on a website that features world news and has an incredible platform was just poor judgement.

      I’d hate to see any writer’s career go down in flames.

  5. I don’t understand how or why so many people continue to discredit the young adult genre. Just because there are books aimed at a certain age group does not mean that a broader audience can’t enjoy them as well. Or, more to the point, it doesn’t mean that, if a book is considered YA, that it’s not just as, if not more (like you said in this beautifully written response), literary and beautiful and life changing as adult fiction books. The original writer of that article slamming JK Rowling was just in poor taste and I’m glad that you wrote this. Writers should support each other, not tear other writers down. I’m an avid reader, not a writer, but I read a lot, and I’m making it a point not to read her books now. But I judge her writing because, unlike her, I can’t judge something I’ve never read.

    1. Totally agreed! Like I said, YA is age-and-genre-defying. Some of the most well-written books I’ve ever read were YA. Some people forget that Catcher in the Rye is considered YA; When Catcher was published, there was no YA genre, but if were to come out today, it’d be on the same shelves as David Levithan and Bill Konigsberg and John Green, Ned Vizzini, etc., etc.

  6. Reblogged this on BookRambler and commented:
    Clear evidence that not all exposure is good for your writing career. The piece may be ill-thought out tongue-in-cheek, but it’s opened Shepherd to ridicule. I wish her well but hope she retracts or explains her piece. I’ve noticed a number of writers writing for Huffpost to give them larger exposure but they write for free and they are not doing their writing or their careers any favours. So here’s my plea to all writers (and a reminder to self): think before you push the send button.

  7. I think you’ve expressed what most writers are thinking, Steven. Shepherd has since said it was written as a piece of fun, tongue-in-cheek – but it doesn’t come across as that because there’s no tone in it that shows her admiration for JKR. With fine tuning it could have been so different and still given her exposure – of the good kind.

    1. Has she commented on it? I’ve been searching ever since I read your comment this morning and I can’t find where she’s said that. Also, if you follow her twitter posts before her article went viral, you could tell by reading between the lines that she absolutely meant what she said. She’s just doing damage control.

      Personally, I just think she’s backtracking because it’s already given her a lot of negative attention. And I don’t believe that any press is positive press. Users have flooded Amazon with negative reviews of her books…she’s just covering her ass.

      Like I’ve said in a previous comment, I would never ever harbor ill will toward a fellow writer, and I hate to see what’s happening to her online, but she should be accountable for what she wrote and deem it ill-advised and uniformed.

      Anyway, can you post a link where she backtracks?

  8. Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments.on this. I shuddered when I saw the title of Ms. Shepherd’s piece and shuddered again when I read it. I half-wondered if it wasn’t intentionally provocative and obnoxious – i.e. there’s no such thing as bad press.

    1. There’s SUCH a line between intentionally provocative and just plain stupidity. JK Rowling is a literary icon. She’s NOT a James Patterson-type hack, who uses ghost-writers and barely writes a line. And, unfortunately, her bad press has resulted in a lot of negative Amazon reviews on her books…

      She should have listened to her friend and NOT published the piece.

  9. Well said! And I agree. Her assumption that all writers feel jealousy at others success is such a mirror to her soul. She is currently being slammed with one star reviews on Amazon, so whatever she hoped to get out of this, she surely didn’t. As writers, we should be supporting one another. Or at least hoping someone starts thinking and speaking with the correct part of their anatomy.

    BTW, did anyone notice that while she claimed not to have read a word or seen a minute of Harry Potter she knew about the invisibility cloak?

    1. I LOVE this line: “Her assumption that all writers feel jealousy at others success is such a mirror to her soul”! Fantastically worded and SO true!

      The writing community is all about support. It just boggled my mind that, even if this were a “humor” piece as some are claiming it to be, she would even write something like this and not AT ALL indicate that she was being facetious.

      Also, RE: the invisibility cloak comment = I think that Harry Potter is such a part of our collective lexicon that even if you’ve never read the books or watched the films, you would know that Harry had an invisibility cloak. Though I could be wrong…I am just a Potterhead, after all. 🙂

  10. I’m not a writer, but I’m an artist and I would never want another, more successful artist to stop creating art so that I can experience more success. There is room for everybody. It’s a shame that Lynn Shepherd doesn’t understand that.

    After reading through the comments, I too wonder if she has expressed any regret at pubslihing that original article. I would think she would…

  11. WOW. I found your blog via BBC News, and can I just say: Very well-written response. I am still flabbergasted at the original author of the article on HuffPost. Hasn’t she ever heard of the adage “don’t bite the hands the feeds you”?

    1. (I’m STILL flabbergasted — awesome word usage, btw — that my blog ended up on BBC)

      THANK YOU! I never thought of it like that, “biting the hand that fed her,” so to speak, but it’s true. You can’t diss the world that made you, and JK Rowling IS representative of the publishing world in many respects.

  12. I laughed my way through that original Huffington Post article. It was so outrageous that I couldn’t even believe it. It was like trying to be satirical, yet failed, and in the process she just shot herself in the feet over and over again until she had no legs left to stand on.

    She recently released a statement of sorts: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/feb/27/crime-author-urges-jk-rowling-stop-writing

    Speaking to the Guardian today, Shepherd apologised for upsetting writers and readers alike, explaining that she had “only ever meant to raise the issue of how hard it is for new writers to get noticed and how publishing is much more of a zero sum game than people often think”.

    “Many writers face the same challenges and frustrations when they’re just starting out, and JK Rowling did herself,” Shepherd said. “She’s been a phenomenal success since then and has millions of fans who are passionate about her books. That’s an amazing achievement. With hindsight I’d have written my piece an entirely different way, as I never intended it to upset anyone, and I’m very sorry that it did.”

    Yeah, ok.

    1. I saw that article! It’s such a cop-out. She DID mean it to upset people. The first few lines of her original article on HuffPost indicated as much.

      The only thing worse than a writer who tries to decapitate another writer is a writer who can’t admit when they were wrong.

  13. This was very well put. I can’t believe the writer of the original article. Crazy, man. But you schooled her.

  14. I really want to meet Shepard and ask her if that was a gimmick to enhance her notoriety, or did she enjoy hanging her writing career. Anyone else curious?

    On that note, this was just a petty shot from a down and out writer. To say that with a straight face and had confidence in her post is laughable.

    1. I’d personally love a little HONEST insight into what she was expecting to accomplish with that post. It doesn’t make much sense to me that she’d write something like that as a “joke” — which is kind of what she’s claimed it as. Plus, satire is not her style of writing either. In my opinion, she was a jealous writer who couldn’t handle weak book sales.

  15. JK Rowling is who got me to love reading. Her books are exquisite. I’m curious to pick up this woman’s books to see if she has even a shred of JK’s talent. But even if she did, a little humility goes a long way. Live and let live, right?

    1. I agree RE: humility. It’s such an important aspect of character, especially for a writer (or anyone in the “entertainment” biz, or with a platform, for that matter.)

  16. I couldn’t agree with your article more. I have found my writing community just as supportive as you have found your friends and colleagues; and some of my friends are very successful YA authors. They have shown me nothing but friendship and encouragement. I feel no envy, since we all share the joy of someone’s success. Why would anyone crush their own enjoyment? Rowling’s success came from her talent and hard work and should give hope to all other writers.

    As well, asking any writer to ‘stop writing’ is like asking them to ‘stop breathing’.

  17. I honestly couldn’t agree with you more on this front. As a writer of fanfiction that has covered YA novels, including Harry Potter, I understand and revel in the sense of friendship and community that writing brings to me. J.K Rowling’s success comes from years of hard work and determination to better her already flawless prose and, in my humble opinion, as a writing community we should applaud her efforts rather than cloud their success with our own insecurities and jealousies- thank you again for this insightful response to this!

      1. No problem! My writing is mainly using characters/plot lines from Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables (I’m working on a novel at the moment) and short things with smatterings of Phantom of the Opera, BBC Robin Hood and The Fault In Our Stars and no I haven’t- I’ll definitely check that one out! x

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