Lesson #2: Put a Little Magic into Your Thinking

When Rowling first approached publishers with her manuscript about a boy wizard, she was welcomed with a barrage of criticism. Many of those criticisms she could do little about. For instance, how could she make her story less fantastical when the very concept behind it was all about magic and wizardry? But there were other criticisms that Rowling took to heart and tried to fix. After all, she knew success was often times much like a game; if you wanted to reach the end, you had to play by the rules.

One such criticism that Rowling faced was the very fact that she was a woman. Publishers did not believe that young boys would want to read a book by a woman, no matter what the subject matter. Rowling, obviously, could not change that fact, and although she was not sure if those criticisms were correct, she was willing to play along.

Rowling agreed not to use her first name, Joanne, in publishing the books. She also improvised somewhat and borrowed the “K” from her favourite grandmother, Kathleen. Rowling knew that in order to be successful, to gain the kind of success that she dreamed of, she would have to appeal to the masses. Adopting the name “J.K. Rowling” was just one of the ways she came up with to do so.

Rowling’s creativity was obvious in her willingness and ability to do whatever it took to succeed. Even when it came to challenges outside her professional life, Rowling created new solutions that seemed to work.

To many, Minesweeper is nothing more than a computer game to help pass the time. To Rowling, however, it was an instrumental part of her plan to quit smoking. She decided to replace smoking with Minesweeper. Each time she wanted to light a cigarette, she would instead play the game to replace the urge. In time, her Minesweeper strategy worked and Rowling was able to quit smoking.

Rowling was skilled in using every tool at her disposal to her advantage, whether professionally or personally. Much like the stories she wrote, Rowling used her boundless creativity and imagination to come up with her own unique formula for success.

She asked herself one “what if” question after another to stretch her thinking and open up new opportunities. What if she changed her name? What if she tried something different to quit smoking? Or, what if she wrote a book that would appeal to the masses? What if she turned a Harry Potter novel into a series? What if her book was turned into a movie?

The path might not have always been easy for Rowling. Indeed, at times, she found herself lacking the imagination she needed to go on. “Goblet of Fire, I was very unhappy towards the end of writing Goblet, and at the point where I realized I was fantasizing that I would break an arm and therefore not be able to,” she says. “I really mean this. I mean I was just a little way away from actually thinking ‘How can I break my arm so I can tell my publishers that I can't physically do it?’”

Nevertheless, Rowling was able to regain her focus and creativity time and time again, and bring her fresh ideas to often age old problems.

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