From Failure to Magical: The Inspiring Story of J.K. Rowling

We all see the end result of J.K. Rowling, a successful author of the book Harry Potter, which has gone on to become a hit movie.


However, what we don’t see is the sufferings that Rowling had to go through to get her book published, and how she persisted and believed in herself during the tough times.


In this article, we will look at the story of how J.K. Rowling went from a person who once was living on welfare benefit to defying the odds and become the first billionaire author in the world.


Let’s dive in.


J.K. Rowling’s Inspiring Story


Let’s look at some of the significant events which have shaped J.K. Rowling into the person she is today:


Childhood (Year 1965 – 1971, Aged 0 – 6)


Joanne Rowling is commonly known under her pen name, J.K. Rowling. Rowling was born in Yate, England on July 31, 1965.


When Rowling was 6, she wrote her first story called Rabbit. Ever since then, she has always wanted to become a writer.


Education and First Job (Year 1982 – 1986, Aged 17 – 21)


In 1982, J.K. Rowling went to Exeter University to pursue B.A in French and Classics as her parents had wanted her to be a bilingual secretary.


In 1986, Rowling graduated from Exeter University and moved to London to work as a researcher and bilingual secretary for Amnesty International, her first job. However, during meetings, she would be typing stories on her computer or think of names of characters for her stories, hardly an exemplary attribute of a secretary who is supposed to take minutes!


It was there that Rowling began her parallel life as a writer of few novels.


A Year of Ups and Downs (Year 1990, Aged 25)


In 1990, on a four-hour delayed train from Manchester to London, the idea of a young wizard name Harry Potter pops into Rowling’s mind. Although Rowling had been writing since she was six, she had never been so enthralled by the idea of Harry Potter. When Rowling got back to her flat, she immediately wrote down her initial ideas of Harry Potter.


Unfortunately, on December 1990, Rowling’s mother passed away at age 45 after suffering from complications related to multiple sclerosis. This would turn out to be one of Rowling’s biggest regrets as she had not managed to tell her mother about her Harry Potter story.


In Rowling’s own words, “she never knew about Harry Potter – I started writing six months before she died, so that is painful. I wish she’d known.” Rowling’s grief was reflected in Harry’s character of losing his parents at a young age.


Brief Stint in Portugal (Year 1991 – 1993, Aged 26 – 28)


After the devastating loss of her mother, Rowling needed an escape and start fresh in a new place.


In 1991, Rowling moved to Porto, Portugal to teach English as a foreign language. During her free time, she would write the Harry Potter story in local cafes.


In one of her visit to a bar, she met journalist, Jorge Arantes and they got married in 1992. Arantes claimed he was the first person to read about Harry Potter.


Subsequently, their first child, Jessica Arantes was born on 27 July 1993. Unfortunately, after a period of highs and lows, the couple parted ways on 17 November 1993 and the marriage ended in despair.


Rock Bottom (Year 1994, Aged 29)


At the end of 1993, Rowling resigned from her post as a teacher and left Portugal altogether with half a suitcase full of papers on stories about Harry Potter. Rowling moved to Edinburgh, Scotland with her new-born daughter, Jessica and signed up for welfare benefits due to her poor economic status.


Without a job, being a single mother and poor, it is disheartening to think that Rowling once considered suicide as she suffered from depression. At the rock bottom period of her life, little did Rowling know she would eventually publish her book 2 years later and go on to become the first billionaire author in the world 10 years later, in 2004.


Back to 1994, despite all the hardship, it did not deter Rowling from doing what she loves, writing. Rowling would take her baby daughter, Jessica out for a walk, and when Jessica falls asleep, Rowling would spend her time writing in cafes. Rowling had to constantly deal with two different thoughts, the idealistic upside of getting her book published and the realistic side of many examples of previously failed unknown authors, who did not even get a chance to get published.


The Birth of Harry Potter (Year 1995 – 1997, Aged 30 – 32)


Nevertheless, with Rowling’s strong willpower and consistency in writing, she managed to complete her first novel “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” in 1995.


However, another failure occurred as Rowling’s 200-page script was rejected by 12 publishers.


Thankfully, a year later, in 1996, Rowling finally got her first break as Bloomsbury, a publishing house in London decided to publish her book. Rowling mentioned that was the second best moment of her life, the first being the birth of her daughter.


Here’s an interesting story, Rowling would not have gotten the chance to publish the book had Alicia Newton, an eight-year-old daughter of Bloomsbury’s chairman, Nigel Newton, not nagged him to give her the access to the following chapters of Harry Potter. Also, Bloomsbury had only started to publish children books since 1994. The timing and luck were impeccable.


In 1997, Bloomsbury printed 1,000 copies of the novel and published “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone”. It received much-deserved attention and accolades from the public.


In early 1998, Scholastic Inc won the rights to publish the novel in the US and gave $100,000 to Rowling, who “nearly died” upon hearing that she would be receiving a six-figure sum.


For an unknown author at that time, it was a huge sum of money. Scholastic published the novel in the US under the title “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”


Building on the Momentum of Harry Potter (Year 1998 – 2000, Aged 33 – 35)


From 1998 to 1999, Rowling continued writing the story of Harry Potter and wrote her 2nd and 3rd novel (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban).


By the summer of 2000, the first three Harry Potter books written by Rowling had earned approximately $480 Million in just a short span of 3 years.


After the release Rowling’s 4th book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire in 2000, Rowling found the building pressure to be overwhelming and faced difficulty in writing for the first time in her life.


First Film Version of Harry Potter and Second Marriage (Year 2001, Aged 36)


By 2001, Rowling’s fortune was estimated to be £65 million (approximately $95 million). A film version of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was released in November 2001 and earned an estimated $94 million, it was also the year’s top-grossing movie.


In December 2001, Rowling married Scottish doctor, Neil Murray, who is a friend of her sister. The couple has a son and daughter together. Future adaptions of the novel to the big screens continued successfully from 2002 to 2011.


First Billionaire Author and Record Breaking Harry Potter Books (Year 2003 –  2007, Aged 38 – 42)


After 3 years without releasing a book, the fifth book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix written by Rowling was released in 2003.


In 2004, Forbes named Rowling as the first billionaire author in the world.


In 2005, Rowling’s sixth book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was released and sold 9 million copies in only 24 hours.


Two years later, in 2007, Rowling’s seventh and final book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was released, ending the series that began 10 years earlier in 1997. The books were sold like hot cakes, hitting 11 million copies in 24 hours, beating the previous year sales record of 9 million copies in the first 24 hours.


Fantastic Beasts and The Value of Harry Potter Franchise (Year 2016 – present, Aged 50 – 51)


In November 2016, a spin-off movie titled Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was released based on a book written by Rowling and the movie went to on to earn over $800 million at the box office.


Despite all the fame, J.K. Rowling has remained humble and contributed to making the world a better place to live in.


The Harry Potter franchise has become a worldwide phenomenon and was loved by people all over the world. This would not have happened had J.K. Rowling given up on writing in the face of adversity and rejections.


As of today, the value of the Harry Potter franchise is worth a whopping $25 Billion.


Infographics on J.K. Rowling’s Road to Success




Based on J.K Rowling’s inspiring story above, let’s look at the major turning point in Rowling’s life and the 6 key takeaways we can all apply in our lives:


Major turning point


While there are many turning points in J.K. Rowling’s transition from a virtually unknown person to a successful author, her first major turning point in her life was when Bloomsbury agreed to publish her first Harry Potter book.


However, that would not have happened if Alicia Newton had not pestered her father, Nigel Newton, for the next chapters of the book.


As Harry Potter started off as a children book, if Nigel Newton had read it himself, we could see a very different scenario, Rowling might be rejected again and Harry Potter might not even have existed. Take nothing away from Rowling’s superb work, but sometimes in life, we require someone else’s help and a bit of luck to turn things around.


So thank you Alicia, for casting your magic spells and saving Harry Potter!


6 Key Takeaways from J.K. Rowling’s Story:


1. Persistence


Despite all the obstacles J.K. Rowling faced, she persisted and did not give up on her dreams of getting Harry Potter published. She could have given up when her first marriage had failed, when she became a single mother, she could also have given up when 12 publishers rejected her, but she didn’t, and that made all the difference.


“If you’re going through hell, keep going.” – Winston Churchill


Many people’s lives are more fortunate than the early days of J.K. Rowling, and yet, have given up on their own dreams due to obstacles and rejections.


Whatever your dreams may be, I plead you to get back up and go for it, and persist until you get what you want. Giving up is easy for the short term, but in the long run, you will regret not trying harder and giving up at that moment.


2. Live Your Passion


J.K. Rowling could have settled for the job stability by being a full-time bilingual secretary but she chose to follow her passion for writing.


She will definitely hear statements like “It’s difficult for an unknown person to get published” or “Writers can’t earn much, the competition is too high”. However, when you are really passionate about something, you have to ignore what everyone else is saying, follow your passion, and work twice as hard at the beginning.


Even during the tough times, work on something that you are passionate about, and this is for two reasons.


Firstly, your passion in doing that thing will make you happier during the tough times as you are in the state of flow.


Secondly, the thing you are doing passionately might have the potential to explode and found its way to a group of audience who are interested in the same thing as you, and your rewards will be unlimited. You will never get this by settling on a stable paycheck, no matter how great you are doing, you are settling for a fixed rate.


Working on your passion is the key to success, as you will willingly put in more hours to improve each day. The more you improve, the chances of being successful are higher.


3. Mastery – Hone Your Craft


To achieve mastery, it is recommended to invest 10,000 hours in honing your craft. While the number of hours will always be highly debatable (no one will accurately know how long), 10,000 hours is a solid base to follow.


J.K. Rowling has achieved mastery in writing way before Harry Potter got published, as she started writing since she was 6 and her previous profession of teaching English should have some form of writing elements in it as well. What people normally see is her success in writing, but she had been working hard behind the scenes for so long and started writing since she was a kid.


In a world where people are always chasing the next “big thing”, you have the opportunity to stand out by choosing to hone your craft on one thing and achieve mastery. That way, you will be more successful. Being the jack of all trades and master of none will only result in a mediocre career.


Ask yourself, what do you want to be known for? If your days are spent trying to master 10 skills at once, you will master none. Master one thing that you love and practice it every day,  the rewards will then come naturally in the long run.


4. Ruthless Execution


Ideas are only the start, it will take blood, sweat, and tears to execute. J.K. Rowling first had the idea of Harry Potter in 1990, and after 5 years of writing while going through a series of unfortunate events, she finally completed the novel in 1995, and a year later in 1996, her book got published.


Anyone can have ideas, but it will take ruthless execution and long hours to bring your imaginary idea into reality. So the next time you are procrastinating, realize that you are only lengthening your time to succeed as execution takes a lot of time.


Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. -Thomas Edison


The more ruthless you are at executing, the faster you will get to the end. Procrastinating is like resting on a chair while the marathon is ongoing, you will complete your race slower, which is fine, but don’t envy others if you see them reaching the finish line faster than you.


Start executing on your ideas.


5. Family


I shed a tear when I read about the death of J.K. Rowling’s mother as I have been through the sudden death of a loved one. The feeling of regrets that you should have spent more time with that person and expressed more of your appreciation towards him/her.


But it’s too late.


Family is a big part of our lives. Appreciate your time spent with your family, no matter what is your current financial status now, as no money can buy back your parents, your spouse, your kids. Not everyone will die at 90 on their death bed with their spouse, kids, and grandkids around, unexpected things do happen in life. It is a shitty part of life that we all have to deal with.


Cherish your time spent with your family and never let them be your second choice. Don’t regret only when it’s too late. At the end of the day, family and love are all that matters in life.


6. Embrace the Rollercoaster Ride in Your 20s and Beyond


J.K. Rowling’s 20s has its ups and downs. From graduating to having the idea of Harry Potter, the birth of her daughter, the failed marriage in Portugal, faced depression and lived on welfare benefits, rejections after rejections on Harry Potter, and finally, publishing her first Harry Potter book when she was 31.


The life of your 20s is a bumpy and rollercoaster ride. 20s is like a transition from kids to adults, and for most people, it takes some time to adapt and see what the real world is actually like. There is a huge expectation gap in terms of how the life of the 20s are like.


The initial expectations of your 20s are things will be smooth sailing and you will hit it big by 25 or by 29, however, the reality is, it is a rollercoaster ride, one day you are at the top of the world, receiving praises from your bosses and friends, days later, you could be doubting yourself, whether is this the right career, or if it’s too late to change career, or what if you are not good enough. This is normal and it perfectly exemplifies the beauty and innocence of living in your 20s. Magical yet scary.


Embrace highs and lows in your 20s. On your highs, don’t forget to pat yourself on the back and reward yourself for the wins, no matter how big or small, share the joy with your family members. On your lows, learn from your mistakes, figure out a way to overcome the obstacles and come out from it stronger, shift your mindset from thinking “why me” to “try me”.


For the 20s out there, no matter what are your circumstances, appreciate life and continue to work hard and at the same time enjoy this period of your life, you will miss it when you are 30. Likewise, for the 30s, you will miss your life at your 30s when you are at your 40s.


To put it simply, whatever age you are now, enjoy the ride!




The story of J.K. Rowling has taught us that no matter where you are now or what is your background, always believe in yourself, put in the work and be persistent. Rejections and criticism will certainly come along the way, push through it and never give up on your dreams no matter what others say.


If J.K. Rowling’s story does not inspire you to want to work harder and give it your all, I honestly don’t know what else will.


Time to start hustling and believe that there will be light at the end of the tunnel.


I will leave you with some of J.K. Rowling’s famous quotes:







Over to You

Let me know in the comments below your thoughts on the story of J.K. Rowling. What have you learned from her story?

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8 thoughts on “From Failure to Magical: The Inspiring Story of J.K. Rowling

    1. J.K. Rowling is unbelievably resilient. Most people would have given up upon facing obstacles. Pushing through hardships are what separates the successful ones from the failures.

  1. Great write up. Jk rowling went through so many ups and downs, but she never allowed that to hinder her from achieving what she has in mind.

  2. I like point 5 on family, it’s something everyone can resonate with, no matter who you are, author, celebrity or doctor. Great article on jk rowling’s journey.

  3. I have learnt from JK Rowling that whatever your idea of greatness is, focus as much willpower as you possibly can on it, ignore the many temptations you will face to quit, and be prepared to put in the work to make greatness happen.

    Lots of people have brilliant ideas. But very few have what it takes to make those ideas become a reality. The ones that do are the ones that achieve their dreams!

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