On Daily Routines, we profile successful leaders, entrepreneurs, artists, business executives and athletes to explore their routines, habits and rituals.
In 2018, Inc Magazine tweeted out a link to one of their articles — 5 Morning Rituals to Boost Your Productivity — with the caption “The world’s most successful people start their day at 4 a.m.” J. K. Rowling, who to date has sold over 500 million copies of her books and can certainly be defined as a “successful person”, tweeted back an exasperated reply, “Oh, piss off.”
If anyone should know about the correlation between achieving success and having a structured routine (or lack thereof), it’s J. K. Rowling. The Harry Potter author didn’t get to where she is today by waking up at 4am and mastering morning routines, sh did it by putting in the work and showing up every day to write.
The wonderful thing about writing is that there is always a blank page waiting. The terrifying thing about writing is that there is always a blank page waiting.
Before she was one of the most famous authors in the world, Rowling spent her days as a regular at Nicolson’s Café where her brother-in-law was an owner. “It was just great to look up when you were writing and stop and think about things and be able to look out on the street which was quite busy,” Rowling told the BBC in 2001. “They were pretty tolerant of me in here partly because one of the owners is my brother-in-law.”
During those days of sipping coffee and scribbling out in longhand the first drafts of Harry Potter, while her baby daughter, Jessica, slept in a pram beside her, Rowling was also collecting welfare benefits and living in poverty conditions.
“It’s the most soul-destroying thing. I don’t want to dramatise, but there were nights when, though Jessica ate, I didn’t,” Rowling told The Telegraph in a 2007 profile. “For me, at least, it was only six months. I was writing all the time, which really saved my sanity. As soon as Jessie was asleep, I’d reach for pen and paper.”
Nowadays, following phenomenal success of Harry Potter, and with an estimated net worth of £795 million, Rowling has the luxury of working in her private writing room, which she calls her favourite place in the world, “it’s in the garden, about a minute’s walk from the house. There’s a central room where I work, a kettle, a sink and a cupboard-sized bathroom.”
On a typical writing day, Rowling will typically start working before 9am, and continue to write until 3pm, before taking a break.
The earlier in the day I start, the more productive I am. In the last year or two I’ve put in a couple of all-nighters on the screenplays for Fantastic Beasts, but otherwise I try and keep my writing to the daytime. If I’ve started around nine, I can usually work through to about 3pm before I need more than a short break. During this writing time, I generally manage to drink eight or nine mugs of tea.Answers to Questions | J.K. Rowling
Still, she reminisces fondly about writing in cafes where she is comforted by the background chatter. “I used to love writing in cafés and gave it up reluctantly,” Rowling wrote on her website. “Part of the point of being alone in a crowd was being happily anonymous and free to people-watch, and when you’re the one being watched, you become too self-conscious to work.”
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