Yesterday, I went to the Harry Potter exhibition at the British Library. As a massive fan of the books, I was immensely looking forward to it.
No photos, as photography wasn’t permitted, but if you are a Harry Potter fan and able to go then I would recommend it.
The exhibition is beautifully curated, and as one would expect from the British Library, very well done. It’s called A History of Magic, and you can see on display, many original manuscripts that relate to the concepts discussed within the Harry Potter books, such as the Philosopher’s stone, a bezoar, potions, and even broomsticks and cauldrons.
Several interactive elements allow the visitor to brew a potion (mine failed, so the Night Goblins are going to continue attacking), read your fortune through Tarot cards, and look into the crystal ball.
There are beautiful illustrations by Jim Kay who designed some of the artwork for the book covers. There was, in short, considerable interesting material.
But my favourites – and the reason I booked this exhibition – was to see J. K. Rowling’s original manuscripts. There was the first page of the synopsis of her first book that she submitted to publishers. There were annotated drafts of printed manuscripts at edit stage, including some scenes and earlier versions of stories that never made it to the final cut.
There were plot sheets, basically hand-written spreadsheets where Rowling planned out her stories. One page of it from Order of the Phoenix has been well-circulated over the years on the internet. But to see that, and a few others in person was incredible.
There was an annotated copy of the first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone which Rowling annotated with her thoughts on why she wrote etc. to raise money for charity. Only the first page is visible on the display, but I would love to read her annotations in their entirety.
As I went through that exhibit, it became more clear how many years of work went into making this Wizarding World as real as it is, and how much effort and planning and thinking and edits it took to make the stories as rich as they are.
As I looked at the edit notes, I was comforted to see that Rowling also did all the “menial” work as I am doing right now, and which sometimes frustrates me. Having to edit and re-edit, and rethink. Knowing the richness and depth of a story in your own head, but wanting to make it come alive on the page when it just isn’t living up to your standards.
It was a relief, to be honest. It was a feeling of kinship, and of hope. That it’s okay. That while some people may just write pretty perfect first drafts (very few I think), most people don’t, and that it’s okay. It doesn’t mean you suck as a writer. It just means that’s how you work, that’s how you mine ideas, and that’s how you polish.
I wish I had been able to take photos of some of that stuff, just to remind me when I am having doubts. But that’s what this blog post is for. To remember. And to remind the rest of you who may also struggle with that from time to time, when the book you want to write is just isn’t coming together, and when you question whether you are good enough.
Keep writing that story. Keep working at it. Finish.
You can do it.
Whether or not you like Harry Potter is irrelevant. Rowling’s story is that of hard work and grit. And as writers, we can all take inspiration from that.