In sports there’s an elusive and important quality called clutchness: the ability to deliver under pressure. From Michael Jordan to Robert Horry to Joe Montana, there have always been performers who rise to the occasion, even beyond the occasion, when it matters the most. Through determination, focus, imperviousness to pressure, they come up big when it counts.
If there were ever a clutch writer, it’s J.K. Rowling.
But what does that mean for writing? In sports, clutchness means hitting a big shot, leading a winning touchdown drive, or getting an important hit when it matters. One play or a couple of plays requiring focus and determination.
To be a clutch writer is something else entirely. It’s a long, slow burn of dealing with daily distractions while staying on course. It’s a marathon, not a few key moments of focus.
J.K. Rowling had to have faced some of the greatest pressure of any modern writer. Not only was she hugely successful, but we’re now in the era of paparazzi and the Internet. While, yes, I would assume phenomenal success does come with its rewards, it also surely comes with manifold distractions: the pressure of living up the expectations of a rabid fan base, sudden loss of privacy, lawsuits from nutjobs, not to mention the temptation of resting on one’s laurels and letting your writerly guard down.
And that’s what’s so amazing to me about Rowling. She never stopped improving. While Order of the Phoenix was my favorite in the series, that has more to do with its place in the series rather than the overall quality of the writing and the work, which just kept getting better. And in order to get better at something you can’t be self-satisfied and think you’ve made it and become convinced of your own genius. You have to keep digging deep and keep being skeptical of yourself and keep trying to spot your own flaws and resist the temptations that come along with success. And that is hard!!
That’s what’s clutch about J.K. Rowling. She led us on seven consecutive touchdown drives over the course of ten years, never wavering in focus and quality, and always coming up big when it mattered the most.
And maybe some of that ability to stay grounded has to do with her phenomenal track record in charitable giving. Wikipedia has a whole section devoted to the many ways she’s given back, including a recent £10 million donation to multiple sclerosis research.
That is perhaps the most inspiring thing of all – you can be both a phenomenally successful writer and a great human.
But it doesn’t hurt to be clutch.