James Patterson is a bestselling author of more than 100 books. Though he follows a unique ‘business model’ where a lot of his books are co-authored (or ghostwritten), his original works seem to have been penned solely by him. His dual approach to authorship piqued my interest and so I thought I would take a look at he got into it.
The notes below include a summary of lessons from MasterClass, with my personal thoughts/insights:
Lessons 1 – 2: Intro & “Passion + Habit”
Writing a book can be hard and it’s hard because at the end of it, you don’t know if anything will come of it. But that’s part of the process.
The thing that can get you through this long process that might result in nothing is your passion for writing itself.
Writing must be something you do because you love the act of doing it. External rewards for writing don’t come easily. It’s only after years of toiling away that you see the results of your efforts. And those results can be anything from crickets to a mediocre reception to an absolutely spectacular firework display. And you can never know what you’ll get when you’re just starting off.
So you must love the act of writing. Getting lost in your stories. Working through problems that come up. Knowing that even when you’ve experienced a thrill or have gotten over a hurdle, no one is there to cheer you on. Because writing is a solitary act and the work is not yet complete. And it may not be for years.
And even when it is, you might not end up with something that is publishable.
But you’ll be expected to start the process all over again.
And if you love the work, you will. Because your love for it isn’t connected to the external validation you get. It’s the experience of writing itself that you crave. You love the fun and the struggle that comes with it.
“If you are passionate about it, you can’t help it. You gotta write that outline. You gotta write that book.”James Patterson, MasterClass
Many authors echo the same message. It’s a calling. A compulsion. There is no other choice but to write. That’s where happiness lies.
One of Patterson’s professors had said to him, “You can do this. You can become a novelist. Practice, practice, practice, practice.”
John D. MacDonald, a mystery writer, wrote the following blurb for Patterson’s first book, The Thomas Berryman, “I’m quite sure that James Patterson wrote a million words before he started The Thomas Berryman.”
I don’t think we’re reminded enough that improvement comes with practice.
Any time we attempt to achieve something, if we can’t get it done right the first time (or done at all), all we may just need is more practice.
Feed the Beast
During this practice phase (a phase that should never end for any of us), Patterson was reading 10 – 12 novels a week, anything he could get his hands on. Ray Bradbury followed a daily literary diet himself.
Though many of us may have busy lives, we can take on a modified reading diet to fit our lifestyles. Progress will be slower, but it’s still progress.
Feed the beast. Read widely and wildly. The more you read, the richer your own stories will be.
Patterson used to work for a marketing company and he would get up at 5 AM in the morning to get an hour of writing in. Don’t say, “I don’t feel like it right now”. Make yourself do it.
Force yourself to do it every day. Yes, force. Eliminate resistance. Make sure the act of doing it is easier than the act of not doing it. And when you’re actually writing, make sure you’re writing something you love.
Once you’ve done it for enough days, it’ll become a ritual and you won’t have to think about it anymore. You’ll just do it automatically.
Today is a New Day
You will face disappointment and rejections when you’ve finished your work and put it out there for the rest of the world to read. But everyday is a new day. That’s what successful people have in common. They see each day as a new chapter in their life and they can move forward. They have the scars of the past, which may never go away, but they still move forward.
But again, this is is easier to do if the work you’ve chosen is something you love. Any work you choose will have its struggles. Passion and love makes the struggles of it easier to tackle.
“I am as passionate about writing books today as I was when I was 19 years old. That has not changed…and it’s really important…that you keep that passion alive. Because that’s going to drive you through the hard times and it’s going to really make you enjoy the good times.”
Choose writing because it’s something you love to do. Then, make it into a habit.