One of the skill set I am looking to get better at is writing and this blog is an experiment in getting better. James Patterson is one of the most prolific writers in the world with over 300 million books sold worldwide and he was the first person to sell 1 million e-books. To be the best you need to learn from the best, hence have been watching a lot of Masterclass Sessions, especially the writers and business executives.

James Patterson was born in 1947 and raised in Newburgh, New York. He studied English at Vanderbilt University, and found work as a junior copywriter at the advertising agency, J Walter Thompson Co, where he devised the iconic slogan, “I’m a Toys ‘R’ Us Kid.” While he became CEO and chairman of the company’s North American division in ’88 and ’90, James also pursued a career in novel writing.

He found critical success with his ’76 book, The Thomas Berryman Number, but it wasn’t until ’93 when he released Along Came a Spider that James met explosive commercial success. Today, he is the world’s best selling author and holds the distinction of writing more #1 New York Times Best Sellers than any other writer in history. James has sold more than 300 million books worldwide and is characterized by unadorned prose, thrilling fast-paced plots, and bite-sized chapters. 

Do NOT sit there like ‘Oh I don’t feel like it today. I don’t feel like it tomorrow’. Feel like it! Do it! Force yourself.—James Patterson

Here are my favorite Takeaways from viewing James Patterson’s Masterclass Session on Writing:

RAW Ideas

The more you know about, the more likely you are to combine things to make an idea that’s striking.—James Patterson

  • Create a place to store your best ideas, like a crisp notebook, a Microsoft Word or Google Doc, or a 3×5 card file. James uses a simple file folder. 

On Research

Research really helps your confidence.—James Patterson

  • Be Curious and Research Everything
  • James stresses the importance of finding chatty interview candidates and asking open-ended questions. Write down a few open-ended questions and try them out on friends or family. 
  • James suggests you add questions during the interview that expound on the answers to your previous questions. Be an active listener, even if it means going off script. Begin researching your story by identifying and reaching out to two potential interviewees for character development.

Tools

Outlines

  • Create an online, James emphasizes the importance of an outline in the process of writing your book
  • Rather than focusing on snazzy sentences, James focuses on the core of the scene which propels his reader onto the next chapter. 
  • In every draft, James layers on more suspense, more drama, and more twists. When he takes it too far he’ll reign it back in, but he allows himself to be as creative as possible during the first pass.

Don’t think about the  sentences, think about the story. Write the story down.—James Patterson

Writers Block

  • According to James Patterson, the key to warding off writer’s block is to “freight train” through the first draft.
  • Focus on getting the story down. If you get stuck or feel blocked, write TBD on that chapter and move on. James sometimes has TBD written on two or three chapters in a row.
  • Don’t obsess about a single chapter or press too hard. If you’re blocked on a scene, chapter, or even a single sentence, it’s ok to move on and come back to it later.

Dealing with Writer’s Block

  • Set a timer for 30 minutes and write down the events of your day. When you run out of time, note what distracted you (thoughts, noises, interruptions). Research ways that you can selectively remove those distractions from your writing routine. For example, does your computer distract you while you write? You can try going completely analog, like James. He uses a pencil and yellow legal pad to write his novels. 
  • Try the same 30-minute challenge a day later, using techniques you researched to remove the distractions you discovered the day before. Repeat the process until you’ve found your ideal writing space.

Do not torture yourself. That’s how people get blocked.—James Patterson

Writing Dialogue

Heightening real dialogue ensures you won’t bore the reader with chitchat they can hear anywhere. Here are a few tips to help you avoid ordinary dialogue:

  • Pay attention to how people interact the next time you’re on the subway, in a cafe, or at a restaurant. What about their conversation was interesting? What parts bored you?
  • The next time you watch a favorite TV show or movie, turn on the closed-captioning and mute the volume. Read the dialogue between characters. Does it read as well as it does when you’re listening to it?
  • Find the script of a popular film and read the dialogue without watching the movie. Does the scene resonate with you without the visual storytelling?

Everything you write should be moving your story forward.—James Patterson

Writing Suspense

  • Writers read. James averages 50 books a year! He stresses the importance of knowing your genre well before you start writing. 

In my opinion, one of the biggest secrets of suspense is setting up questions that the readers MUST have answered.—James Patterson

Getting Published

Write a query letter to pitch your novel to a publishing house. Start by simplifying your letter into three key elements to grab their interest.

  • A hook – Refine the raw idea
  • A brief synopsis – Refine the plot summary
  • Personal bio – Don’t be modest! Share your previous accolades, your education (if it relates to your writing), and any information you think the editor will find relevant to your novel.
  • 23 Literary Agent Query Letters That Worked

The best thing I can tell you, it’s one word…Persistence.—James Patterson

Writing the James Patterson Way

  • Endorsements or blurbs from other authors and taste-makers in the industry bolster a new novel’s sales by giving it credibility. 

You gotta put something out there that gets their attention and gets them curious.—James Patterson

Top Commercial Publishing Houses:

Routines

Recommended Tools

  • Inspiration Finder is a random generator which prompts you to go out of your comfort zone and find something unusual.
  • What-if-inator is an idea generator for possible historical outcomes. Eg. “What if Einstein lived at the same time as Napoleon?

Resources

Recommended Books

Recommended Movie(s)

Se7en, written by Andrew Kevin Walker and directed by David Fincher, for examples of rich and palpable scenes.

About Masterclass

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Their immersive learning experiences combine incredible video content, downloadable materials, and social interaction with the MasterClass community, all of which users can explore at their own pace.

The annual membership is available for $180 USD, which allows unlimited access to ALL on demand MasterClass content for the year

James Patterson Teaches Writing

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All the best in your quest to get better. Don’t Settle: Live with Passion.

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