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James Patterson’s Writing Tips

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Oct 2, 2020 • 4 min read

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James Patterson Teaches Writing

James Patterson is a bestselling author and one of the most celebrated thriller and mystery writers in the world. He holds the Guinness World Record for most #1 New York Times bestsellers—his books have topped the list a record 67 times. In addition to these distinctions, James has been awarded the Edgar Award.



James Patterson Teaches WritingJames Patterson Teaches Writing

James teaches you how to create characters, write dialogue, and keep readers turning the page.

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A Brief Introduction to James Patterson

James Brendan Patterson was born in Newburgh, New York and currently resides in Palm Beach, Florida. James earned his undergraduate degree at Manhattan College before pursuing a Ph.D. at Vanderbilt. He left Vanderbilt early to become an advertising executive at J. Walter Thompson. His first book was The Thomas Berryman Number. Since then, James has had countless bestselling books adapted into Hollywood films and TV shows including Along Came a Spider, Women’s Murder Club, and Alex Cross. James—alongside Stephen King, Dan Brown, and R. L. Stine—is one of the most successful writers currently working. James’s books can be found online, in major bookstores and independent bookstores across the United States.

James Patterson’s 9 Writing Tips

If you’re working on a difficult piece of writing or attempting your first novel—or even just struggling with re-writing a first draft—James’s advice can help you become a better writer and deepen your appreciation for the craft of writing.

Here are some of James Patterson’s writing tips:

  1. Force yourself to write. “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!” Great writers often have set routines. Authors as varied as Kurt Vonnegut, Margaret Atwood, and Neil Gaiman all share a daily writing routine that helps them avoid writer’s block and consistently put out quality writing. A common piece of advice for young writers is to have a set period of time every day for writing. Sit down and start writing and don’t stop writing until the end of your writing block. Forcing yourself to get into the habit of daily writing will drastically improve the amount of writing you do and your confidence in your writing abilities.
  2. Expand your knowledge. “The more you know about, the more likely you are to combine things to make an idea that’s striking.” If you’re an author, spend the time researching material that will help inform your story and stylistic choices. Preparation for writing doesn’t just take place in writing classes; it can also happen in school libraries or reading rooms where you’re able to expose yourself to new voices and learn information that will be valuable for building your narrative.
  3. Have high standards for yourself. The secret to good writing is translating raw ideas into a finished product through hard work. James argues that it’s important to enter this process with confidence in yourself and believe in your abilities.
  4. Embrace writer’s block. “Do not torture yourself.” Even the best writers occasionally get stymied by the blank page. Just because you are stuck doesn’t mean you are a terrible writer. Take a break from a project and spend some time freewriting.
  5. Be invested. Whether you are writing a science fiction short story or non-fiction expose, part of being a good writer is caring about your work and making it personal. Great writers connect with their writing and personal investment is what elevates your work and produces the best writing.
  6. Keep things moving. “Everything you write should be moving your story forward.” When working on their own books, a good author should never stop writing material that advances the plot. This holds true whether you’re writing dialogue, first lines of a chapter or a closing scene. Everything you read should serve your plot and propel your story forward.
  7. Ensure that your ideas are interconnected. “At the end, something has you propel you into the next chapter.” As a writer, it’s your job to read books that might help inform your writing and give you insight into great writing techniques. Whether you’re reading a sci-fi novella by Ray Bradbury, a novel by Ernest Hemingway, or a piece of non-fiction by Malcolm Gladwell, you’ll find that great writers always structure their writing in a way that propels the reader forward into their next idea or plot point.
  8. Structure your stories as a series of questions and answers. “One of the biggest secrets of suspense is setting up questions that the readers must have answered.” Human beings are curious and from the first chapters on, a good suspense novel will have readers itching for answers that the writer has set up. Whether you’re working on your first novel or collaborating with co-writers on a suspense thriller, it’s your job to set up tantalizing questions that keep your audience engaged.
  9. Write for a wide audience. “If you’re going to write a bestseller, it’s got to work for a lot of people.” James says that the key to being a successful writer is to write books that appeal to a large audience. Whether you’re just starting out in your writing career or are trying to develop ideas for your next book, think about ideas you might have for compelling stories that appeal to a wide commercial audience.
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