James Patterson

Lesson time 9:04 min

James is liberal with a red pen; his editing is key to keeping the reader engaged. Learn how to trim the fat with our interactive editing assignment.

James Patterson
Teaches Writing
James teaches you how to create characters, write dialogue, and keep readers turning the page.
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For me and for a lot of writers, and I think for most of you, editing, polishing-- and I'm talking about what you're doing yourself, not when the book gets to a publishing house. It's the whole ball of wax. It's not writing. It's rewriting, and it's rewriting, and it's rewriting. I like to do many drafts. I've done as many as nine or ten drafts. But I do the drafts very quickly. I don't get constipated. I Don't get worried. I just keep going. I just-- let's do it again, let's do it again, let's do it again. And this has been true whether I'm writing a 400-page book or when I was in advertising, doing a 30-second television spot. Write it again, write it again, write it again. Look at it sideways. Look at it upside down. Turn it around. There's nothing wrong. You should be considering every possibility. The rewriting-- there's so many different pieces of it. There is the getting a story even better, getting those chapters closer to where you want them to be. You might do that a couple times-- might be two months, a month and a month, where you just work on the chapters. Or it may be a two or three-month thing where you just work on just getting that scene right. And the first rewrite, I might just be trying to get those chapters, that story, to be more coherent, clearer, just trying to make sure I really got the heart of it correctly. And that's very important. That's the most important thing. Once again, it's always that same thing of moving the story and characterization forward. And if you keep simple things like that in your head, and I repeat them, but you should repeat them for the rest of your writing life, because that's all it is. And it's unbelievable how quickly you forget that, because there you are in your writing, and it's not happening. And you're not realizing that to it's the rewriting and rewriting and the rewriting, and remembering those things about what am I trying to do? Trying to hold the reader. And that's it. I mean, you may get so good that that's just an automatic, but I don't know if that happens with many writers. And that's why you'll find certain writers where every other book seems to be a dud. It seems like they kind of forget it for a whole book. And that happens. I mean, I don't know if I forgotten it for a whole book, but I've certainly forgotten it for sections. But then I'll read it, and go, like, man this sucks. This is just not happening. OK, what did I do wrong here? And invariably the big thing I did wrong was I'm not moving the thing forward. It's sitting there for 40 pages, just sitting there. That does not work-- doesn't work for the reader. What happened? It sat there, sat there for 50 pages. No, story can't sit there. [MUSIC PLAYING] Consider not polishing the book until you've written it, at least one draft. Because if ...

Set out to write a best-selling book

James Patterson, the author of 19 consecutive No. 1 New York Times bestsellers, reveals his tricks of the trade. In his first online writing class, he guides you from the start to the finish of your book.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

Immensely useful, informative and inspiring. Each element is logical and builds on critical aspects of what is necessary to write your story.

I enjoyed this course. As I start to work on my second book, I used James Patterson’s ideas for outlines and opening lines right away.

James, I teach young writers, and I can't tell you how invaluable it is to know your first novel was turned down 31 times. You teach my students grit.

Like the idea of keeping a notebook of Ideas. Also, in the future I will be noticing how authors pull the reader into the story.


Ian C.

I love that: keep moving it forward. It's a good mantra to keep in mind and over the desk! If it's not relevant to contributing and building the story depth, drop it otherwise I might frustrate the reader. Eliminate everything that distracts. "Pace pays the electric bills!" Thanks James - great advice indeed.

A fellow student

Hugely helpful. Am in the middle of a rewrite with producers tapping their foot to hurry up. James, you've been terrifically helpful, exceedingly powerful with your simplicity. Thank you,.. (whale nudging from me:-)))

Mia M.

In the PDF for this lesson, when I clink the link to the "Delete-o-Matic" tool, it brings be back to this page. Where is the tool?


Certainly agree full hardheartedly with Mr Patterson editing and rewriting is the key to the formulating the novel or screenplay for submission or development.

Laura F.

I agree that this would be a perfect place to put in some specific examples of how he edits. We got a specific example of how he outlines, but editing is even that more important in the writing process. I would have loved to see how he goes about revising his scenes and chapters.

Grant L.

James is bold in his craft, aside from being a brilliant artist. Such authenticity has universal lessons, awe inspiring and humbling, that I will carry forward with enduring gratitude.

Ann S.

What James Patterson writes, and what he teaches are refined gold. I love it.


I think I tend to sacrifice flavor in the interest of pacing. Also, my take on the scenes was different in terms of character development. Again sacrificing flavor for movement.

Norreida R.

I do enjoy listening to James Patterson's style. I do wish he would get a little bit more specific in his advice. For example, he spent time letting us know that a story must keep moving, and it's the kiss of death when it stands still. He repeated that several times but he never gave an example of what that looks like. I can feel like a story's not working as I'm reading it, but I don't understand why the book isn't working. and if he could give me an example that would help a lot. He said he made mistakes and rewrote chapters, but he didn't describe what those mistakes were with specific examples. I would have liked an example where he noticed his own story was standing still and rewrote it.

Francesca A.

Thank you for this assignment and allowing me to see how you would edit. It was helpful. I need to look at my work with a critical eye and get rid of unnecessary words and ideas that don't help the story move forward.