I happened onto a GQ article this week about how James Patterson became, and continues to be, one of the most prolific authors ever. He’s currently juggling 31 active projects, which seems right around his usual average.
Of course, he has several factors enabling that pace which most people don’t:
- Co-authors on almost every one of his books who do the bulk of the writing
- No other job, no kids at home, nor anything else to do besides work on books (he says he golfs for an hour a day and spends lots of time hanging out with his wife)
- An assistant
- A publisher to handle things like editing, design, and marketing
- Somewhere between $500 and $800 million (based on estimates) to fall back on if this whole writing thing dries up
But those intangibles don’t translate to him slacking. He’s still working hard on those books. From the article, he says each project includes:
- Writing 50- to 70-page outlines for all the books to send to his co-authors
- Reading each co-authors’ pages every few weeks and giving extended notes on story, tone, pace, and everything else
- Writing and re-writing the drafts he personally handles at least a couple of times
And after reading the interview, I realized: I independently arrived at the same process for juggling book projects as James Patterson.
Sure, he’s published thousands of books and I’m only starting… but we approach the concept of prolific authorship in the same way.
Which is a reassuring sign that my ambitious plan and my handling of said plan actually might make sense.
Here are the key elements of his process (and mine).
Diversification of book types. Patterson says his split is about 50% fiction, 20% nonfiction, and 30% kids/young adult. I’m currently juggling two fiction, two nonfiction, one trivia, one puzzle, and one children’s.
So would it make more sense to go all in on one book instead? Then another, then another, then another? Not for me. And not for Patterson. Though he doesn’t mention it in the interview, I suspect he’s found it’s a lot easier to jump in and out of different projects when they’re different genres. I’m not creating character arcs or working out story beats for seven books — just the fiction ones. I’m not doing fact-finding research work for seven books — just the trivia one. And one of my projects involves writing and testing puzzles, which hardly feels like work. Diversification of genres makes it easier to jump in and out of projects; it’s like each project uses a different area of the brain.
Spreading out work. Patterson works about 10 hours a day, seven days a week. His routine is an hour of work in the morning, then golf, then nine hours until the early evening with lots of breaks. I don’t commit anywhere close to that amount of time — I’m proud to say I have a full-time job and family — but I also spread out my work. I am working on five of the projects in different “reclaimed moments” of the day (as I discussed here). Then I tackle on my main weekly book project during my nightly work session. I’m spreading out my projects.
Going chunk by chunk. Patterson says it’s “much easier to deal with 30 pages than it is to deal with 400” when it comes to editing. I’ve found the same. I like writing a few chapters then revising them. This runs contrary to the uber-popular cliche to “just get a first draft down” — but that’s never been my process. I don’t like editing. So it’s a lot easier for me to do it in small, manageable portions. That also allows me to diagnose issues early and correct course.
Constant idea generation. Patterson says he keeps a physical folder with tons and tons of ideas and he’s always adding to it. Sometimes he’ll see an idea that’s been in the file for years and suddenly he’ll figure out how to write it. I (finally) unified every idea I’ve ever had for a book in one digital folder and add to it all the time.
So to wrap up… I recognize the absurdity and, arguably, hubris of making the comparison between James Patterson and me based on where we stand in our careers as authors. However, I look at him and see he’s 32 years older than me.
And if I keep up the pace I’ve established…
To see my daily work progress for the week, check out January’s work log. And to get alerts when I post on this blog about my journey to publish 100 books, subscribe via email using the form below.