Writing · Writing Process

5 Lessons from James Patterson’s Masterclass.

Before the end of 2018, I was given an early Christmas present. It was for James Patterson’s Masterclass. I had heard about this course for some time and had been wanting to do it for a while. I was introduced to James Patterson some years back, when I read his first book, Along Came a Spider, the first in the Alex Cross series. Since then he has produced so many books, it’s been difficult to keep up! It’s no wonder he has gone on to become the world’s bestselling author.

The course covers a lot of information and is great for new writers and for writers like myself, who already have some writing knowledge, but could do with more advice. With that in mind, here are five of the best things I learned from the Masterclass:-

1. Write Fast

In order to get the story down, you need to crash through. If you’re struggling, don’t torture yourself, just write ‘to be done’ and move on. This is helpful to avoid the dreaded writer’s block. The more you write, the better you get.

2. Work with an Outline

Everything needs to be in the outline. The outline should have lots of promise, so you can’t wait to write each scene. When you’re writing an outline, you’re thinking about the story. Write the story! James demonstrates this process in a detailed outline guide, and you will need to do the course in order to learn more.

3. Create Complex Characters

You want readers to love your characters or hate them; make the reader ‘feel’. Create characters the reader is not going to forget. In order to understand your character, you need to see the other side to that character by making them more complex and well-rounded. Villains need to be smart, clever and need to surprise you. The more you humanise the villain, the better.

4. Keep Raising the Stakes

Know your genre – know what’s out there in order to avoid it. Don’t write stuff that’s already out there, put a new twist on it. Find something that’s fresh and new. One of the biggest secrets of suspense is setting up questions the reader must have answered. Keep raising the stakes. Keep the reader guessing. Don’t give the answer away too quick; give it away slowly. Don’t assume that anyone is safe.

5. Stay Positive While Editing

Don’t start re-writing until you’ve written one draft. With the first re-write, try to get to the heart of your story. Keep moving forward; make it so that the pages turn themselves. Stay positive during the edit, break it down into parts to make it manageable. Think of editing as making it better. You didn’t make a mistake; you’re making it closer to what it should be.

The biggest take-aways for me were writing fast and working with an outline. Because I tend to think too much over my ideas, by the time I get to write them down, I can sometimes lose interest and look for the new shiny. 😉 Outlines have always been a part of my writing routines, but after doing this course, I’ve been using James’ method ever since.

The course comes with video and workbook, and you can work through them at your own pace. The video contains about twenty-four lessons and the course also contains access to the Masterclass community, so that you can share work and join the discussion with other students.

Because the course covers a wide range, some information you may have heard already, but it does contain advice you may never have heard of before, let alone considered (the gender breakdown of his readership, and how that influences his content is one example).

I felt one of the drawbacks was that James focused on writing thrillers, which is understandable as that is his genre, but it may not be what writers of different genres want to know about. Also, the course covers the topic on writing for Hollywood, which may be interesting, but not necessarily helpful to writers who don’t plan on going down this path.

If you haven’t done the course and you want to know more about it, you can read this helpful post to find out if it is worth your money or you can jump right in and sign up for the Masterclass.

‘If you don’t love it, you’re not going to finish the book. That’s okay. That’s telling you that’s not what you’re going to do. You have an interest in it, but you’re not that passionate about it. If you are passionate about it, you can’t help yourself; you have to write it. You’ve got to write that book’.

Have you done the Masterclass with James Patterson or are you thinking of doing so? What were your main take-aways from the course? What course have you done recently that you found beneficial to your writing?

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Writing · Writing Process

5 Lessons Learned from Writing a Novel.

For some months now I have been busy re-writing an old novel I had written during NaNoWriMo back in 2015. The good news is I have finally finished writing it and at around 80k has become one of the longest pieces of writing I have ever done. It has certainly been a struggle for this short story writer!

During this entire process, there have been a few things that I have learned along the way.

1. Have a plan/outline

Previous experience has taught me that in order to finish a long writing project I need to have some kind of outline before I start. At the beginning of each chapter, I therefore wrote what I wanted to happen within that chapter in order to maintain my focus. It does not have to be a detailed outline for many pages that some writers are known to do; you may only need a couple of lines in order to get some sense of direction to move forward.

2. Listen to of your characters

Despite having some kind of plot outline, my characters would say and do things a little bit ‘off script’, sometimes making things better than I had originally imagined. This was great when it came to building my word count or to write again when I needed to take a break, however, this would also take me down the path of panster once again, meaning that I may never finish. When this happens, you may need to reassess what you want with what your character wants and take another look at your plot.

3. Use a timer and have a quota

Ever since I tried NaNoWriMo, I have been using a timer to help get the words written, otherwise my internal editor or perfectionist self can sneak in and it can take too long to get the words written down. Start with a quota that you find doable and gradually challenge yourself to go that little bit further. I began with a daily quota of 1,000 words and used a timer in order to get the words down faster. I would set a timer for 15 minutes and would average 500 words each session. As my 1000 word limit would be reached within half an hour, I then doubled my daily quota so that I wrote 2000 words in one hour. I then increased that to 4000 words a day, broken up into two separate hourly slots.

4. Aim to strike while the iron is hot

I returned to this old NaNoWriMo project because the idea still resonated with me. The more I thought about my characters and plot, the bigger the project had become. Sometimes new ideas may have to be placed on the back-burner if we are currently working on something, but the best time to begin writing a new project is while we are still brimming with enthusiasm, so make the most of such opportunities whenever possible.

5. Have a deadline and word limit.

Because my novel was becoming longer than I had anticipated, I needed to create some kind of deadline as well as consider my word limit, otherwise I would never finish. I had read that the average word limit for debut novels these days tend to be around 80k, so that’s what I aimed for (as well as taking my genre into account). Also I began to feel that the longer it took, my enthusiasm began to wane and I therefore needed a break. With a deadline and word limit in mind, it certainly helped to get the words written down faster.

One of my goals for this year was to step out of my comfort zone and by writing an 80k novel, I think I can safely say I’ve achieved that! It certainly has been a learning experience. 😉

Have you written your first novel and what advice would you give? How are you progressing with your writing goals? Have you stepped out of your comfort zone this year with your writing? Are you a plotter or a panster or somewhere in-between? Have you revisited an old NaNoWriMo project?

Main image courtesy of Unsplash

Writing · Writing Process

Digging out Your Old WIP: A Monster in the Closet?

In 2005, I wrote my first novel from beginning to end.  It was such a wonderful feeling to actually write those precious words ‘The End’.  Some time later I gave it to a writing friend to read to see what she thought of it.  ‘This is great – no brilliant’ was what she had written.  Buoyed by her response and her suggestions, I continued.  Four years later after numerous changes and edits, I took a couple of chapters with me to a workshop with Debra Adelaide, author of The Household Guide to Dying.  According to her, my protagonist was almost there, but not quite there yet.  Once again I continued tweaking the novel.  But after several years of editing and re-writing, I am now beginning to wonder if this one will ever see the light of day.

I’m sure you’ve heard of authors who talk about a particular novel or couple of novels that stay hidden away in some old drawer, never to be published.  They knew when to give up on them and continue with something else.  Some authors decide to go over their old hidden novels, brush them off and consider getting them published.  Perseverance, is after all, a requirement of becoming a writer.  But when do you actually decide that your novel isn’t working; that enough is enough?

My trouble is I continue to go over this particular novel because I need to tell it.  It is personal – after all, there is that old saying that an author’s first novel is usually autobiographical.  I continue with it despite changes in viewpoint, characters, plot development; I can’t let it go.  Perhaps I’ve been working on it for too long that it deserves to be hidden away (either short term or permanently), while I continue re-writing my other novels and begin new projects.

So how do you know when enough is enough with your own work?  Do you have any projects that will perhaps never see the light of day?

*And yes, in case you’re wondering, I am a perfectionist! 🙂

Free image by Victor Habbick courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net