Writing life: James Patterson

The bestselling crime writer and creator of the Alex Frost series sheds light on his writing process and how he avoids writer's block

James Patterson

A seven-day discipline

I guess I write four to five hours a day but I do it seven days a week. It's very disciplined, yes, but for me it's a joy. I literally can sit down anywhere and start scribbling. If I don't know what to do with myself, I always know what to do with myself: go to my office and write.

I spend the summer in New York, but most of the time I live in Palm Beach. There my office is upstairs on the second floor with a view of Lake Worth.

I get up every day at about 5am and write early. I don't have a computer. I write longhand in pencil on a legal pad and give the pages to my assistant to type up. When I get back the first draft, typed triple-spaced, I write between the lines, this time with a ballpoint pen. When I go through the manuscript a second and third time, I just read between the lines, and only deal with what I've written that draft. I usually do six or seven drafts, but sometimes more until I'm happy. I've written longhand from the beginning, and why change a winning formula?

Three or four days a week, I'm on the golf course by about 7.15am. I play nine or sometimes 18 holes. I use golf to shut down – I go out to have fun and hit some good shots. I played golf as a child but really got into it again when I was about 45 or so. I usually play on my own, although sometimes with my son, Jack, or my wife Sue, who is very competitive!

Writer’s block is never a problem

I'm back at the house by 10am and then I write some more – these days I have as many as 40 projects underway at the same time. I keep the manuscripts on my desk in a couple of rows, each with their own title page; some are screenplays, some are novels. I handled an awful lot of things when I ran an advertising agency, so I've got used to a lot of things going on in my life and it not bothering me – I feel no pressure at all. Writer’s block is never a problem! If I ever gets bored or stuck with one project, there are others I can turn to.

When I write a book with someone else, we start with me writing an elaborate outline, as much as 70 pages. It's very detailed, clear and focused. Then the co-author will write the first draft, and I’ll see the work every few weeks. We usually do between two to seven more drafts.

I work some more in the afternoon. A few times a week I take a 45-minute nap, then work again until I knock off at 6pm. At the end of the day I'll watch a TV show or a film as I'm a real movie fan. I'm usually in bed by 11pm. That's my writing day – and it's been like that ever since I left advertising all those years ago.”

Sign up to the Penguin Newsletter

For the latest books, recommendations, author interviews and more