I’m very conscious that I’m an entertainer. Something like 73 percent of my readers are college graduates, so you can’t condescend to people. You’ve got to tell them a story that they will be willing to pay money to read. – James Patterson
If you read my last post you may have noticed that I got a little carried away on the subject of pencils.
James Patterson writes with a pencil.
That made me like him again – because last summer, as I sat in a field in France reading one of his books, I was a little put out when I found that he doesn’t write most of them himself.
And it turns out there is a reason for that – a very good one.
Patterson, in case you didn’t know, is a prolific and wealthy author.
But, what caught my eye as I read about him was a question in an interview that asked him whether his advertising background made him a better writer.
He said, “The most valuable part of the advertising process was understanding that there’s an audience. I write commercially, commercial fiction, and there’s an audience, and I like the audience. I don’t condescend to them.”
That’s something most of us don’t get – the fact that if you do something as a business then there’s an audience.
If you haven’t got an audience you haven’t got a business – you have a hobby or a passion, but not a business.
And this comes across in the quote above.
Patterson doesn’t call himself a writer – he thinks of himself as an entertainer.
This is the difference between thinking in terms of what you do and What you do for someone else.
What you do is a feature, what you do for someone else is a benefit.
This is worth keeping in mind whatever it is you do – and trying to articulate clearly.
For example, if you’re a management consultant – that’s what you do.
What do you do for someone else?
What’s the equivalent of “entertainment” in your business – is it “problem solving”, “cost cutting”, “revenue generating”?
And, quite importantly, is that something people get – are they willing to pay money for that thing?
It’s quite possible that what people get from you is different depending on the situation they find themselves in.
But I do think that this simple approach helps us understand whether what we are doing is commercial or not.
Is it something we do because we want to – because it’s interesting to us and we enjoy doing it?
Or do we do it because there is a need – people willing to part with money in exchange for this thing.
Or, happily, is it both?
People buy Patterson’s books because he promises them a particular kind of reading experience.
So what if he hires people to help him get down the words – you still get a Patterson novel – and he handles quality control.
That way you get more to read than he could write himself and everyone’s happy.
Now, after the commercial discussion, the rest of Patterson’s suggestions are easier to grasp.
Routine matters – write at the same time in the same place every day.
Do more – write as much as you can, figure out plots and outlines before you go deep into something, try and get better at seeing the big picture and doing the detailed work.
Stay busy – work on multiple projects and make sure there is something you can turn to rather than just finding yourself blocked on the first page or at a particular point in your work.
The interesting thing about these four points is that you can start anywhere.
Pick up a pencil now and start doodling, writing – and you will have started the creative process.
Get up early tomorrow morning, or work late tonight – and start the first day of the routine you will keep for the rest of your life.
Look through your list of things you want to do and set up project folders – create the space and the system to manage your creative output.
Or spend some time studying your audience – the people who buy the thing you are selling – get into their heads and listen to what they’re saying so you can create a product they want to buy.
You can start anywhere – but to build your career or your business, you will need to master all four elements.
And a few others, probably.
But you can start by picking up a pencil and getting to work.