The Writing Habits of Bestselling Authors

I’M NOT USUALLY one to eulogize commercial success, but when it comes to books I can’t help but be astounded by the sheer volume of books the authors below have produced. Between them they have published over 275 books. It is almost inhuman: it should be! Total sales figures are equally insane: over 1 billion copies sold world-wide.

As with anything, I am like most people, curious as to what lies behind outstanding people in their fields. It’s a common human need, an almost senseless curiosity as if by uncovering who the person is, we too might share in their success by emulating what they do. But humans are equally stupid. Nobody can be anyone else but themselves, but we fool ourselves into thinking if we try harder, if we change our habits, if we just do something they do, things will come easy, life will never be the same. Maybe, maybe not. See for yourself.

WRITING HABITS OF AUTHORS FROM ANOTHER PLANET

Stephen KingStephen King – He writes every day. I don’t doubt he takes a break every now and again, but the sheer volume of books he has written are a testament to a ravenous work ethic. In interviews he has spoken of writing ten thousand words a day for some projects which is incredible output. That’s a novel in ten days. King used to outline, but just sits down and writers now and rarely takes notes either. In slang terms he’s a pantser, allowing his creativity to fuel the story as it happens rather than meticulous planned chapters. He also eschews note taking, but I can’t agree with him on that.

john grishamJohn Grisham – Works hard in the morning through to lunch time; 5 hours~ nearly every day. To sell his debut, A Time to Kill, he ordered a 1000 copies of his own book, of a 5000 print run, and peddled them library to library, taking over thirty book parties to shift them all. He doesn’t discuss his writing habits as much as others but having previously been a lawyer, I’m sure he puts that attention to detail and thorough analysis into his books.

dean koontzDean Koontz – He will write up to 20 drafts of one page. Like King, once an outliner, Koontz doesn’t anymore and with his vast experience it’s not surprising he doesn’t feel the need to. Spends 10+ hours each day, 6 days a week writing. That is phenomenal, and what struck me was the fact he said the long stints writing help him to immerse himself in the storyworld without breaking his concentration, something I’ve definitely experienced as a beneficial aspect of extended alone time sitting in front of a screen focusing on one story.

james pattersonJames Patterson – Writes every day, often balancing multiple projects. Still hand writes his outlines up to 80 pages. The controversial thing about James Patterson is the fact that he outsources some of his projects and has collaborators which explains some of the phenomenal yearly publishing. He is also rumoured to have ghost writers, although how prevalent they would have been in the early days is uncertain, but it does tarnish his reputation from a purists perspective. Arguably the most business savvy as well.

The overriding factor between them all is work ethic. Hardly ground breaking, but easy to forget at times. Additionally not all of them were immediate successes. None of them were really. Between first book and major success there was years in between, bar perhaps Grisham. Don’t give up. Keep writing. And regardless of your schedule, make time.

 

lion around 2

29 Comments

  1. I’ve gotta say though, if Stephen King weren’t so prolific, we wouldn’t be able to find HIM either in our bookstores and libraries… As it is, he is our only proof that Americans still want to read and buy Horror. Apparently.

    1. There definitely seems to have been a boom time for horror, maybe up til the early nineties maybe? Same for books in general tbh.
      But being prolific is definitely one way to remain in the public eye, even if the writing isn’t outstanding. That’s why I’m making a real go to write, no excuses.

  2. Strange to read about these consistent writing schedules. I can write a lot for a few days in a row, but then it just stops. Can’t imagine doing that every day no matter what.

    1. It is incredible in discipline and creativity. I find it easier to do the more I write but still get those days where it feels like myself and the story have detached never to meet again.

  3. This may just be one of the most inspiring posts for writers I’ve read yet, oddly enough. There’s just something about reading about published, well-known authors and seeing their work ethic and realizing that it all just comes down to writing every day the story you want to write. No magic potion. No miracle. Just endless drafting and revising and staying true to your story.

    Thanks for sharing this!

  4. An informative piece, Lion. I have probably watched or read anything to do with Steven King; he’s my hero. And I have always been a pantser too, but I have to have some notes to keep everything straight. The only thing about him that disappointed me is when I found out that he had a cocaine addiction for quite a while some years back

    1. Yeah, incredible output. A book a year pretty much from most of them.
      Although Patterson uses collaborators and essentially sells books he has edited, pumping out 10 or more a year in recent times. Total BS.

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