Richard North Patterson (b. February 22): “There’s a wonderful freedom to being a novelist.”

22 Feb


Richard North Patterson, born 22 February 1947, is an American best-selling fiction writer of 22 novels. Before he wrote full time, he studied creative writing at the University of Alabama. He was also a lawyer. He served as Ohio’s Assistant Attorney General, a Watergate prosecutor, and as an attorney for the Securities and Exchange Commission. His first novel, The Lasko Tangent, won an Edgar Allen Poe Award in 1979.

10 quotes on writing:

  1. The business of writing is empathizing with situations that aren’t your own.
  2. Writing seems like the only job where what you think and feel really matters.
  3. I was 29 when I wrote my first novel. But I was 45 when I quit for good. I was a 16-year overnight success.
  4. There is a wonderful freedom to being a novelist – it’s self-assigned work. For someone who’s curious by nature, it’s a perfect job.
  5. The manuscript you submit [should not] contain any flaws that you can identify – it is up to the writer to do the work, rather than counting on some stranger in Manhattan to do it for him.
  6. Writing is re-writing. A writer must learn to deepen characters, trim writing, intensify scenes. To fall in love with the first draft where one cannot change it is to greatly enhance the prospect of never publishing.
  7. Trial lawyers have to be story tellers. They have to arrange complex facts in attractive narratives; grasp character; understand judges, juries, make clients appealing, understandable. They do have a lot of stories to tell – vivid and interesting things to talk about.
  8. Write what you care about and understand. Writers should never try to outguess the marketplace in search of a saleable idea; the simple truth is that all good books will eventually find a publisher if the writer tries hard enough, and a central secret to writing a good book is to write one that people like you will enjoy.
  9. Monday through Friday, I get up at five, read The New York Times and begin writing by seven. I work with an outline of the chapter or scenes from each day and typically finish with original writing by noon. Throughout the afternoon my assistant and I work the draft over until it’s as good as it can be. Typically we’re not happy until late afternoon.
  10. The writer must always leave room for the characters to grow and change. If you move your characters from plot point to plot point, like painting by the numbers, they often remain stick figures. They will never take on a life of their own. The most exciting thing is when you find a character doing something surprising or unplanned. Like a character saying to me: “Hey, Richard, you may think I work for you, but I don’t. I’m my own person.”


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