For “Routine Excellence,” GQ asks creative, successful people about the practices, habits, and routines that get them through their day.
James Patterson has written so many books that he’s long forgotten the number he hit during his most prolific single year. “I don’t know the most, but right now I believe I have 31 active projects,” says the 75-year-old over the phone, from his house about an hour north of New York City. “Lately, we’ve been doing eight to 10 fiction, one or two non-fiction, and then anywhere from three to five kids or young adult books.” The latest, out next week, is The House of Wolvesa collaboration with Mike Lupica.
Mind you, Patterson didn’t start publishing in earnest until after he’d finished a decades-long career at J. Walter Thompson, an advertising firm. Although his productivity is due in large part to a stable of co-writers that he works with, it’s also a result of a daily routine that includes about eleven hours of reading and writing, one hour of golf, and many chats with his wife Susan . Here, he explains how he can re-work a draft of a novel in half an hour, how co-writing works, and why he prefers funerals to weddings.
GQ: So how do you keep all of those projects straight?
James Patterson: I don’t have a problem with it. When I worked in advertising [at J. Walter Thompson]—and I’ve been clean for over 25 years now, so don’t hold that against me—I ran Thompson New York, I ran Thompson USA, and I was also a worldwide creative director, so there were an awful lot of things two juggle. I don’t even think about it anymore. It is a habit. And I don’t work for a living, I play for a living. There’s almost nothing that I do that I don’t enjoy doing. I remember when Dolly Parton and I got together [to work on the novel Run, Rose, Run], one of the things we talked about is, we don’t want to do any projects where at the end we say we’re really sorry we did the project. In other words, we think that there is a high upside.
How many hours a day would you say that you… Well, I was going to say “work,” but I guess I’ll say “play” instead?
I do what I do seven days a week. I’ll usually get up at 5:30 and work for an hour. Then, frequently, I will go out and hit a golf ball. They let me onto most of the courses I belong to very early, which is nice. If I come at 6:00, they say, “Go ahead.” I’ll go around for an hour, an hour and a half. Then I’m back here by 8:00, and then I’ll work until 6:00. I’ll take a couple breaks if I need them, which I usually do. And obviously, what that [day] results in is more books than my publisher wants. That’s why I started doing non-fiction, because they said, “Okay, yeah, we can handle one or two non-fiction.”