Joyce Maynard on Taking James Patterson’s Online Course in Writing Bestsellers

Lately, just about every time I turn to Facebook or Twitter, I’m greeted by an ad or sponsored content about the online writing course bestselling thriller author James Patterson offers on the MasterClass site (where Dustin Hoffman, Annie Liebovitz, Usher, Serena Williams and others serve up the tricks to their trades, too). “Set out to write a bestselling book,” the copy advertising the course suggests. For an investment of just $90 and three hours of your time, it’s an enticing offer. But I haven’t bitten yet.

Author Joyce Maynard gave in to the temptation. At at the Observer, she reports on the experience:

…In my ungenerous moments, I confess to having harbored a certain not-particularly-attractive level of bitterness over the success of writers like John Grisham and—above all others—James Patterson, a man who holds the title as the world’s best-selling author, publishing so many novels a year that he needs a whole stable of collaborators just to keep up with the demand…

…I entered into this project with a large measure of skepticism—worse, even: I entered anticipating that his lessons might offer up some great comedy material—by the time the last lesson was over, and Mr. Patterson (Jim, to me, now) had set me loose to write my best seller, I had developed genuine respect for the man. Even affection. If I met him at a book festival some day, and the opportunity arose, I’d greet him like an old friend.

What changed? For starters, Mr. Patterson possesses an abundance of good, solid common sense and some genuinely valuable wisdom. Not necessarily about the art of writing, mind you. But about storytelling. And at the end of the day, if you ask me (and more importantly, if you ask readers and book buyers), that’s what matters most. A person can write the most beautiful, lyrical sentences (as James Patterson will be the first to tell you, he does not), but if the story doesn’t grab a reader by the throat, and—having grabbed on—hold her there, none of the rest may matter all that much.

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