Category Unusual writing principles

Collaborative Writing – how to avoid burnout and soar with creative excitement

Squeezed out.

That’s how you feel.

Like a lemon when pressure is applied from all sides.

The never-ending pace of everyday life, expectations, stress, to do lists piling up – life is all about giving. In this state, inspiration is a paradise island you’ll never be able to afford.

An effective antidote? Collaboration.

Working with creative people will provide the energy and inspiration to make you soar.

And while in other industries it’s common to sit down at a table with many creatives, a writer is joined at his desk only by me myself and I.

Directing film and stage shows, I thrive on the creativity and energy other people bring. Recently, writers have picked this drug up and even pronounced this year the year of collaboration. Movements like “Writers on a train” begin to emerge.

But beware, dear writer: your days in the creative wilderness might have made you an incompetent collaborator.

Let’s look at 5 important things to consider to make collaborative writing work for you.

1. Why collaborative writing sustains inspiration

For almost 80 years, Harvard studied the lives of 268 sophomores – one of the world’s longest studies on adult life. They found that of all things, relationships are what make a happy life.

“Loneliness kills. It’s as powerful as smoking or alcoholism.”

Robert Waldinger

So while you might enjoy your lonely hours at the writing desk, creative relationships are the ultimate antidote to writer’s block.

This is how it works when you’re a director:
The idea starts in your head.

But the result is the work of many creative people combined.

The room sparks with energy when you sit down with passionate creative individuals and discuss a story, throw ideas in the air only to be picked up by others and transformed into something amazing.

You feel like space engineers, embarking on a problem solving journey.

“It’s not only the things you learn along the way, but the amazing people you get to work with.“

Ron Howard

Creative loneliness is often the writer’s decease. This is why she lacks inspiration and is blocked.

Do you need a new wave of inspiration and creative energy? Embark on a problem solving journey with other writers, and this process of discovery will inspire you in ways you never thought possible.

2. How to give power to organic creativity

Collaboration can be painful.

If you’ve been stuck in the creative wastelands for long, it’s easy to get stuck. Possesiive. Consider your output the only acceptable truth.

But as soon as you try to enforce your own ideas in a creative collaboration, you’ll lose the spontaneity and organic creativity, says Ron Howard.

director In a collaboration

As the director of a huge crew of creatives, he knows his way around leading a creative team. On his set, he is always willing to say ‘yes’, be open to other ideas instead of editing them as long as they serve the purpose of the overall scene or story.

Only if you revel in the excitement of collaboration and have an open mind for all the different ideas will you sustain the priceless organic creativity that collaborative writing offers.

As Starbucks founder Howard Schulz puts it: People don’t want to be managed, they want to be part of something bigger than themselves. They want to see themselves valued and appreciated.

And if you consider not your own ideas – but the overall story – as the big purpose that holds it all together, you will be able to appreciate every suggestion and thrive in a collaboration.

3. The one common standard of collaborative writing

In Starbucks, there was only one standard for every single team member.

By creating the atmosphere that suggested: we are building something that’s langer than ourselves and valuing everyone’s participation and opinion, Schulz could establish a common goal.

And he would demonstrate that he worked harder towards that goal than everybody else.

collaborative writing in Starbucks

What was that standard?


If a collaborating team is to be driven by excellence, it’s important to establish a common goal – aka the story – and demonstrate that you are willing to work harder than everybody else.

Writing is work.

And a writing collaboration needs a strong work ethics to create an amazing story.

4. Kurosawa’s Power Triangle

The legendary director Akira Kurosawa swore by the power triangle: Working in teams of three produces the strongest results.

Which makes sense, because ideas can be voted quickly in or out. It doesn’t mean that you can’t collaborate with another author. But having a collaboration of three makes it work even smoother.

power triangle of collaborative writing

5. What to look for in a co-writer

James Patterson considers collaborative writing a combination of strengths.

When searching for a co-writer he advises to look for someone who is able to write convincing scenes. Because this is what you’ll be doing: writing scenes.

Also, this person has to be willing to do their research on everything. This will make their writing deeper.

When deciding on a co-writer, he also recommends working with someone who is either willing to adapt their style or has a similar style to yours in order to avoid unnecessary conflict.

Now that we’ve looked into the principles, let’s learn from Patterson’s practical collaboration process.

He writes an outline and send it to his cowriter(s). Patterson wants them to be involved into the outlining process for two reasons: because they might have good ideas and because he wants them to be invested in the story.

The hardest part of the initial process is finding the voice of the characters and of the story. Once you have that established, it’s much easier to adapt the scenes.

Patterson recommends to regularly send writing back and forth to avoid too much rewriting. His co-writers write ten chapters, send them over. The next day, Patterson instantly gives feedback so that the process does not stall. This way, they can stop things if something’s wrong or he can say: good, keep going.

Start with an experiment.

collaborative writing

Commit to collaborating this year at least once. Even if just for the sake of FOMO.

Maybe, you’ll end up with a relationship that will nourish your creativity for years to come. Or you’ll just receive new inspiration, energy, and practical ideas.

On some days, I just love sipping coffee with another creative and talk about ideas. Just ideas.

On others, I love inviting people into my process.

There is no downside. You’ll only learn. Make your world richer. Emerge from the experience like a freshly picked lemon an a sunny Sunday afternoon.

Full of creative juice.

collaborative writing makes you fresh

5 SIMPLE tools and mindsets to skyrocket NaNoWriMo

Do your knees tremble with anticipation? Are your hands shaky because of the challenge ahead? Is self-doubt starting to show its ugly face? Or is the excitement rising as you finish the last preparations?

Normal people just call it “November”.
But for us writers, it’s NaNoWriMo.

Preparation is key for this 50.000 words challenge. But what kind of preparation? More tools? More books on writing? More ideas and tips? Maybe. But maybe not.

Maybe those 5 simple tools and corresponding mindsets are all you need to embark on this sprint towards a beautiful storytelling journey.

At least this is what I found after years of writing – there is power in simplicity. As soon as I reduced my writing process to those simple 5, I realized that this was all I needed.

The tools are practical. But don’t underestimate the mindsets. They are also key, even more so than the tools.

With the right mindset and the supporting tools, you will be ready to skyrocket NaNoWriMo and make November your favorite month of the year.


Tool: Notebook

Alternative: Board

There are many techniques for outlining, but to whether you are an outliner or a pantser, my biggest tip for you is:
Know where you are going, and always have the big picture in front of you. No matter how deep you want to go into detail here, do not start the journey without a compass and a clear story goal.

The simplest tool for this is a notebook – preferably bigger than A4 – where you can plot out the big picture.

There are also alternatives like a giant board or cards you can position on your table. No matter how fancy you want to make it – make sure you have at least some plot points and the final goal in front of you before you start writing.

This way, every time you sit down to write a scene and are at a loss, your compass and your goal will guide you.


Mindset: The ultimate answer to your WHY

The same goes for your mindset: Know WHY you are starting NaNoWriMo in the first place.

An answer like “I want to write my novel” is simply not enough because it misses the big picture. Writing your novel is just a tiny step in the journey, but where is your journey going?

Do you want to make a living writing? Have more freedom? Share your stories with the world, inspire, create? Have a community?

Whatever the reason, know what role NaNoWriMo is playing in the big picture. More often than not, it’s a milestone for authors. If you know how this challenge is related to your big WHY, you will stand the ground when it gets hard to pull through.



Tool: Scrivener

Alternative: iA Writer/Ulysses

I love Scrivener because it allows me to bring my writing project to one single place: Research, Plotting, Characterization, Cards, Images, basically anything. There are countless great tools in Scrivener that help me prepare for the writing stage, and beyond.

For those who prefer simplicity, I also discovered iA Writer – a simple and clean writing tool.
Ulysses is also something other authors recommend, but I haven’t had the chance to try it out yet.

But why do you need a writing tool? Why don’t just write in Word?


Mindset: Commitment

You could easily write in WORD.

But what I’ve found when buying a slightly more expensive writing program is that it signalizes real commitment. I’ve spent money and I am taking my writing business seriously now.

WORD is for everybody. But the extensive and special writing tools are only for those who are ready to take it to the next level – for the writers.



Tool: Wordly

Wordly is an app I came to love while writing my first novel! It transforms the challenge of writing faster into a sport, measuring you WPH (words per hour) as if you were an athlete.

Wordly allows you to create writing projects and track the word count. It displays data per day, duration and WPH, shows you total stats of your writing and even graphs of progress.

The simple and clean design takes the writing fun to a next level, especially with a challenge like NaNoWriMo where you need to hit a word count.

Mindset: Challenge

Especially with writing the first draft, a challenge is a mindset that will motivate you throughout the long writing hours.

Sports is fun because of the competition, even if the only person you are trying to beat is yourself. If you adopt the mindset of an athlete for the first draft, and especially for NaNoWriMo, you will be able to accomplish the sprint of November.



Mindset: Focus

Our mind is bombarded by the distractions of the modern world. We have forgotten how to focus, and instead, are juggling our focus between several tasks that are competing for our attention.

This will never produce real results. You need to train your mind how to focus again, and this can be learned.

Tool: Pomodoro Timer

A great tool to learn focus again is the Pomodoro Timer. It lets you choose intervals of work and break, forcing you to work for a limited amount of time.

Don’t start with an hour, but instead, split your hour into:
15 mins work – 5 mins break – 15 mins work – 5 mins break – 15 mins work – 10 minutes big break
(I know it’s a little more than one hour 😉 )

15 mins is a great timeframe to start with. Try to move the concentration up until 30 mins. During this time, shut off the phone and any other distraction and make sure all you do it dedicated, focused writing.


Mindset: Inspiration

Inspiration will never drop from the sky. The muse will not magically materialize in you room and kiss you. You will have to chase it, create an atmosphere that will prompt and inspire you.

There are countless tools for inspiration, but the mindset is: Look actively for it.

Do your research – it can work wonders for your writing and your ideas! Watch the movies that are close to your story, TV series, read scripts and book, historical and scientific research, and – listen to music.

Tool: Spotify Playlist

Alternative: Amazon Music/Apple Music or Nature Sounds

Create a playlist especially for NaNoWriMo. It will take you a little time, especially because it needs to be a longer than 3-4 songs.

I recommend listening to soundtracks or instrumental music as words tend to be distracting. But you can choose whatever you prefer. Soundtracks set the mood for writing – I suddenly begin to see the story in front of me as if it were a movie.

Music produces a flow of writing. It touches the heart and helps deepen the words. I try to write so that my readers can nearly hear the music and feel the emotion I am feeling right now. And the music is what inspires me to do so.

Are you ready for NaNoWriMo?

Don’t look for the next big tool. Instead, adopt the mindset of a writer. Maybe this is your very first long writing project. Maybe you’ve failed last year to accomplish your goal.

Leave everything behind now, take those simple 5 and start writing. Nothing is missing, and you are a writer – skyrocket this month that might change your writing life!



Let me know how you are doing if this article was helpful and let’s chat about NaNoWriMo.

4 setup & payoff techniques that will make your story unforgettable

A red car drives up, the mp3 player is turned on, playing Bellbottoms by THE JON SPENCER BLUES EXPLOSION.

Four characters with dark sunglasses stare at each other. Three dismount and we are left with Baby Driver and his hilarious performance, before being swept away into one of the most extraordinary car chase scenes in movie history.

If you are one of those who hasn’t seen the Baby Driver 6-minute opening scene, stop and watch it now:

Curiously, this beautifully orchestrated action scene is not what makes the film. It’s the unexpected moments that make you sit at the edge of your seat for nearly 2 hours. Twists you would not anticipate.

The plot of Baby Driver is completely unpredictable. You are misled most of the time.

But why is the plot still believable and satisfying?

Let’s look at Edgar Wright’s 4 setup and payoff techniques that storytellers can learn a lot from.

ATTENTION! It’s nearly impossible to talk about payoffs without spoiling the film, so if you haven’t seen it yet, be sure to watch it first, because there are spoilers ahead!
Still, you can read only the Takeaway sections for the practical lessons without risking any spoilers.


1. Baby & the mentor

Doc promises Baby that this will be his last job to pay back his debts.
Somewhere close to the end of the first Act, he holds this promise, which is something you would not predict, and your gut feeling tells you that something is shady about it.

When later, Doc doesn’t keep his promise, the relationship between Baby and Doc takes a strange turn.
Baby quotes Monsters Inc., saying: “You and I are a team. Nothing is more important than our friendship.” But you don’t believe him because everything about the situation tells you that Baby is pressured to say those words. They sound ironic. Fake. What friendship could Baby even talk about if he is so inferior?

Only in the end, when Baby returns to ask Doc for help, we realize that he has been serious about it. He considers Doc his friend and vice versa. We are misled to consider doc the main opponent when in truth he is his best friend, a friend who even sacrifices his life.

How does this work?
The unlikely friendship is foreshadowed with this very quote, and as the quote is repeated later, it’s filled with a new meaning.


Takeaway #1

How do you create a twist that is both unpredictable but probable? – Create an ambiguous relationship.

In archetypical forms, this is also called “The Shapeshifter”, a character who “serves the dramatic function of bringing doubt and suspense into the story” (Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey). The typical use includes a romantic interest that shifts from being a passionate lover to a hateful shrew or a villain who masks himself as a helper only to reveal his true nature.

But as it is “one of the most flexible archetypes”, try to find ways of using it in unusual ways. Edgar Wright turned it the other way round, shifting the villain to be the mentor.

To make the shift believable, you have to use at least one moment where it is foreshadowed. But make sure that in this very moment, your audience won’t fully understand the foreshadowing because of the circumstances or missing information. Only in the end, where the shift happens, can you reveal this moment in a different light and thus create the aha-experience.


2. Baby and the bad guys

But who exactly is the villain of the story?
Edgar Wright combines different techniques.

The first technique we talked about before, where he turns the main villain into the mentor who sacrifices his life.

The second worst opponent is clearly Bats, a crazy criminal who from the first moment on targets Baby, unable to understand his kind nature and love for music. We think he will be our biggest problem when – Baby suddenly kills him right at the beginning of the third act!

This killing works so perfectly because it is set up by Baby constantly staring at the truck in front of him, contemplating. But Bats, the seemingly most threatening villain, wouldn’t die this fast, would he? What an unexpected twist!

Then, there is Buddy. Also a criminal, but he seems more like a friend. He tries to understand Baby, protect him and share his love for music. It is he who turns out to be the worst and main villain.

How does it work? Because on several prior occasions, Wright made clear how mad this guy can become if something ever happens to his beloved Darling. As soon as she is killed, he turns into a monster.


Takeaway #2

Don’t make your story just about the conflict between good and evil, the hero and one villain. Instead, use the “4 corner opposition” described by John Truby in The Anatomy of Story.

Here is a great way it is explained in “Batman Begins”:

And while Nolan used one of the three opponents in every single act, Wright switched the role of the opponents in the third act completely.

Think of ways to create a strong 4 corner opposition for your story and bring in an unexpected twist.
While doing so, never forget the setup to make the twist believable. Make sure that you hint towards what could happen, as improbable as it might seem at first.


3. The Ending

When Buddy, the most dangerous villain, is finally defeated in the climax of the story, and Baby wakes up on a beautiful country road, listening to a song with Debora, it seems like a fairytale ending. Except that it’s not.

Police block the road ahead, and instead of trying to escape yet again, Baby suddenly decides to surrender. This is also still not the ending.

Because now, it’s time for the last payoff. All those simple nice moments where Baby helped the people around him during the robberies – a lady he warned not to enter the building, another lady whose bag he returned and apologized – had a function beyond mere acts of kindness to show Baby’s character. They were all set-ups. All those people testified in court to defend Baby, thus enabling a mild penalty for him.

When he is finally paroled after five years in prison and is free to live his life, this makes for an even better, unexpected ending.


Takeaway #3

This is one of the techniques that James Patterson explained in his class: in terms of ending, think about everything that could happen, and pick the most outrageous one that makes sense.

“Outrageous” meaning not what the audience would typically expect.

In order for it to still make sense, there has to be a setup. And the most beautiful setup moments are those not recognized as such because they serve more than one purpose.

Here, Wright used them to both reveal Baby’s character as well as set up the ending beautifully, placing bits and chunks throughout the story.

To add to the unexpected, make sure to mislead the audience, making them assume for a moment that this might be how the story could end before you throw in yet another twist.


4. One great theme

Music. This is what connects all the dots of the story.

The music connects Baby and Debora, makes his character unique and special, it flows throughout the whole movie and is even traced back to his Ghost – the terrible accident where he lost his mother.

According to the stunt supervisor, the gunfights were the hardest to shoot, because every gunshot had to correspond to the music of the scene. Every step had to be on time, every line had to be the same.


Takeaway #4

Find one theme to make your story special, and use it to the maximum.

We all have influences like Wright was influenced by “the Holy Trinity of 90s heist movies”: Heat, Point Break, and Reservoir Dogs. But he was not copying. Instead, he used elements of those movies and brought something unique to the table, combining heist movies with an extraordinary love for music. This is what original story writing ideas truly are: unusual combinations.

So whatever genre you are writing in – sci-fi, comedy, romance, thriller – and whoever your influences, make sure you always include an unexpected theme that makes your story differ from the others.

Baby Driver is a great piece of storytelling we can learn a lot from. Especially when it comes to the art of setup and payoff.

Here is a recap of the four techniques you can apply in your own story.

Visit movie theatres more often and watch the films mindfully, noticing what you can learn from the stories, whether bad or good. If you want to learn simple techniques that will take your movie watching skills to the next level, download this stylish exercise workbook. 

Hidden Content

How to write a bestseller by using the unfair advantage

You want to write a bestseller. Just admit it.

Don’t you put your hopes in every book, thinking: This might be it?

Don’t you yearn to crack the bestseller-code, discover that one formula that will get your books to the top?

I will let you down.

There is no formula.

If there was, everybody would write one. But wait! Don’t click away, disappointed with yet another useless article. There is one unfair advantage that bestselling authors have over others. And there is an unfair advantage over other writers I will give you right now on how to write a bestseller.


How to write a bestseller by answering one question

There is one question that will reveal your book’s bestseller potential. The question is: Why? 

Why do you write your story? Have you ever thought about this?

Whether you start writing or aspiring to write a fiction or non-fiction book, have you ever stopped to wonder: Why?

You could answer the question in countless ways, all of them legitimate: self-expression, passion, life experience, a strong argument …

But is there a right answer to this question? An answer that could turn your book from average into a bestseller?
Ted Dekker calls this answer “the unfair advantage”, an advantage that will take you to the bestseller list.


How to write a bestseller: the author’s journey

Dekker wrote his first two novels over the course of three years. He also rewrote both of them from scratch and got published two years and three novels later. His best work did not come to him right away.

He explains how he came to the realization of the “unfair advantage” and understood why the first versions of his two novels did not work and have been constantly rejected.

Now, he has written over 30 novels and sold over 10 million copies worldwide.

But what is his secret of success – this “unfair advantage” that apparently took him from writing average stories to climbing the bestseller list?

How to write a bestseller according to Ted Dekker


The principle of transformational fiction

Dekker argues that every story we write has to be about two different kinds of transformation.

#1 The transformation inside the character

Your main character starts out with a question he needs answered, a goal and a quest.

By the end of your book, he or she cannot stay the same. A deep-seated change has to occur inside of him – his outlook on life, his character, his decisions – not just on the outside of his world.

This principle is not new. Everybody is talking about the character arc, but do we really understand it?

“We cannot ask which is more important, structure or character, because structure is character; character is structure. They’re the same thing, and therefore one cannot be more important than the other.” – Robert McKee, Story

There is much to be considered when creating characters: goals, backstory, conflict, likeability, to name a few. It is easy to get lost in the details.

Transformation is a simple yet important principle to guide you. Your character’s outside transformation – his success or failure in reaching the goal – is the plot that forms the structure of your story. But beneath, there is another layer – the inner transformation. And both of them are neatly intertwined, even the same thing, as McKee puts it.

Your readers want their minds blown and their hearts touched while they embark on the journey with you. This can be accomplished by a clever plot, but the essence is still missing.

I never seem to remember movies like Mission Impossible or Jason Bourne in detail. Yes, there were some great action bits. A clever and surprising ending. But nothing stuck with me in the long run.

Bestsellers live from word of mouth. If you want your book recommended, your readers have to be invested with the characters even while they are not reading. They have to remember.

Inner transformation is the key. A shift of worldview. The fight of an inner wound and demon.

But this principle raises a tough question: How do you make the transformation real and believable without sounding preachy?

Dekker suggests an unusual solution.

A writer learns how to write a bestseller


#2 The transformation inside of you

Let’s come back to the question we asked in the beginning: Why do you write this story?

There is a right answer. One that will set you free from the pressure of being published, pleasing everybody, even the pressure of writing a bestseller (ironically).

There is a second transformation that needs to take place in your story.


You, the author, need to be transformed along with your own book.

Dekker always sets out to write his books with a problem he struggles with on a personal level. He dares to become very vulnerable in his stories. When he wrote “Water Walker”, he had an inner struggle on the issue of “healing”. While plotting and writing his book, he set out to find a solution; an answer for himself and his characters. He was transformed along with his characters.

You are the first reader of your book. The first one to live this adventure. The first one whose life might be changed along with the characters.

This is the key to authenticity, and ultimately, the way to write a bestseller. If you write to change your own life, the change will bleed onto the page.

Many authors refrain from a drastic transformation in their fiction because they are scared to sound preachy or intrusive. Think about McKee’s quote. True transformation is equal to story structure, so the only way to show authentic transformation is through action and plot. The underlying level to all of this is your own authentic quest for an answer.

Why do you write your story? To change your own life.

You will become the greatest beneficiary of your story. And the blood of your transformation that is captured on the pages will inevitably transform your reader.

How to write a bestseller according to Ted Dekker


How to write a bestseller using the unfair advantage

I was challenged when I heard about this unfair advantage, asking myself about my own transformational journey while writing my novel.

As a writer, you do much more than putting words on paper. You are an adventurer, philosopher, and you need to be unafraid to experience the world, meet people, and confront the issues of life.

Ask uncomfortable questions. Be bold. Be vulnerable, and your readers will pick up on that.

If you write to change your own life, the change will bleed onto the page. Click To Tweet

What is your take on the unfair advantage? Let me know in the comments below.

14 lessons from James Patterson’s masterclass

James Patterson’s palms are sweating.

It’s the Edgar award ceremony of 1977, the most prestigious awards in the genre.

The winner of the ‘best first mystery’ is about to be announced.

Patterson knows who is going to win. But up until his name resounds, he cannot believe it.

He walks up the stage with hesitant steps, and as he finally holds the award for a book that has been prior rejected by 31 publishers, he says:
“I guess I’m a writer now.”

James Patterson is an author whose books have sold more than 300 million copies. The first author to sell 1 million e-books, write 114 New York Times bestselling novels and hold The New York Times record for most #1 New York Times bestsellers by a single author, a total of 67, which is also a Guinness World Record.

But he also had to face rejection and insecurity.

I took James Patterson’s Masterclass and summed it up to 14 valuable lessons authors can learn from his knowledge of the craft and his method of story writing.

In the videos, James came across as a grounded person. Straightforward, warm. Family always comes first for him, the relationships at home have priority. The positive change has to start with your house, he argues. His proudest accomplishment yet is his son.

“I find things that I like, and I do them.” – James Patterson

There is one thing he knows: How to write a bestseller.


1. There are no new ideas

Essentially, completely new story writing ideas are rare or non-existent.

What we perceive as new ideas are new connections between different ideas that we have at some point seen or heard.

This means that instead, our mind combines the knowledge that nobody had combined before.

Take the film “Alien”. Do you know how it was pitched? As “Jaws in space”.

This means, the author had a certain love for “Jaws” or monster movies in general and some knowledge of spaceships and decided: why not combine it?

This is why Patterson argues: you need to increase your knowledge. If you have never seen certain movies, documentaries, read books on different ideas. Use travelling as a writer to places and learned of their history – how will you be able to combine lots of interesting topics into a new one?

Creativity originates when we learn about lots and lots of new things. We need to “have a big universe of stimulation”.

The more you know, the more you are likely to combine things into new ideas that are striking.

Have a big universe of stimulation. Click To Tweet


2. Everything needs to be in the outline

Before James Patterson sets out to write the first draft, he writes a very detailed and plotted outline.

Everything has to be in it: the character arcs, the villain, the set-ups and payoffs. He writes and rewrites his outline until he is happy with it.

Only then does he begin to write the actual book. In fact, Patterson considers the outline to be the book already. He aims for people to read it and say: What a terrific story! It should have tons of promise. The reader should go: I can’t wait to read the scenes! And you, the writer, will go: I can’t wait to write these chapters!

This makes the first draft a whole less daunting. You only face the blank page once – before outlining. Which is not very scary.

So for James Patterson, the outline is what makes the book. On the other hand, he states that during the course of the first draft and editing, it never stays the same with his books. Still, you should be able to read the outline and go: I get this book!


3. Freight train through the first draft

The next step for Patterson: sprint through the first draft.

Allow yourself to write badly, do not review or rewrite. As hard as it may be: Shut down the inner critic.

Also, give yourself permission to write TBD (to be done) on those scenes that frustrate you and you just can’t seem to get through. Skip them! Don’t torture yourself.

With some scenes, Patterson has TBD on them for several drafts until he finally gets them and is ready to write them out.


4. Just tell the story

Such a simple and powerful weapon: Just tell the damn story.

Don’t think about the sentences. Actually, don’t even write sentences. Write a story.

Writers often tend to get obsessed with language, pace, style. But the story puts all of it in perspective. Tell your story, and the rest will follow suit if you do it right.

Keep writing as though it was a movie in your head. Scene after scene after scene.

Just tell the story. Click To Tweet


5. Try to write every chapter as if it was the first

The first chapters always get a lot of attention. Which is not wrong, because they decide whether the readers abandon our book.

But James Patterson urges to write every chapter as if it was the first one.

Give every chapter value. Put a lot of attention to it. Make it count.

Don’t write a chapter that doesn’t propel the story. Everything you write has to move the story forward. Delete everything that readers would skip.

James Patterson encourages writers to not just set out to write a good story but set out to write a number 1 story.

Another interesting hack: If you’re smart, make the reader a woman. Women buy 70% of Patterson’s books.

Don't set out to write a good story, set out to write a #1 story. Click To Tweet


6. Put notes to yourself all the time

Patterson always writes notes to himself.

Not just negative notes and critique. He writes helpful notes, those that encourage and motivate, things he liked about his writing, scenes that he nailed.

But also those moments that need to be done in particular scenes, things that need to be changed and rewritten, added or deleted.


7. Learn to concentrate

Focus. You need to learn how to focus in every situation, on every occasion. This way, you will be a prolific author. You can use your focus skills to write in every situation, and use the time given to you: in airplanes, trains, busy cafés.

You need to be able to concentrate on your story writing. In a world where distraction is waiting on every corner, this is a skill we need to practice.

Concentration is essential in order to get into your story. You cannot write and watch a movie at the same time. Instead, you need to get into the scene, be aware of the character, and get into the flow of writing.


8. Write complex characters

When you write characters, you need to evoke feelings. Make the readers feel. You need to get the emotional part of the character right, make the readers like them, love them, and this will get you over the bumps in the specific story details that sometimes might be inaccurate.

Put yourself into the situation. You need to BE in that scene:
How do your characters see the world? You need to capture the complexity of the moments, their thoughts, their doubts.

Never make your characters flat or predictable. Show other sides of them. Make them round. A boxer might be ruthless when in the ring, but how is he when his daughter hugs him good night?

For the readers to never forget your characters, you need to create an intimate relationship. Make them know your characters, from the inside out.

Villains need to be clever and surprising. If the reader goes: “I didn’t see that coming.”, then it’s a good thing.


9. Everything you write should be moving the story and the sense of the character forward

Whatever you write in your story, dialogue, descriptions, action, it needs to move your story forward.

Every chapter should move the characterization and the story towards the climax because your writing is about story. If it isn’t, cut it out.


10. Have a movie projector in your head

You need to see, smell and be in the scene. Like a movie projector that you turn on every time you write. See it in front of your inner eye.

This is where the POV also comes in handy. Think about which POV would make the scene most interesting? What’s the best POV? What will make it come alive the best?

Use the senses to make the scene vibrant. Use sound. Also, always know what you want to happen emotionally in your scene or chapter.


11. Know your genre and what’s out there to avoid it

Writers should be readers.

Especially if you write genre, you need to know it. Not to imitate though. But to avoid it. To avoid writing something that’s already out there. To avoid repeating the mistakes others have made.

Instead, introduce something fresh and new, something that has not been written yet.


12. Give away your secret in pieces

Set up your story with questions that the reader MUST have answered. He just has to know.

But never make the outcome predictable! If your reader can predict it, he will feel disappointed, mocked.
Write in twists. Always stay open and try out things in your outline, things you wouldn’t have thought of in the beginning.

Keep thinking the unthinkable. Think about it, maybe don’t write it just now. But then once in a while, allow it.

Give the notion: Don’t assume anyone is safe. Everyone can be the target.


Set up your story with questions that the reader MUST have answered Click To Tweet

13. It’s a cat & mouse game

The ending has to be properly set up. Hints need to be placed everywhere. It should be an “aha” moment. But never give away hints that make the readers see the ending coming. Mislead them.
Be really aware of what you’re doing and how it affects the reader.

This is a cat & mouse game: Imagine sitting opposite your reader and not wanting them to get up before the ending. You have to be a better player than they are. You have to outwit them.

For the ending: Write down everything that could possibly happen. Then pick the most outrageous one of them that makes sense. The most outrageous one will be the best one.


14. Everything communicates

After your first draft, you should delete everything that is not on point. Even if you like it. Especially your dialogue will need an edit.

Break the edit down into parts and try to conquer one part at a time. Otherwise, it’s too overwhelming.

While editing, don’t allow yourself to think that you’re making mistakes because you have to keep fixing things. That’s how it works. And it’s good that you polish your writing.

Everything you write communicates to the reader.

Descriptions. Words. They will make a mental note and wait for a payoff. They’ll think that you included it for a reason.

You are the god of your universe, and the reader tries to make sense of that universe – so you better give it meaning.


You and the reader

I love this picture of me and the reader sitting in a room, playing the cat & mouse game. Of me trying to outwit him, to hook him, mislead and wow him.

It puts story writing into a whole new perspective: with the reader in mind. This notion forces me to also think about my ideal reader. For some, it may be a child, for others a woman, a teenager, or a mystery fan.

With James Patterson, novel writing suddenly becomes more than just self-expression. In fact, it seems that he always has the reader in mind when he starts writing. Might this be the secret to writing bestsellers?

In our distraction-filled world, it’s a challenge to hold the reader’s attention for several hundred pages. And whilst there are things we cannot control – a call, children coming home, water boiling – the challenge is to make our novels flow in a distraction-free way (no logical gaps, confusion, misconceptions), always pushing those questions that the reader just must have answered.





The art of portraying love

“To love at all is to be vulnerable.”

C. S. Lewis

As an artist, I always struggle between potraying and capturing love while trying to understand it on a personal level. But those two aspects are inexplicably intertwined. The more I know how to capture it, the more I understand. The more I understand, the more I am able to put it into pictures.

Nowadays, artists somehow flee from portraying love as an emotion on screen, because it is considered cheesy and frowned upon. Well, true it is, I also detest those cheesy moments where you are not moved but rather amused. But why is it? Because we fail to relate to those moments.

For years, love was portrayed in an unrealistic way, and deceived our expectations. But if we would portay it as what it is, we would create a deeper level of an artwork that is able to transcent into the human heart and touch lives. Here is what I found out.


1. Love cannot be put into words

The experience of loving has to be a picture – always, even if you write about it. Do not try to explain it or talk it down. It will always be superficial. It has to be an image rather then an explanation:

The ocean, wild and unpredictable. The untamed wind, the caressing sunrise.

I always choose outside pictures representing the inside.

For life, it means: rather then analyzing and thinking about it, experience it, soak it in, and live in it like mounting a boat and enjoying the journey. We tend to overthink, but it is always an experience.


2. Love is multilayered, wild and contradictory

Love makes no sense. Never try to simplify it in your artwork. Choose aspects that are unexpected: locations and music that seemingly do not fit together for example. Introduce movement, work with light in unexpected ways and let nature work for you. Sun, winds, anything that is wild and different will help.

For life, it means: Live out the unexpected. Make it an adventure by killing routine and trying to outiwt your partner every day. We are often struck in expectations that frustrate. Break them by acting differently today.


3. Love is personal

It’s always about people and portraying their individual relationship, be it a real couple or a fictional one. Every relationship is different, every person in it even more so. Try to find the essence and always make it personal. Give space for development.

Also, work with different forms of love, not only romantic couples. How deep a father’s love for his child can be! How tender a mother’s love for her daughter, or vice versa. Friends, siblings. Explore everything.

For life, it means: Do not compare. There is only one individual way for you, so while still learning from the experiences of others, find your own ways.


4. Love is the free choice to endure pain

“Why love if loosing hurts so much? We love to know that we are not alone.” – C. S. Lewis

Never portay love as a “happily-ever-after”. Because be honest now – has it ever been this way in your life? There are always those joyful moments, but there is also pain. We cannot escape it. Your work should reflect this.

To love, there is always a bittersweet aftertaste.

Still, do me a favour, do not make it dramatic either – umhumanly painful, tragic, tears and sobbing. Remeber: we make this decision freely, we choose to endure the pain, because it is still worth it. This fine balance is something you should always consider in your artwork.

For life, it means: Do not be surprised by pain. Do not let it throw you off track. You knew it was coming either way. Take it, because the it is worth the fight.

How was your experience portraying love in your artwork? Does it collide with life? Let me know in the comments section below.

Seeking progress is masochism (or the paradox of audience)

The lights are dimmed. The theater is nearly full. The title of the film appears, and my palms sweat.

It’s been 2,5 years since I’ve seen my film „Prometheus Rising“ on the big screen. Back then, I was proud. But this time … it hurt. I was not prepared for that. But the audience tells you everything – if you are just willing to listen.

Isn’t it so, that very often we make up ideas in our heads, and work on projects that we never show to audiences? An audience is truthful. It’s ruthless. It can make you, or break you.

Let me explain.

My film was accepted to be screened at the fantastic festival in Berlin, the „Genrenale“.

I’ve been part of the festival last year already when I pitched my TV series project „Nibelung“ to a professional jury and a large audience at the ARRI Genre Pitch.

So let’s talk about pitching first. Because this is your first attempt to win an audience.



1. Pitching is not bragging – it’s exercise!

It has been a very enlightening experience. Pitching is something a creative should always do. Pitch to your spouse, your friends, your parents. Don’t annoy everyone with your crazy ideas. But if they are eager to hear: pitch it!

Often, creatives are very secretive about their „ideas in progress“. Even if they’re asked specifically, they restrain from telling about the project. I know I do. But why?

Maybe I’m insecure about my ideas. Maybe I just feel like bragging. Maybe I’m afraid of a negative reaction to an idea that I hold so close to my heart and that contains a piece of me.

But no matter the reasons – it’s still a stupid strategy. We are creating for an audience, after all. We should be eager to hear their reaction to our projects. We should be ready to incorporate what they have to say, and also to get the word out about our work in progress.

So, what is a pitch? It’s a short summary of your work or idea. Make a particular emphasis on the word: short. Don’t go into the details here. Let your work speak for itself. Practice summing up your idea in 2 to 3 sentences, in a way that intrigues your audience, and makes them want to hear/see more.

Unless, of course, you are a pitching to producers. In this case, you should pitch your story idea from beginning to the very end. For them, this is not a teaser. They need to know the whole idea to understand if it works. Still, this shouldn’t keep you from making it as intriguing as possible.

Keeping it short is hard. Very often we as creators are so enveloped into our project that we lose sight of the big picture. This is why pitching is such a good exercise. It forces you to return to the basics of your idea; it helps you to think about the premise, and not to lose sight of what is important.

Having pitched your idea, pay particular attention to the reaction:

Have you made your idea clear, or is the person confused?

Can they relate to the topic? Do they look interested, or are they just faking interest?  Are they asking more questions? Have you intrigued them?

So – Pitching is practice! Pitch to as many people as you can. And if you ever get the opportunity to pitch to professionals, value it, and make the most of it.

Pitching my TV series idea in front of the professional jury was an invaluable experience. I got remarks and corrections that helped me shape the idea and change it into something unique.

But the criticism, in front of a large audience, it hurts. Because this is the truth about progress: Praise and approval caress the ego, but honest criticism is what will help you become a better creator.



2. Let your ego be whipped once in a while

So, let’s return to the movie theater in Berlin.

Once the ten painful minutes of my film were over, I realized that I have grown.

I saw the audience’s reaction with perfect clarity.

It dawned on me that while my film was visually compelling (the reason why it was probably accepted for the screening), the story could not make an impression. It was far too complicated for a short film and failed to create momentum. The audience did not react the way I wanted to.

Yes, it felt like whipping. What could be worse than having your audience laugh up their sleeves while you want them to burst into tears? I felt mocked. I felt whipped.

But at the same time, the realization that I knew WHY it did not work made me understand that I have grown. There were so many story moments where I was angry with myself for not having done them differently.

Two years have done by, and I realized the impact of learning the craft of storytelling. You never learn enough. You just grow with every single knowledge you acquire and implement.

So in a way, seeking progress is some kind of „masochism“, because outgrowing yourself is painful.

And while the audience can support us and tell us that we are on the right path, it can also destroy us if we failed. Your audience is merciless.

But mercy is not what you want, is it?

You want them to react honestly because you want to touch the deepest parts of their hearts. And how could you know if they faked interest or emotion? A whipped ego breaks us first but then makes us strive for more.



So again, remember:

  1. Exercise pitching!
  2. And let your ego be whipped by audiences once in a while

This is the way to grow your creative and storytelling skills!