Dan Brown has written 10+ books, most of which went on to become bestsellers, some of them even being made into movies by Hollywood — such as the famous “The Da Vinci Code.” His thriller novels have sold over 200 million copies around the world, making him undoubtedly one of the best writers who ever lived.
However, what many readers don’t know is that Dan Brown is not what one would call a “prolific writer.” For instance, writers such as Agatha Christie have written at least 74 novels, sometimes publishing more than a book per year.
In cntrast, Dan Brown takes years to write his books and often struggles with writer’s block. In that way, he is more relatable to aspiring authors who often don’t know what to write about. Brown has cultivated several habits that helped him to write bestsellers and overcome writer’s block.
Have you ever heard of neuro-linguistic programming? It’s a concept of human psychology that Tony Robbins uses in his own life as well as to help others. It deals with ‘anchoring’ and is commonly taught at self-help seminars. But did you know that author Dan Brown has unknowingly used this technique for years to help him with writing?
First of all, what is anchoring?
Anchoring means to link a certain emotional state to something physical. Your mind forms synapses that remember what you see, feel, hear, etc. Whenever you feel something that you’ve felt before, those neural pathways become stronger. Your mind not only uses this to remember things but also to deliver information to your conscious mind. According to NLP, if you are in a certain place, experiencing certain smells, hearing certain things, touching certain objects, then you can learn to also experience a certain emotion every time you are in that place.
In other words, any place where you’ve had good inspiration before is a place where it’s easier to tap into it again.
More or less the only thing that Dan Brown is religious about is the place at which he writes every day. According to him, if you are suffering from writer’s block then you should find a place in your home (or a library) without distractions and write in the exact same spot for at least 7 days in a row. You should also write at the same times each day. This habituates your mind with the process of being inspired and writing. It helps you to ‘anchor’ the feeling of inspiration to certain physical stimuli — in this case, sitting at your desk.
That’s how he was able to crank out multiple bestselling novels. So if he’s not too good to do this, then are any of us?
You may have already known that as a writer of articles, books, poems, it is your duty to research your subject matter. That’s true and very important, according to Dan Brown. However, it is also very important for you to read the so-called ‘classics.’ This means anything from Shakespeare, Lev Tolstoy — especially “Anna Karenina.” “The Three Musketeers” by Alexandre Dumas is also something that is inexcusable not to have read. There are many books you can choose from.
Although ‘classics’ is a loose term that can be arbitrarily applied to a smorgasbord of books, the general rule of thumb is that a classic is any piece of literature that has stood the test of time and passed it with flying colors.
“I’ve read a lot of the classics, where issues of plot and description are well crafted” — Dan Brown said in an interview.
He further claimed that the success of his books is due to their many twists and turns in the storylines. If you think about it, the old books that we are still reading today must have had amazing storylines and interesting plot twists if they have enjoyed such long-lasting popularity. Brown read them and took notes. He thought there are certain things that humans inherently like to read about vis a vis controversy or emotional turmoil and he was right. His books play on our heartstrings in ways similar to how older works did. Hence, reading the classics is also part of your homework.
In order to become like the greats, you should first read the greats. It seems simple enough to me.
I’m about to tell you something that I’ve never told anyone before — a secret. Am I really? No, but chances are that just made you excited. Telling someone a bit of information that they are expecting produces a certain response, telling them something they didn’t know produces another, and letting them know about a great big secret that will only be revealed at the end makes them very excited.
“Brown has stated before in interviews that secrets are the key to reeling in curious readers. He doesn’t only include secrets such as complicated codes his protagonists need to crack. He also includes an air of secrecy in external elements. The cover of his novel Inferno was published with a secret hidden in the book cover artwork which you had to use an official app to reveal.” — nownovel.com
Secrets are the lifeblood of any good thriller; you don’t need me to tell you that. But there is a difference between having unforeseen events in a book and playing them off as secrets. Add a secretive air to whatever plot twists you have going on.
Have you written something that has the perfectly constructed antagonist? Is he/she/them the evilest of them all? Well, according to Dan Brown, most people can’t relate to true evil.
For the purpose of this article, I will define ‘evil’ as something similar to a psychopath — a person with no empathy that is keen on harming others. Now, think about this: In popular culture, who are our favorite psychopaths? Dexter Morgan comes to mind. It is almost unrealistic how much Dexter cares about his wife’s kids and his family, and how much emotional turmoil he experiences when accidentally killing someone who was innocent. He only kills bad people. This makes him the most obvious “morally gray” character in recent popular culture and one of the world’s favorite evil men.
In Dan Brown’s books, he employs similarly morally gray characters and storylines. Without trying to spoil anything for readers, I will say that often in Dan Brown’s books the baddie will have done what he/she did for love or for religious reasons. They were never just plain evil.
Before writing the book “Digital Fortress,” Brown actually spoke to NSA agents and was informed that the government was listening to our phone calls and reading our mail way before the Edward Snowden debacle. Whether or not breaches of privacy and citizen’s rights were appropriate for our national security apparently made for a good morally gray area to write about. Digital Fortress — although a fictional thriller — sold 80 million copies.
“A morally gray area like this one is perfect for generating conflict between characters” — masterclass.com in relation to Digital Fortress.
Ain’t nobody said that writing was easy. However, while sitting at your own desk, it can easily seem as if other writers are confident in themselves and find it easy to come up with good ideas to write about. No. According to the internationally-acclaimed author Dan Brown, that’s just not the case for any writer. We all experience self-doubt at some point.
“Writing a novel is an enormous undertaking, and self-doubt will be part of that process. There will be days you just don’t know if you can do it. And on those days what is gonna save you is your process. Your ritual. So if you’re just starting to write a novel, go create that process, go create that ritual. And if you are in the middle of a novel right now, re-commit to that ritual.” — Dan Brown
One of the more commonly ignored elements of writing any story is the concept of time. Most writers will use time as a backdrop, for example, “The year was 1976,” or, “The next day she went to the market.”
But really good writers use deadlines and add a sense of urgency to the passing of time. People feel the urgency in your story and th