Big takeaways: Look, plan, commit
We all have dreams of writing a book and seeing our names in print. But we often lead busy lives that can get in the way of our dreams. In the short eBook “The Busy Busy Author”, A. Dennis Davies shows us how to seize the small opportunities each day to write. Whether or not he realizes, Davies offers a strategy to design the writing of a book into our lives.
So why would I even read this book by this particular author? As a researcher, I was trained to be careful of the sources I read. And I am careful of who I take advice from. A. Dennis Davies is a novelist with 6 fiction books under his belt. He is a self-published author and two of his books have at least 75 reviews. So he has written and published multiple times already.
But this is not what really makes him special. In his book he claims to have written over 80,000 words in one month twice. 87,000 words in June 2015 in 23 days. And 93,810 words in November 2015. He did this while holding down a 9-5 job and keeping up with his family of two kids and a wife who works shift as a nurse.
He is modest in saying that there are other authors such as Mat Morris who have written 50,000 words in 24 hours. But most of us are not like Mat Morris. We aim to be like the A. Dennis Davies in this world where we can get our writing done during a normal day.
Davies claims that you can reach the word count not from writing binges but by doing three things: Look, Plan, Commit (Write). I added the “(Write)” to clarify what he means by committing.
- Look for opportunities to write. There are 10-25 minute chunks available to us amidst our normal daily schedules. Davies looked for opportunities to write before leaving the house, during his train commute, during his work and lunch breaks, on evenings, staying in work late two evenings before going home, and after putting kids to bed.
- Plan for those opportunities. Have a clear idea of what you will write next. Davies ability to put out the words daily is hinged on having a clear idea of what he is writing and where his novel is going. He is a plotter. He outlines his books prior to writing. He uses an outline to prevent plot holes and to have reduced time frame for editing afterwards. Plot holes leads to more time on editing.
- Commit (Write) to those opportunities. Adhere to your writing sessions. Seize the opportunities to write because some days you might just not be able to. Discipline yourself to write during your daily sessions. Get the words onto paper and you will see the incremental gains daily.
As proof that his method works (at least for him), Davies includes his daily diary for November 2015. Each day he planned his sprints with his current schedule and states what he actually accomplished. I read through this diary and he makes a solid case for how you can build writing into your life. His days seem to be a typical person’s day with a 9-5 job and with a family. What I like about his diary is that he is still able to maintain a healthy relationship with his wife and kids. And no, I don’t think he made up the diary. There are enough day-to-day variations throughout the one month diary that is difficult to make up.
So, should you read this book? Yes, definitely. Do so especially for the diary. Here is a man who practices what he preaches.
(The following sub-headings are my own, not Davies)
1. Plan your story beats before starting to write
Davies objective was to write quality words efficiently. He had no intention of spending excessive time on editing the book of plot holes. So he outlines. The reason for an outline is so that you don’t run out of ideas. Writing the beats removes guessing where the story is going. That is figured out beforehand so you get to focus on the story, the dialogue and details to drive the story.
Plan out your chapters and the ideas for each chapter as well as for each scene. Each chapter gets a goal and a one-sentence headline summary.
Each scene or beat has a goal and is outlined in a sentence. Each chapter has a specific goal. Davies asks if the character achieved the goal with “Yes, s/he did, but…” or “No, s/he didn’t and …” to drive the story. The last chapter should answer the character achieved the final goal and lived happily ever after. Outlining takes one week.
2. Motivation to write
One of his motivations for writing fast in one month is not a deadline to publish but because he wanted the book out in public as fast as possible. He admits to not being very patient.
3. Don’t go at it alone
Another motivating factor is Nanowrimo or Junowrimo when other writers are attempting the same goals of 50,000 words. A community helps people not feel alone in what they do.
4. Reality check
Few authors make money off one book. For authors to get maximum visibility they have to publish multiple books, series and sequels. So authors have to learn to release as many completed works as fast as they can to achieve some success. “Write good books, make them professional, publish often.”
5. Build your discipline
Davies stresses discipline and adhering to the writing sessions. That aspiring authors don’t have the time as full-time authors to mull over anything. Aspiring authors have to maintain discipline. He refers to one of Stephen King’s quotes:
“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work”. – Stephen King, On Writing.
“Writing…is like a muscle. The more you flex it, the stronger it becomes”. A. Davies.
Each session brings incremental gains towards your writing goals. Do not let not liking a disciplined writing approach to keep you from writing. Start with 30 minutes during your lunch break. Or your 20 minutes work break. Davies says
“The key is to stop being an emotional writer and to become a disciplined writer.”
6. Personal accountability
Davies second time at writing over 80,000 words in one month he decided to keep a journal and record his daily progress. Davies tracked his word count for each working session and kept a day-to-day note of the number of words written for the first time round. Davies recorded the number of minutes spent on actually writing, total number of words written, the cumulative number of words and average word count per hour. I can see why he got pumped. Just seeing your total word count go up each day is motivating.
7. Writing sprints
Writing in sprints helps in knocking out a first draft. Davies uses the pomodoro method for writing 20-25 minute sprint followed by 5 minute breaks.
Four hours available does not equate 4 hours of work. Use the pomodoro method and record word counts. Do not write for a solid 50 minutes. Write 25 minutes, break for 5, then write 20 – 25 minutes. After 4 bursts, take a longer break of 15 minutes. We all write better when we fell well-rested. Breaks are to reduce mental and physical tiredness. Davies noticed that he starts to slow down by 40 minutes in and his wrists are aching. We lose speed without noticing. Do not push yourself harder. Use the pomodoro method to become more efficient. In a 15 minute session you can get one page written.
8. Consider your normal schedule
Davies finds the weekends more unpredictable. His wife often works weekends so he does not have much time on weekends for writing. If his wife is not working, at best, he is able to block two hours on Saturday morning and three hours in the afternoon. 6-8 hours of writing each free day using the Pomodoro method. During the month that he kept the log, Davies also exercised three times a week, helped a friend move house, spent father’s day with the family, received visiting friends, and visited his brother in another county. His method of 15-25 minute sprints can be incorporated into your life.
“If you have no kids, no sick relative to care for, no big responsibilities (whatever they may be), and you do not work seven days a week, you honestly have no excuses.”
9. A common myth that Davies debunk
That it takes a year to write a book. Davies contends that the traditional publishing route says this but that you can find anomalies even in traditional publishing – e.g. James Patterson. That you can write a novel in a month. Actually a month and a week. He spent one week on plotting before writing. And the outline had about 6,000 words for JuNoWriMo and (15K in outlining and plotting in November 2015) before he even started. And he refers to people who have written 50,000 word novels in 24 hours such as Matt Morris.
10. His method: Look, plan, commit
Davies method can be boiled down to three words: Look, Plan, Commit (Write).
- Look for opportunities to write.
- Plan for those opportunities.
- Commit(Write) to those opportunities.
By following this method, you can boost your writing word count.
11. Opportunities to write
Each 10-25 minute session is an opportunity to write. Each writing session will bring incremental gains.
“Once you grasp those moments to write, no matter how brief, just WRITE. Get those words down, and do not stop until that short window closes.” – A. Dennis Davies
Yes, always committing to writing in all opportunities is hard so start with an experiment for just one month.
“It is just for one month.” – A. Dennis Davies
12. Practice putting words on paper
Davies advocates sourcing writing prompts online and use the prompts to practice writing in sprint. Set your timer for five minutes and write as fast as you can. To write what you visualize.
13. Eliminate distractions
Do not try watching TV on the side while you are trying to knock words out. Monitor your behavior. Writing for 10 minutes and then surfing the web for 20 minutes. Discipline yourself to eliminate time thieves. To help limit internet distractions, use programs such as FreedomApp and Cold Turkey. Eliminate distractions that are within your control.
14. Have your resources handy
One of Davies’ big takeaway is to be prepared to write. Look for the opportunities, plan your writing and commit to writing by actually writing.
Be prepared to write. Ensure your laptop is ready and don’t waste the opportunities by watching TV. As soon as the opportunity present itself, you should be ready to write within 5 minutes.
15. Dictation – another way to try writing
Davies wrote 87,000 words for June 2015 using keyboard. In November he experimented with dictation. He found the Dragon software 95% accurate and his average hourly rate is higher with dictation than typing. Try the software. If there are too many dictated mistakes then you may be better off typing so that you have less errors to fix.
16. Practice self-compassion and recommit when you don’t stick to the schedule
Fifty percent of his book is his November 2015 writing journal. We get to see even Davies initially did not work to rule occasionally (two days). He used his journal to motivate himself and recommit to his goal. He talks about when and where he wrote and the statistics he recorded each day. We see those days when he was elated with his word count and days he was not.
17. Other resources
Davies also refers to
- Rachel Aaron’s “2K to 10 K: Writing faster, writing better, and writing more of what you love” and
- Stephen King’s “On Writing.”