Jim Denney’s WRITING IN OVERDRIVE: The Secrets to Writing Faster, Writing Freely, Writing Brilliantly, Now Revealed

From the Introduction to my new ebook, Writing in Overdrive: Write Faster, Write Freely, Write Brilliantly [Kindle Edition, estimated length 173 pages, available at Amazon.com for $2.99]

“If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn’t brood. I’d type a little faster.”  —Isaac Asimov. “In quickness is truth. … The more swiftly you write, the more honest you are.” —Ray Bradbury.

Writing in Overdrive by Jim Denney

Writing in Overdrive
by Jim Denney

Looking over my writing schedule, I see I’ve written one book per month for the past seven months. Those seven books were contracted with three different publishers, and all were delivered on deadline. Here’s the list:

• A 62,000-word book, November 2012.
• A 66,000-word book, December 2012.
• A 54,000-word book, January 2013.
• A 50,000-word book, February 2013.
• A 70,000-word book, March 2013.
• A 50,000-word book, April 2013.
• A 50,000-word book, May 2013.

I also wrote about half of this 40,000-word book in May, so add another 20,000 words, and you get a total of 422,000 words in seven months, an average of more than 60,000 words per month.

Full disclosure: These are all nonfiction books (which, for me, write faster than fiction), and they are all a bit on the slim side (I consider a full-sized book to be 80,000 words or longer). Even so, I think this output establishes my bona fides as a writer who can speak with authority on the subject of “writing in overdrive.”

Have I always been a fast writer? Absolutely not! I’ve been writing fulltime since 1989, and for much of my career my annual writing output was probably less than a third of what I produce today.

The turning point came in 2001, when I submitted a fiction proposal to a major publishing house. After considering my proposal for several months, the acquisition editor reported back. “We’ve got good news and bad news,” she said. “The good news is we want to publish your book. In fact, we’re offering you a four-book deal.”

That wasn’t just good news, that was four times more good news than I dared hope for. How bad could the bad news be?

Well, pretty bad, as it turned out. For starters, the advance the publisher offered was modest, to put it charitably. And the deadline was simply insane — they wanted me to write four books in four months. Worst of all, the contract contained a $100-per-day penalty for late delivery.

I didn’t have an agent at the time. I did my own negotiating — something I do not recommend and would never do again. But I can be a tough negotiator when I need to be.

The publisher wouldn’t budge on money, but did agree to move the deadline out an additional two months. I tried to remove the $100-a-day late delivery penalty. “It’s hard to be creative,” I said, “with a gun pointed at my wallet.” When the publishing house insisted on keeping the penalty in the contract, I asked for a 30-day grace period before the penalty kicked in — and the publisher agreed.

I had negotiated a contract I could live with — just barely. But even with the deadline extensions and concessions I had gotten, it was going to be tight. In the end, I delivered Book 1 ahead of deadline, Book 2 right on deadline, Book 3 two weeks late, and Book 4 almost a month late. But I stayed within the grace period, and I didn’t incur the $100-a-day penalty.

In the process I learned I could write much faster than I ever dreamed possible — and I could do so without sacrificing quality. In fact, writing under intense deadline pressure was actually liberating, because it forced me to free up my imagination and intuition and write faster than I had ever written before. Those four books seemed to pour out onto the page in a burst of uninhibited creativity. I believe the books are actually better than they might have been if I’d had more time to analyze what I was writing.

It’s a paradox but it’s true: The faster you write, the better you write.

Since that time, I’ve made an intense study of the creative process. I’ve explored every technique and technology for writing faster, writing freely, shedding inhibitions, stifling the inner critic, and writing “in the zone.” My study has confirmed what my own experience suggested: writing in overdrive produces more powerful writing. I discovered that the writers I admire most — Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, John Steinbeck, Raymond Chandler — always wrote their first drafts with remarkable speed.

If you want to write more quickly, freely, and creatively, this book will show you how. It will transform the way you write almost immediately. My goal is to give you the tools to improve your writing skills right now.

I call this book Writing in Overdrive for a very good reason. In automotive terms, an overdrive is a mechanism of the transmission that allows a car to sustain a high rate of speed at a reduced engine RPM. The ability to cruise in overdrive enables a car to go farther on a gallon of gasoline, and to work less hard, causing less engine wear.

In the same way, a writer cruising in overdrive is able write faster, write longer, and be more productive while working less hard. In this book, I’ll give you the steps and principles you need to write in overdrive every day. I will show you:

• How to write so fast you’ll have no time for self-doubt.
• How to organize your time and workspace to be more productive.
• How to set ambitious yet attainable goals.
• How writing badly enables you to write brilliantly.
• How to overcome your inner resistance to writing daily.
• How to finish what you start.
• How to prepare yourself to write “in the zone.”
• How to tap into the power of your unconscious mind.
• How to write freely and fearlessly.
• How to use “writing rituals” to prepare yourself to write.
• How to be aware and focused yet relaxed as you write.
• How to be undistractible when surrounded by distractions.
• How to use technology to be more creative and productive.
• How to get the most out of NaNoWriMo.
• How to overcome writer’s block.

Chapter by chapter, as you go through this book, you’ll acquire skills you can instantly road-test on your current work-in-progress — and I’ll share stories from my own experience and from the lives of other successful writers to show you how these principles apply in real-life writing situations. The tools and insights in this book will enable you to write with greater speed, confidence, and mastery, whether in traditional publishing or the indie publishing world.

I wish you joy, success, and astounding speed on your writing journey.


Work Hard at Your Writing—But No Harder Than You Have To

[NOTE: The following is an excerpt from my forthcoming book Writing in Overdrive: Write Faster, Write Freely, Write Brilliantly. —J.D.]

Some years ago, a publisher offered me a two-book contract to write the text for a pair of lavishly illustrated books. The acquisition editor gave me a stack of similar books his company had already published. Looking through the stack, I gauged each book to be about 15,000 words in length. Yet he told me he needed about 35,000 words per book. “Are you sure?” I said. “That seems long.” He assured me that was the number.

I wrote the first book and sent the manuscript in to the managing editor (the acquisition editor had moved on to another publishing house). I had hit the assigned word count practically on the nose — 34,800 words. The managing editor read the manuscript, then emailed me: “The book looks great, Jim. Only problem is it’s way too long. We need you to cut the book down to about 18,000 words.”

I groaned. Relying on the assurances from the acquisition editor, I had written twice as much text as I should have. I spent additional days cutting text I never should have written in the first place, first cutting entire chapters, then sculpting the text paragraph by paragraph, sentence by sentence, and word by word. I left half the book on the cutting room floor — but it was a learning experience.

When I began the second book, I slashed the amount of research I did, I wrote 18,000 words, and stopped — done. Most important of all, the second book was better written than the first because it didn’t need to be trimmed with a chainsaw.

The moral of the story: Work hard at your writing, but don’t work harder than you have to. Improve the quality of your writing by eliminating unnecessary work.

The RWR Author Interview with Jim Denney

Here’s a short excerpt:

What are the advantages and disadvantages of writing for a living?

The biggest advantage is the commute. It’s a fifteen-second stroll from my bedroom to my office. Of course, people who enjoy commuting can also be writers. I have a friend who writes crime thrillers, and does all his writing on his laptop at Starbucks. But I prefer to make my own coffee (brewed to a consistency somewhere between crude oil and hot tar). And I prefer solitude when I write.

Disadvantages? Well, the obvious one is cash flow. It’s tough, especially in the early years of a fulltime writing career, to keep money in the pipeline. Your bills come due like clockwork, but advances and royalty checks are spaced months apart. Writing for a living requires a high tolerance for insecurity and uncertainty. On the other hand, if you happen to write a bestseller, there’s no limit to what you can earn.

In the rest of the interview, Jim Denney talks about outlining versus “seat of the pants” writing, the challenges of writing for young readers, where ideas come from, and more. Read the entire interview with author Jim Denney at Random Writing Rants.

Writing and the Goal of Financial Success

“If [financial success] came early enough and you
loved life as much as you loved your work,
it would take much character to resist the temptations.
Once writing has become your major vice and
greatest pleasure, only death can stop it. Financial security
then is a great help as it keeps you from worrying.
Worry destroys the ability to write.”
—Ernest Hemingway

This article is an excerpt from QUIT YOUR DAY JOB, a sound, strategic plan for building your career as a full-time writer. Author Jim Denney has been a full-time, self-employed writer since 1989.

In 1920, Aldous Huxley was a struggling, unknown writer. He eked out a living writing reviews for the Athenaeum and the Westminster Gazette. The pittance he earned allowed him to barely support his wife and child. They lived in a spartan coldwater flat in Hampstead, living on canned soup and boiled potatoes. Discouraged, Huxley wrote his father, “There is nothing but a commercial success that can free one from this deadly hustle.”

Two years later, Huxley’s first novel, Crome Yellow, was published and met with critical praise and modest commercial success: 2,500 copies sold the first year. Those may be dismal numbers by today’s standards, but they were solidly respectable sales for the time, and Huxley was delighted. After several years of the “deadly hustle” of writing articles and reviews, the 28-year-old writer had achieved success. He moved his family from the Hampstead flat to a comfortable home in Kensington. He quit his day job at the magazine and became a full-time working writer, devoting his time and energy to his novels, including Eyeless in Gaza and Brave New World.

I know exactly what Huxley meant when he talked about the “deadly hustle.” You probably do, too. But with persistence, planning, and hard work, you can achieve the success that will bring an end to the hustle. You can achieve the dream of becoming a writer on your own terms, writing the books you want to write, commanding huge advances, collecting obscene royalties. In time, you’ll look back and know that the struggles and lean times were worth it.

From QUIT YOUR DAY JOB by Jim Denney. Available in trade paperback and as a Kindle ebook from Amazon.com.

The Last Published Words of Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury is one of the principal reasons I’m a writer today. Before his death in June 2012, Bradbury dictated an essay to his biographer, Sam Weller, for publication as the introduction to The Best American NonRequired Reading of 2012. That essay, an encomium to libraries, books, and reading, will stand as Bradbury’s last words for publication. Here’s an excerpt:

When I was seven years old, I started going to the library and I took out ten books a week. The librarian looked at me and asked, “What are you doing?”

I said, “What do you mean?”

And she said, “You can’t possibly read all of those before they are due back.”

I said, “Yes, I can.”

And I came back the next week for ten more books.

In doing so, I told that librarian, politely, to get out of my way and let me happen. That’s what books do. They are the building blocks, the DNA, if you will, of you.

Read the complete essay at Huffington Post Books, “The Book and the Butterfly.”

God bless Ray Bradbury, and God bless his friend and biographer, Sam Weller.