In this podcast Daniel Willcocks talks about Hawk & Cleaver’s The Other Stories Podcast, collaborations, plotting vs. pantsing, and much more.
About Daniel Willcocks
Daniel Willcocks is an international bestselling author and award-winning podcaster of dark fiction. He is an author coach, founder and CEO of Activated Authors; one-fifth of digital story studio, Hawk & Cleaver; co-founder of fiction podcast, The Other Stories; CEO of horror imprint, Devil’s Rock Publishing; host of the Activated Authors podcast; and the co-host of the Next Level Authors podcast.
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One Hand to Hold, One Hand to Carve by M.Shaw
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The Girl in the Video by Michael David Wilson, narrated by RJ Bayley
Michael David Wilson 0:28
Welcome to This Is Horror, a podcast for readers, writers and creators. I'm Michael David Wilson, and every episode alongside my co host, Bob Pastorella. We chat with masters of horror, about writing, life lessons, creativity, and much more. Now, today's guest is Daniel Willcocks. He is a writer, he is an entrepreneur, he's a podcaster. And this is the second part of our conversation. But as with all of these, you can listen in any order. So by all means, listen to this now, and then go back to the previous episode 433 When you're done. Now, in this part, we have a little bit of a back and forth on plotting and pantsing discussing the differences. In fact, in my approach, Dan's approach and Bob's approach. He wants to talk about the amazing award winning podcast, Hawking Cleaver, and the other stories, and we get into some of your Patreon questions, so plenty to look forward to. But before any of that, a little bit of an advert break.
Bob Pastorella 1:49
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RJ Bayley 2:24
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Bob Pastorella 2:33
From the creator of This Is Horror comes a new nightmare for the digital age. The girl in the video by Michael David Wilson, after a teacher receives a weirdly rousing video, his life to send to the paranoia and obsession. More videos follow each containing information no stranger could possibly know. But who's sending them and what do they want? The answers may destroy everything and everyone he loves. The girl in the video is the ring meets fatal attraction for iPhone generation. Available now in paperback ebook and audio.
Michael David Wilson 3:02
Okay, well, with that said, Here it is. It's part two, with Daniel Willcocks on This Is Horror. Well, I know that we spoke about this affair, Dan, but I need to ask, how many books did you write last year?
Daniel Willcocks 3:23
So I think so 2021. It was either 16 or 17. And then 2020 was 26.
Michael David Wilson 3:33
Yeah. And that's a lot of damn books, man, is a lot of books. And I mean, I know that ghost writing, you've said that you can write a lot faster than your original fiction. So yes, I'd love to know like a little bit about that. I want to know what the writing routine looks like when you go through writing what it looks like when you're working on your own original work. And I'd also be curious to know, you know, in a typical hour, as a ghost writer, how many words can you churn out? And equally, what are we looking at with your own fiction? So a little compare and contrast exercise for you there?
Daniel Willcocks 4:27
Yeah, I mean, so, I mean, in terms of output, it's not too far off. I think that my own work. So just to set the table so with ghostwriting, it depends obviously how, how it works out and who you're working with, but sometimes, you know, you'll have four chapter outlines. So there's really not a great deal of additional thinking needed because you've already been told what needs to happen. You've just got to expand on it and and sort of turn it into much more of a novel format rather than just general notes. Sometimes you get very sort of have minimal outlines, and there is a bit more creative juice needed to try and accomplish what it is that they want. Because, you know, sometimes, some of the reasons that people hire ghost writers is to bring to life something in a way that they aren't yet able to do, they might not have time to write the book where they have the ideas of what they want to happen. Because there's this real sort of mix of sometimes animosity towards people who hire ghost writers, because it feels like you're shaming a writer out of, you know, the credit for the work they're doing. But ultimately, it depends on like, the ghost writer always also has the choice to go straight or not. So don't go into the business if you want all the glory, because that doesn't happen. And a lot of those books that I have written are ghost written books. So they're out there, they're doing awesome things. And like, I can see them in the charts and you know, with stars and external reviews, but no one no one will know that it was me that write them. But yeah, I so I'd say that the output wise, I, if I'm writing, I can tend to get anywhere from 2000 to 3000 words an hour. If I'm solidly writing most often, it's sort of averages at about maybe 1500 to 1000 words an hour. Because I take breaks, and I work in sort of 20 minute sprints, using the Pomodoro Technique to get my work in. Yeah, classic. Yeah, what I've also learned over the last few months is if I dictate a book, and so you know, speak it, that rises dramatically, you can get an easy five 6000 words in an hour by dictating it.
Michael David Wilson 6:35
Yeah, well, where are you using?
Daniel Willcocks 6:38
So I have a Google Pixel six, which I bought specifically, because it's sort of one of the later ones with in terms of sort of voice to text. But what I discovered was that so many AI transcribers that are out there. So otter.ai is one of them. I'm trying to think a few others, but a very big one. Yeah. A lot those programs. They're good. But I'd argue you probably get maybe about 85 90%
Michael David Wilson 7:06
efficiency at best. Yeah, I think that's right.
Daniel Willcocks 7:09
Yeah. Which leaves quite a lot of editing to be done. So I ended up seeking out a transcriber. And I went through a few sort of different tests with transcribers to see how accurate they came back. And obviously, like, it's, I tried to bear in mind the cost because, you know, you get paid to ghost right into, you know, when you do get royalties and stuff. And it's like, well, how do you? How do you justify the expense and ended up sort of working with a transcriber That was fantastic for the money that she costs. And she was just blew my expectations away, because most transcribers will just literally convert voice into text, no grammar, no punctuation, no styling, just a big wall of text. And this transcriber clearly had some kind of background in creative writing, because she found the sort of where paragraphs should be she added dialogues, inverted commas, and all the different punctuation that I needed. And it wasn't because sometimes when you dictate, you have to say, you know, he walked in the shops, period. But that slows you down this, I mean, that there's a whole conversation you could have on dictation, like, it's definitely been a hell of a learning process. But that to say that, you know, with with five to 6000 words, being an output per hour, is worth bearing in mind that that's per finished hour. So again, that doesn't include breaks. And then I write with my fingers, very, very clean drafts, especially at this point. And so I don't have clean drafts with dictation, which even though you get in higher word counts, you then have to add in editing time and transcribing time. And, you know, it's, there's always there's always something behind the numbers. But yeah, I tend to, I do tend to get sort of consistently between 15 102,000 words, I try at the minute to aim for about four or 5000 words a day on particular projects. And that will vary depending on deadlines on how much money I want to make, because ghost writing is very much you get paid per word. So you're kind of very much in control to a point of when you earn and how fast you earn. But yeah, there is there is a bit of difference between the ghostwritten books and sort of your own books. And, as you say, like we spoke a little bit about this off air. But the main, the main difference being that, you know, there's, there's a certain hands off tone to ghost writing, obviously, you have to emulate voice, you have to try and deliver what it is that the client wants. But there is it feels easier to write because, ultimately, and again, this, this varies depending on who you work with. But the people I work with, they have a very, very strong editing team. So you know, I write the story, and then I hand it over, and I trust that the editors are going to do what they need to do. So there's, you don't sort of worry about every single word as you're writing you just you know, is this are we hitting are the characters realistic? Does the dialogue sound natural? Is it in the voice and the style of the person that you're trying to write for. And once you kind of get into their voice in their head, which does take a bit of getting used to, it's definitely one of those, it takes a bit a while to a bit of time to ramp up and get to the point where you're more fluid in that style. But once you get into that style, you can kind of breeze along. And then the difference between that and my own fiction is that with each of my new fiction pieces, I try to do something different. So it's not me getting into the voice of Daniel Willcocks, because I already obviously I have a voice anyway in my writing. But I really try and do something different to my last one. So there is a bit more conscious thoughts in paying attention to what I'm writing, the subject matter, sort of word usage, all that kind of stuff. But I would argue that first drafts especially are very, very similar in terms of word counts, because the way that I work, and the way that I try and preach to other people to work, is just write the first draft. Because once you have the first draft down, you know what the story is, and then you can fix it. And you can add all of the ones that you want to add. But what I see a lot of from writers is, and I love the agreement from Bob.
What I see a lot with writers of all levels even now is they'll write chapters 123, because they're on a roll. And then they'll stop and go, Oh, let me tweak chapter one, oh, that means I then have to tweak chapter two, I K, now I have to tweak chapter three, or I'm on chapter 450. But I want to, I know I need to go back. And because that now doesn't make sense with this. And it's that kind of two steps forward and three steps back of writing, that really slows lots of writers down. And there's a writer in my activated authors group who spent 10 years spinning the wheels on the first 50,000 words of his novel, came into the group around August last year, joined him with Nano and now has under 50,000 words of a finished novel that he can edit and put together and actually like look at critically to work out how, how to make the story better. So I definitely live by that process of I will just write the story. Like sometimes bits feel a bit shit, sometimes bits feel awesome. But I will just get to the end. Because once I get to the end, I know what the story is.
Michael David Wilson 12:26
Right, where you've now got something that you can actually work with because even 85% finished perfect draft is nothing. You can't sell it. But 100% finished now you've got something you can do stuff with. So yeah, it is important to, to finish your first draft to see it through. Because I mean, there's been a number of projects as well, where I've been tempted to shelve it or to give up but then, you know, once I actually finish it, it's like, okay, now I can see what I can do with it. So I think just
Daniel Willcocks 13:08
Michael David Wilson 13:12
Yeah, I think you want to see it through, much like we were talking about before, you know, seeing anything through you kind of need that answer. But you can't really say, Oh, this doesn't work when you don't have to complete project.
Bob Pastorella 13:31
No, I think a lot of people get get, like, they get caught up in this in this concept that they, like you're talking about, let's let me go back and edit this, I'm gonna go back and edit that and they they lose that steam that, that momentum of pure creativity. And I've been doing this for a long time. So I mean, I used to get really kind of bogged down and trying to outline because I wanted to know where the story was going. I wanted to have a roadmap. So I could, you know, basically, you know, fill it out, like, you know, just kind of expand the roadmap, and I found that doing that first robbed me of any joy of creativity that I had in a project where I couldn't do it. And, you know, so but at the same time, it was like, okay, so I don't outline so I kind of like okay, well, I don't need the outline. And so I started reading this and I've been doing this for years. Okay, I read this book that recently came out by Matt Bell called refuse to be done. And Matt, you know, he's, he's a he's a published author. He's, you know, he's, he's, uh, you know, just he's been doing this for a long time. And he wrote this book on how to write a novel, in three drafts and the in what blew me away, was I never thought about outlining after you You've written the novel. That's when you do your outline. You don't do it first. Because you don't know what you have. Yeah,
Michael David Wilson 15:11
I'm not sure I agree with this. But
Bob Pastorella 15:15
yeah, I mean, hit some of this stuff is is a lot of work. But I can kind of see where he's going with it. And it's like, hey, you know, basically, it's like, Hey, this is how I do it. You know, I want to show you how I do it, you take and pick what you need out of this. Yeah, once you have your book done, that's the time that you actually outline the book. Because you, you, you've gotten that first draft out of the way. And you're gonna have to rewrite it anyway. You might as well just torture Michael, his story. What's that? Now,
Daniel Willcocks 15:53
I can sense the resistance or Michael here,
Michael David Wilson 15:56
or you sense completely correctly. I mean, this is a typical example of, you know, your mileage may vary. This works for me, this may or may not work for you. I mean, this isn't, this is not something that I would endure. So do you know, personally, I like to outline to begin with, I like to know where I'm going. So I definitely wouldn't not outline at the start, because I've played that game for a number of years. And it's like, I'm driving my car around, and I don't know where the fuck I'm going. And in the end, I turn around and go home. So I would certainly outline and get the book done. But, I mean, maybe there's something in the idea of then doing another outline after just as a way to kind of like line up your cards and have a look at like, this is almost like an overview of your story, and then lining it up that way, you may be able to see some connective tissue that is missing. So I won't, I won't forget the outline at the start. But I may consider one at the end as an as an interesting creative writing experiment.
Daniel Willcocks 17:20
So this is one of the things I absolutely love about writing. And like, I know, this is audio-only. But I am smiling right now. Because you know, straight away, we've demonstrated two very, very different approaches. And I would argue that my own process, I'm much more on the side of Bob, because people people believe that you are either a plotter, or a pantser. So the people they don't know, don't know about terms, plotter, obviously, very, very heavily lean on outline, pantsing, you just right, you just don't sort of look at an outline too much. And I always say that, if it's a scale of one to 10, and Panther is one and butter is 10. I'm probably about three or four. Because I'm like, Bob, if I outline, I've robbed myself with telling myself the story. So there are a few key things that I feel like I need to know. So obviously, like, I want to know who the characters are. And I want to know, like roughly what they're sort of shifting their changes and their growth through the story. I want to know roughly what the world is in like, any kind of notion of what the monster is. But then I just let myself fly and have fun with that journey. But then, like, I know, a lot of authors who relied very, very heavily on planning each individual chapter in advance so that you can do that. I think, you know, I always one thing that always makes me laugh is when people have written like one story or one book, and they tell you what their process is. And they'll say I'm an outliner. I'm a Panther. Because it's not until you know you have the experience of working with yourself and trying different things that you know, where you sit, when me and my ex co host and then the guy that I do a lot of stuff with over on the other stories with Luke Kondo when we wrote our first books together, we outlined those fairly heavily because we were in a collaboration and we work together and I use that to convince myself that I was a plotter. And then once I got out of that, I just I realized that didn't work for me for for my own project. So I do pants. But there's also this notion that I come across a lot from various different writers that like, your your first story is indicative of who you are as a writer. And the success of that story will determine whether or not you make it in this industry. And so I've seen a lot of people, especially with, you know, the advent of self publishing and indie publishing, people who put out stories and then it goes out to crickets. And although select two copies, and I'll be like, well, it must be because I'm a crap writer. And it's like, well, no, like you're at the start of your journey. I don't know. I don't know why. Particularly in art. There's a belief that this kind of skill is internal, and that you're born with it or you're not because it's like anything else. It's a craft. Like there's a reason it's called a graphic because you practice you grow, you get better, and I often use The analogy of like, if I was a mechanic or I decided to come mechanic, and I tried to build a car, by myself, as you know, often we write is do we sit by ourselves to learn a lot of this stuff, I would put a car together that will probably splutter and choke a few times and then collapse to the ground. But then if I try again and build that car, I take what I've learned on the last car, I build it up again, a bit better. And it might roll a foot if I'm lucky. But it's this this gradual progression of understanding who you are as an individual and how you work best because as you said, Michael, there is no right way to write. Like there is everyone has their own sort of unique way of learning of doing of outputting. Seeing the world. And then again, like with with the car analogy, you just take what you've learned, and you just keep getting better. And that's, you know, I've I've been self publishing and writing and doing all this stuff now for coming up to seven years. And the only thing that I can attribute a lot of my recent success to is the fact that I've kept going and I just haven't stopped and I've just deliberately tried to get better each time I release something.
Michael David Wilson 21:01
Yeah. And I think to not being afraid to experiment. So even though on the Dan Willcocks pan, sir, plotter, scale, Aloma six or seven towards clotting, you know, trying some of these experiments trying to do something a little bit more pantsing, or this bizarre outline at the end strategy. Because, I mean, if you do this, if you take yourself out of your comfort zone, you might find something that really works for you that you just didn't expect to work. So it's an interesting exercise. Or it might be you do it, and you find that it's not for you. But actually, the piece of fiction that comes out of it is something you never would have created otherwise. But yeah,
Daniel Willcocks 21:55
I might, I introduced Luke to the concept of the, the zero draft or the 0.5. Draft Hmm. Which is, you know, you have the pieces in play that you want to do. But rather than going into draft one, which a lot of people feel like is right, we kind of said the time where you have to start getting the words, right, having a 0.5 draft, or as I call it, sometimes just a vomit draft, is you is you just casually telling yourself a story. And you don't have to have it perfect. And you could have like brackets that say things like, oh, insert conflict here or argument here. But it's it's kind of even that itself is its own little tool to be an amalgamation of an outline. And that first draft in which you give yourself the story. And just give yourself permission to not write it the best that you want to because you're just trying to get out whatever is in your head. So there's loads of different ways to do it. It's like, it's one of the things that don't like, genuinely fascinates me at this point, especially, I must have, I think I must have worked with about 100 offers or so in the last year. And just every single one of them is different. It's beautiful. It's magic, and it's just weird, but I love it.
Michael David Wilson 22:57
Yeah. And I would say there's even an argument that there might not be that much difference between a zero draft and a plan, depending on the plan. Like there's probably some overlap, because yes, I mean, we can think of a traditionally clean plan. But who knows, sometimes when I'm planning, I'm kind of telling myself the story in a free writing way to begin with. Yeah, because the plan doesn't just come out perfectly formed from my mind, that will be amazing. It's got to come out from somewhere. So I mean, you know, arguably Pantsers are doing more plotting than they think and plotters are doing more pantsing we're just not using those terms.
Bob Pastorella 23:42
Oh, yeah, I fully agree with that. I mean, one thing too, is like, you have to look at what kind of the projects that I'm from using myself as an example. What am I what am I writing, I'm writing, you know, basically first or third person one perspective stories. So in other words, it's like, you know, I have this main character than I'm in their head all the time. And it makes it very easy to, to, to not, you know, have a roadmap. Whereas if I was going to write a multi character perspective story, then I would probably not feel very comfortable not having a roadmap to go with, I would have to actually have to have some notes, you know, be it you know, like the actual plot, I'd have to have it broken down. So I mean, it's kind of like, generally the stories that I'm working on, kind of lend themselves to that type of creativity, is I'm gonna have a general idea of where I want to go with the story. As long as I stay focused and don't throw in everything but the kitchen sink. I think I'm gonna be okay. Of course, you know, then you start. Your mind starts working. It's like, oh, I can also add aliens. They call me that. And it's like next, you know, the next thing you get You know, fascinated with, you know, you throw it in there too, you know, it's like, and you have this long section, you know about Asian food all sudden, you know? And like, it was like, what's the deal? Man? What are you doing? You're not focused? You know, I think that, then having everybody's gonna be different, you know, I mean, it's this is how I'm doing it right now. I mean, I'm a change, you have to be you have to give yourself permission to change, you have to be open to change, you have to accept changes as they come, I'm not going to be like, well, I should applaud that, but I've refused to do it. You know, if my gut tells me, Hey, you really need to have more of an outline, then I'm gonna I'm gonna, I'm gonna make some notes. It was just, you know, to me, it was kind of mind blowing. And really, it's not like, you know, and Michael said, you know, outlining at the end, the way Matt Bell's prescribing that it's not at the end, it's in the middle, you're gonna rewrite the book again. So he's talking about actually three complete
Michael David Wilson 26:09
rewrites. Yeah, right. It's not the end of the first draft.
Bob Pastorella 26:13
Right at the end of the first draft. Yeah, that's, it's basically in the middle of the process. And then you would you would rewrite it then. And then he's basically like, and he's like, actually talking about completely rewriting the book, not cutting and pasting stuff. He's like, you're gonna type the whole book again?
Michael David Wilson 26:31
Yeah, I know that it was fairly obvious that we're talking about the end of the first draft, because it would be pretty futile if I've now submitted the book to the publisher. And now I write the outline at the end. Oh, yeah, I can
Bob Pastorella 26:44
definitely. Pre submission.
Michael David Wilson 26:47
Yeah. Like this, this person likes work a little bit too much, Ellie, you're doing?
Daniel Willcocks 26:54
But it is this thing of identity, isn't it? I mean, there's a place to go to prescribed notions of how to write a book. And I think when you're earlier on in your career, it's helpful to look into all these different things and to understand, you know, do I think, you know, where do I think I sit on that Potter versus pantser? Spectrum? You know, am I a morning person? Am I a night person? Do I work better with rhythm and routine? Or do I need to, you know, do it when I'm right, when I'm on my phone, on the bus, like, you need to look into all the different ways of writing and to try and align yourself in some way to that, which you think is getting you further. But I think after a while, and you know, all of us are been writing for a while. So I could kind of argue we're all quite experienced writers at this point, you can then I think, once you get to the point where you're bit more experienced, you can always cast off some of these tags, because they helped you get to where you want to be and to understand who you are, but don't necessarily completely define you at this point. Because, you know, again, it's that unique perspective of this is how I write because this is who I am. And not everyone is going to fit in those parameters. Yeah, and
Michael David Wilson 27:55
I'm sure you will both relate to this. But I mean, I did have to laugh when he jokes about comparing rhythm and routine or on the bus. As if sometimes it's a fucking choice. You know, when you're in this game long enough, sometimes you just have to do on the bus, you just have to do these fleeting moments, you have to write a note on your phone while you're queuing up at the supermarket. Because sometimes, you know, life delivers things that like if you're waiting for your perfect little writing routine, well, I got bad news for you. You're not gonna be a writer. So you just have to take the opportunities that are handed to you. You know, like you said, when you were on maternity cover, and people didn't turn up for their music lesson. That's when you get those words in.
Daniel Willcocks 28:47
I had a crappy little tablet that barely worked and a Bluetooth keyboard in which most of the letters stuck. Yeah, that was that was my surface. That was how I wrote.
Michael David Wilson 28:56
Yeah, well, I mean, one thing, a little bit high tech, but what you could have done is you get this thing good a notepad, you get a bite row. And the key is to stick
Daniel Willcocks 29:08
to it. I can't I well, I take that back. Wrong. Wrong use of word count. I don't like using that word. I don't enjoy writing longhand, because my brain works faster than my hands do. And so typing is definitely the way that I write best. And yes, I could have done that but at the same time, just come on, man. Now I'm gonna I'm gonna use the crappy little keyboard over
Michael David Wilson 29:32
the pen. I mean, I didn't come the same as you but like, it does give me a slightly different experience when I write on pen and paper. So I mean, I'll do Eva I'll do whatever is is to hand but if I'm doing pen and paper then it forces me to slow down which can Yeah, you know, be be interesting. In terms of the words that are produced, and also because I am going to then go and type it up, it almost means that whatever I do is then even cleaner because I'm having to revisit it in quick succession.
Daniel Willcocks 30:16
Yeah, I know. Neil Gaiman famously works that way. It's very much the long, the long hand draft for the first one. Yeah. Like say it slows him down. But whereas I need to, I need to chase the story,
Michael David Wilson 30:29
for talking about these methods. I mean, earlier, we were talking about dictating, and I mean, you said, you're not really a fan of pen and paper, but I've never really tried dictation, but that I feel like does my brain really work in that way, like, there's something about, you know, the silently writing in my head, that is almost me figuring it out. I just think if I start talking aloud, before, I've tried to write the words, goodness knows what's gonna come out. It is
Daniel Willcocks 31:05
most certainly a learning curve. And I'm, I'm very much like you. So I, it would have been around October last year, so 2021, that I very much got into dictation. And most of that was from necessity, because because I had been so prolific, and I still do have sort of aches and pains in my fingers. But they got to a point in which my fingers were suffering when I was writing. So it's kind of, you know, I have to either find a different way to create story, or I have to put the pen down. And that wasn't, yeah, metaphorically. That wasn't an option for me, because I love I love telling stories of all kinds. And, you know, other things that I do with my fingers, guitar, and video games, and you know, lots of you know, holding a phone and reading a book, like all of those involve finger strength. And so I, I took the decision to learn dictation. And it is, it's a learning curve, it's a muscle, it's like, it's like anything, because, you know, I'm 30, I'm nearly 31. And I have never in my life dictated any story at all. So I just kind of looked into all the different ways to make it happen. Luckily, again, we live in a time in which there are lots of ways to make it happen and to train yourself. So on my phone, there's an option for voice to text, just when you send text messages, or you know, you Google something. So you start off small by just getting yourself used to saying this stuff out loud. And then you build it up. And I started off with a few short stories, just to give it a go. And I would find a quiet space. At the time that I started learning, I was back at home living with my parents, because I was saving up to buy a house. And they live in the US and of nowhere. So I could go for long walks and not worry about being overheard, or kind of, you know, embarrassment of looking foolish. Or trying to tell a story with the with the voice. But that was that was one of the benefits is and still is one of the benefits of dictation is you know, you can walk and talk. But I would argue that my experience would definitely say that dictation is great for that 0.5 draft. Like it's a fantastic way to just get the story out. And then after the story is out, you know, transcribe it, edit it and make of it what you will. But yeah, there's definitely, there's definitely a few layers of difference between dictating a work versus writing a work. And I will say that the drafts never came out half as bad as I thought they would. And they were definitely a lot better than I thought they would but the same time they're not. They weren't as clean as I would have liked them to be. Yeah. So it's, you know, I know people that do have great success with dictation. It was I think it was Kevin J. Anderson's book on Bing. I think it's called on being a dictator that I read that kind of gave me some of the info but the hardest part about it all is really just trying to build your system. So what microphone are you using, you know, which microphones work better outside when it's windy versus, you know, if you want to dictate in the car versus being at home? Again, like which transcription direction you're going in, like AI or real transcriber. What's, what's your budget, like? There's so many considerations to build the system that works for you. And I think it took me about four or five weeks to start getting comfortable in trusting the system because that was that was a huge piece of the puzzle was the trust because when I type I know that the words are there, I can save it and it's done. When you dictate. There's the fear that you won't learn till after that, you know, you weren't able to hear the audio, the file could be corrupted, you're gonna have to upload it to another service and then it's something's gonna go wrong with that service. And then when it comes back and there's all these different levels of the process that you have to go okay, am I comfortable with this or have I just wasted half an hour an hour My life.
Michael David Wilson 35:01
I mean, you went him before that you've collaborated with a number of other offers. So I'm wondering, what do you think makes for a successful collaboration?
Daniel Willcocks 35:15
The easy answer that is agreement and alignment in what it is that you want to do. So yeah, I've collaborated across standalone novels, anthologies, I have written series with other authors podcasted, with other authors, and like I love, I love working with other people, because writing is a lonely adventure when you're, you know, in the heart of it, and you sat down in a room and just working by yourself. And so any chance I can get to work with other people, and to try and lift some knowledge and experience from people that I otherwise wouldn't have. It's just yeah, it's just infinitely helped me along the way, just so much. And the, so the thing that most, in my opinion makes a successful collaboration. And it's interesting is because like, so I wrote a book called collaboration for authors based off of a lot of this experience. And when I was writing that I had all these different sections about, you know, what to do before the collaboration, how to kind of like look at agreement, how to actually physically work in the collaboration across sort of finance, marketing, publishing, rights, all that kind of stuff. And what I found was, as I was writing it, that first section on what you need to do before you've even signed anything, or made the agreement and started going ahead, just kept growing and growing and growing. Because it really is that the first seeds of discussions are the most critical part of any collaboration, the parts where you can talk, you can lay down your intentions, you can lay down your limitations, you know, what it is you want from it, the things that you can bring to the table where you think the other person, you know, is the right person to collaborate with. But all these discussions that you have up front are the make and break, it's not, you know, go ahead and see if we can do this. And then, you know, once you've agreed on once you're halfway through the project, suddenly realizing that you don't work well together. It's, it's being honest upfront, and when me and Luke because Luke was kind of my first big collaboration when we wrote the rock series. And upfront, we both said, like, this isn't a done book. This isn't a Luca book, this is a Luke and Dan book. And because of that, it's going to take on a life of its own. And we agreed, you know, how we would deal with feedback, we agreed on how we were going to go through the outlining process, who was going to take what drafts of what book, because at the time, we were trying a system in which we were trying to write two books at once, and I would write the first draft of one, Luke would write the first draft of the other. And then when we're finished, we'd swap over and edit the books, and so on and so forth. But the whole process just upfront, were very sort of honest to say, you know, what kind of book are we trying to write? Does this align with the stuff that we want? How much time can we realistically invest? Like, when do we think things are going to happen, because I've seen, I've seen people who get very, very excited to be collaborating with particular people. And they'll say, like, I know, say their average word output is 2000 words a week. But the collaborator needs 10,000, in order to catch up with the progress of how they work. If you then say, Yes, I can do that, even though you've never done that. And then you go ahead into that collaboration, you're already setting yourself up to fail, because you're having to 5x your output, when you've never done it before. And then all that's gonna do is put you both in a situation in which things are gonna go sour. And one of so an author, friend of mine, very, very kindly donated an essay for the end of collaboration for authors in which his collaboration went very, very wrong. And a lot of it, again, came down to one person wanting one thing while the other person wanted the other thing, and they were so excited to work together, they just didn't have those initial conversations. So it's, it's being honest, it's being brutally honest. Because anything that you leave off the table will come back, because there's nowhere to hide in a collaboration, there really isn't. When me and Luke were writing those books together, like, there was weeks, there were weeks in which I probably spoke to him more than my ex partner at the time. And you even you know each other, you have to understand each other's lives, you have to kind of be somewhat intimate in order to coordinate something that is, you know, as big as the novel. And, you know, it varies again, depending on the collaboration, I have been in collaborations which had been a bit more hands off, but it's still those initial conversations where this is going to be a bit more hands off on my side, and I'd be like, Okay, this is what I'm going to bring to the table. This is what you do, okay, let's, you know, agree everything upfront.
And then there was, well, there have been times where I've said no to collaborations because they haven't worked. So an author, friend of mine, called me up a couple of years ago and asked about a podcast idea that he had. And we shopped it we spoke about it and it just didn't fit in with what I wanted to do at the time, it didn't really add anything to, you know what I wanted to get out of it. So we very politely said no. And we've remained friends to this day just because, you know, you have to go into these kinds of conversations, allowing for the other person to say no, otherwise, like, it's not really in any way going to be a collaboration. So yeah, just the best advice is, talk it through, be honest. Don't Don't leave anything in your pocket, and then just have those conversations. And then one final thing I'd say is, have some kind of agreement in place. And I use the word what in the book, I use the word disagreement, rather than contract because a disagreement is basically a contract. But the way that I see it is you only ever need it when you have a disagreement. So be specific about what happens if things do go wrong. Like, you know, you can get as granular as you want to if you're writing a book or working on something together, where you can go, Okay, if one of us dies, who takes over the rights? Where does that go, all that kind of stuff, just put it in consent for contingencies. But really, it should just be an invisible document just in case things go wrong, which if you've done your work, you shouldn't get wrong.
Michael David Wilson 41:13
Right. And I think on the lines of collaborations, arguably, the most successful collaboration, or certainly, one of your most successful ventures is Hawk and Cleaver. And of course, the other store is podcasts. So we'd be remiss to not really go there a little bit. And I mean, how many downloads that we add now.
Daniel Willcocks 41:43
We've recently surpassed 9 million in so we went live in April 2016. So that's come up to six years, 9 million downloads.
Michael David Wilson 41:52
9 million downloads. Let it Yeah, I'm insane. Yeah, enjoy that moment. But yeah, yeah. impossible question, really. But if you were to try to analyze this, what are some of the factors that you'd attribute this success to?
Daniel Willcocks 42:15
See? Yeah, I mean, there's definitely an element of Right Place Right Time. Around the time that we launched, there wasn't a great deal of people doing what we were doing. There were certainly people out there. Welcome to Night Vale, no sleep podcasts, were already doing the rounds. But the we there were certain things that I we were definitely specific about in the beginning, that played in our favor. So the main one being consistency. Like when we first came up with the idea for the other stories, and I think we went into some of this origin when we collected the award.
Michael David Wilson 42:50
Yeah, when we first mentioned our award, this is horrible. It's wonderful.
Daniel Willcocks 42:57
But consistency was a massive part of that, like, Luke asked about, you know, the possibility of turning what was going to be an E magazine into a podcast, you know, sound effects, narration, all that kind of thing. And, straightaway, my initial question was, well, can we do this consistently, because, you know, it's like, for anything like this to be successful, you need to be in the same place at the same time for the people to love you. And more than that, now, because of social media, and Netflix and Amazon and so many different options for things to take people's attention. You need to be focal, you need to be something that people can trust and can rely on. And they know that you're going to be there when they want you to be there. Because if you miss one week, there are a million other things that haven't let them down, that they can then jump back onto and absorb themselves in and they'll forget about you. So it was that thing of, okay, can we deliver every week and make this happen? And you know, Luke said yes, and he was very sort of fundamental in activating the start of the other stories and getting the narrator's in and sort of building the systems. And me, Ben, and Matt. And Luke kind of wrote a lot of the initial stories for the first few years. But we we deliver every single Monday, we bring out sort of 1520 minute horror fiction, based around different themes. And that has been something we have consistently delivered over six years. And there have been times, especially in the early years, so it definitely a few times in which we came very, very close to missing that date for various reasons. But it's something that we are proud to say we've delivered on every single week. There's always something for people to listen to. And as such, that audience has just grown. And not only that, but we do get a lot of compliments about the quality of the sound.
Michael David Wilson 44:46
Yeah, and rightly so. Yeah. And
Daniel Willcocks 44:49
that's something that, again, like Luke had some experience in podcasting, and he was definitely miles ahead of where I was at the time. And he he played a big part in bringing in Some quality narrative talent, especially in the early days, and like the music as well, like I don't know how he sourced a lot of it for essentially like zero budget. But we started for the first maybe year or so just kind of like chugging along, trying to like, understand what this machine was, as it was very, very rapidly growing. And then, a friend of mine, Carl Hughes, who I met through my ex partner, I found out that he sort of did a lot of audio magic, and did lots of music and things. And, you know, we were looking for someone to potentially take some of the audio editing off of Luke's hands, because he was, you know, he does a lot of stuff as you know, that no. And Carl came in. And I remember that, again, on another episode of the stories, you know, I was kind of bragging about the fact we had Carl on the roster. And at the time, Karl's plan was to come into sort of one one every three episodes. And he did the first episode and just hasn't missed a week since. He is known, like, without doubt, his ears are so finely attuned that it's, it's terrifying, I don't know, like what trauma created that sort of superpower. But he, you know, over the years has worked very strongly with our core team and their writers to improve their mics to, you know, sort out all the levels to make sure that all the sound effects are sort of crisp, and where they need to be. And that the most impressive part to me anyway, because I definitely am in sort of wonder this guy is that most of the stuff that you hear, like, I just have general sort of 10 pound earphones at the minute and I'm just listening to you guys through, but he'll do everything on the sort of state of the art headphones, and there'll be so much on the episode that just the regular listener won't listen or like won't pick up on because you're listening on the bus, or you're in the car or wherever it is, you are and so like, just the level of detail that he goes into, just to create a quality product is, you know, it's it's admirable. But those those really, if there are two things that I can attribute to? Well, two main things I can attribute that to is consistency and quality. And then the final thing that I think definitely helped me the beginning, was we opened up to audience input. So every four weeks, we change theme. So for four weeks, it might be four different stories on vampires, it might be like ancient Egypt, whatever it is. But quite early on, as we started to build sort of the community on Facebook, we started putting out votes and saying, like, what themes would you like to see, and then people could vote on it. So there was also that element of including the audience and making them feel a part of what's going on. And again, that's grown year on year as kind of our Patreon grows as people like get shout outs and things like, it's we don't we don't take for granted the fact that the audience are there. And they're with us every single week. And you know, they reach out and they they like what we do so, yeah, it's you know, it's a whole group ecosystem that works together very, very well. And it's, we're kind of blessed at this point for it to be where it is.
Michael David Wilson 47:58
Yeah, yeah. And, I mean, everyone listening has had some Cole Hughes audio, even if they don't know it, because he in fact, created the This Is Horror theme. Cute. And so you heard it once. You will hear it again, if you stick around for the outro. And well, why wouldn't you? classic tune?
Daniel Willcocks 48:25
Yeah, he is a he is we call him the audio wizard. He really does fit that mantle.
Michael David Wilson 48:29
Yeah, yeah. Well, I mean, topically Lucas Milliron via Patreon wants to know, how has podcasting changed the game for writers? And how do you prioritize your time between podcasting and writing?
Daniel Willcocks 48:49
Oh, that's a big question. I was podcasting changed the world for writers. So I think if anything, it's not even just podcasting. It's this whole host of multimedia world that we're in like, I think, if you go back even 1520 years, a lot of the emphasis was on for writers was on writing a book or, you know, writing a screenplay, or it was very sort of focused on the page. And I think where we're at now, especially with podcasting, it's kind of twofold is number one, no matter what you write. Now, there's always the potential for your work to be turned into any number of things like I've had short stories turned into comics. I've, you know, written poetry that's been turned into comics as well like, the novels. I've done short stories. I've sort of written a few screenplays myself for TV and stuff, but all of those intellectual property stories can be turned into anything. And we we live in a world in which we're lucky enough that you can do a lot of that yourself and create video games and if a story doesn't fit in one medium, you can try it into another and there really is no sort of limit These days to what you can do. And I think that's quite strange for earlier writers to understand. But like, it's, it's just powerful, it's powerful. And the other side of that is podcasting. Fiction particularly, has kind of played into the bigger ecosystem that has come from priming people into listening to stories, like audiobooks have been around for years. But with the advent of audible with podcasting, with, you know, Spotify, now doing all these kinds of shows, as well as audiobooks, I didn't realize until recently, like some of my books are on Spotify to listen to. But it means that now, the not to everyone, but the kind of general conception that books are to be read, rather than listened to. And that if you listen to a book that's not really reading that has shifted, and people are just enjoying stories in a multiple multitude of different ways. And that's kind of also why hawk and cleaver we titled A story studio, because we focused on books, and we did podcasts, but like really the focus no matter what we do is on the story, that's kind of the universal part that connects all the different mediums. And then can you remind me of a second part of the question?
Michael David Wilson 51:18
So he asked how you prioritize your time between podcasting and writing?
Daniel Willcocks 51:25
Okay, so that's changed over the years, writing has always been the priority. So I, especially earlier on, it was always a case of getting my writing. And first thing I would wake up, I would get to the page, I would work for 4560 minutes, and then try and get the bulk of the writing that I want to do done because I'm, I'm one of those people that if I haven't done the writing early, that weights will stay with me all day. And it will annoy me if I haven't done that, because I want to I want to achieve the thing that is for me before I then step into day job or, or, or did back then. And even stay late. I don't get up as early. But I do try and prioritize the writing first, because that's when I'm most creative with the podcasting. And it's all systematize. Now it's quite, it's quite nice. So for the other stories, most of that are pretty much all of that is taken care of by Luke and Carl and the machine that is running. So that's not too much of a worry on my side. And then with activated authors, I try and schedule interviews for the afternoon when I'm not having to worry about sort of the more creative, heavily taxing work. And then I guess the answer that probably isn't helpful at this point is nowadays I have a virtual assistant who does all my editing who sort of sorts out all my reels and posts the episodes. So really, all I have to do is record the episode and then ship that off to my virtual assistant. But then that's kind of a moot that's only happened in the last three or four months. Before that it was a case of I would just book out an afternoon a week to make sure that the podcast was ready that it was edited. Like I do all that myself, do all the artwork and all the promotional bits and just set that up. But mostly for me it is it's prioritizing the creative work, because if I'm not writing, I'm not happy. So yeah, I have to make sure I'm happy before I do anything else.
Michael David Wilson 53:16
Yeah, yeah, that makes sense. Well, Dan Howarth wants to know, a little bit about the Yeah, that's short, I think whenever then something can like, for fact sake. So then how on earth as selfishly involved himself in the podcast again, or it's in in here, nonetheless, he would like to know, a little bit about the tricky time between full time employment and full time writer. Was there a time when you had to keep the candle burning at both ends? And what practical steps did you take to make the switch? Oh,
Daniel Willcocks 54:04
yeah. So as I kind of alluded to earlier, there definitely was a period. So I went full time, April 2019. And that was sort of 2017 2018 and early 2019 are almost the setup for being able to make that jump. I, I had to I had to burn the candle at both ends at that point to try and achieve what I wanted to achieve. As I kind of mentioned earlier, were there things that I could have done a bit better to be healthier and to not burn myself out so much like Absolutely. But I think there are periods in your life where you do just have to run full scale if the goal is realistic, if it is something that you really, really want to go for. I think the main thing that I employed was, you know, what am I doing it for what is what is my why and the why it was a very, very real possibility that if I could complete the work that I was working on That that was take me over into what I needed to come full time, which would then free up my time to spend more time with my son, it would take a lot of pressure off in terms of the hours and some of the other I say this kindly, just bureaucratic bullshit. In the place I worked, just stuff that because you end up in the day job. And I'm sure like you guys would agree as well, you're not getting pulled into stuff that you just like, I really don't care about this. But apparently, this is important. And I really, I really wanted out of all that, because like, I was at a point where my mental health was suffering and just so other things going on as well, that I won't really go into sort of personally. But out of all of it, it was every day, I'd wake up and go, Okay, this is what I'm doing it for this is this is my goal. This is my why. And I made that such a tangible, strong feature in my life that I had like vision boards, I'd make sure that I was meditating every morning just to give myself enough peace in what was a chaotic time of my life. But I could tread water. And I would just try and like remember that, you know, consistency is king. If I wanted to write a book in what was two months, then I was writing a book every two months. It was I get up in the morning, I do this, that's that's literally the minimum of what I have to do is this. And obviously, that's quite a lot of a minimum. But it was like if I can do this every day, then the embassy itself through, it's that kind of Marathon over a sprint mentality of like, you can't always see the finish line. But as long as you take it step by step, and put in the habits that you need to to keep moving forward, you'll make it work. And because they might, I had a very, very big incentive in some of the opportunities I had. And some of the people I was riding with it. Right when the royalty started coming in on my books, it was very, very reassuring. But it's like, I think no matter what situation you're in, it's kind of universal advices know what your y is, like, know where it is you want to go. Because once you know where that is, you can take the steps to do it. And then just consistently put in the baby steps that you need to make it happen. As I mentioned earlier, I'm not really in a position to say like I saved up six months worth of savings to make sure I could do this. I definitely did make a hell of a risk during the jump. But you know, I jumped I managed to figure out how to fly on the way down.
Michael David Wilson 57:24
Yeah, yeah. Well, this has been a fascinating couple of hours of conversation. And I know that there's so much more we could have dived into, but I also
Daniel Willcocks 57:39
write horror. Yeah, yeah, that's there's so much to dive into, like, our conversations, as you say, never seem to be short. So
Michael David Wilson 57:52
I'm sure Yeah, well, we haven't yeah, as you say, we haven't really spoke about the alright angry Evan, very good route is serialization or the the shield Horus horror stories, many cores. So we're gonna have to do around to at some point with more of a focus on the horror part. I mean, you you've had such an interesting journey, and I know that our listeners are interested in in you know, that the business and and all of that as well. So
Daniel Willcocks 58:32
why would why would like to add just as like, a closing thought for me for listeners is, if there's one truth that I've learned in my own journey, and surrounding myself in or with authors of all different types from whatever medium they're writing in whatever genre, like being able to make a full time living with your writing in 2022 is 100%. achievable? There is there are so many paths, there are so many ways to generate income to reach readers to grow your business to learn to, like just grow your craft, that it's actually absolutely ridiculous. So if you're sitting there thinking I want to put fingers to keyboard or pen to paper, or whatever it is, but you're not sure where to start, just read a book start, just get writing stories and find the information because, like, I am one of many, many, many, many, many self published authors that have managed to somehow make a full time living and I 100% believe from the bottom of my heart that is achievable. And it's out there for people.
Michael David Wilson 59:35
Okay, and there will be some people who are listening and they're like, Okay, that's all well and good, but where do I start? What What should I read? What are some of these resources? What are the things that I can do to make some money so have you got any kind of quick recommendations or starting points because I mean, it can be overwhelming. So can these people do it?
Daniel Willcocks 1:00:00
So my number one advice would be start writing story. There are a number of courses and things that you can go to, there are YouTubers out there that have given amazing advice, I would probably be remiss for not mentioning that I have a book called The self publishing blueprint, which was specifically written to outline the bare bones of what the journey of self publishing is. So it's, it's very much aimed at beginners, it's aimed at helping you at least get started in each level of the process. The intention being that obviously, you find the thing that you're working on at the time, and then you find out more however you want to. And I've got lots of resources in there on how to navigate sort of finding readers, knowing your why understanding the market, if that's where you want to go. You know, I run the activated authors community. So in there, I have authors from like, literally just starting out all the way up to USA Today best selling authors who are part of the community that ask questions that get involved, the jump on zoom with me several times a week, so that we can have like Q and A's and we work together and all that kind of stuff. So it's an environment for writers who want to become authors. And then yeah, outside of that, like obviously, listening to podcasts like this, and understanding readers journeys, and writer journeys. There are Facebook groups out there for like, if you want to look into writing books fast and sort of making them with your writing, then 20 bucks, or 50k is a great Facebook group that you can jump on to. Like, I'd be hard pressed to list absolutely all the different resources. But all I've done, I say we'll have to obviously put the work in. But all I've done is taken it each step at a time, as and when I got there, the main step that has never changed has been make sure you're always writing because that's how you get better. That's how you create more stories out into the world so that you can then make more money with them. And then just find the best way that you learn. So I learned very, very well through podcasts. And I used to listen to things like self publishing podcast, self publishing formula, the creative pen podcast, like there's so many out there that helped people with this journey, just you just need to kind of work your way into the system and and find your place.
Michael David Wilson 1:02:11
All right, well, where can our listeners connect with you?
Daniel Willcocks 1:02:17
So everything that I'm doing is over at www dot Daniel willcocks.com and that's wi ll COC Ks, and then all of my community stuff and the stuff I'm doing with my coaching and helping authors is activated authors.com And then on social I am at Willcocks author.
Michael David Wilson 1:02:34
All right, do you have any final thoughts to leave our listeners with?
Daniel Willcocks 1:02:40
Just congrats to you guys on smashing this podcast for so long? And like I genuinely have enjoyed chatting to you guys and having the opportunity to be on here but you guys are doing incredible work, so please keep it up.
Michael David Wilson 1:02:55
Thank you so much for listening to This Is Horror with Daniel Willcocks. Join us again when we will be chatting with Keith Rosson. But if you want that ahead of the crowd, if you want every episode ahead of the crowd, if you want exclusive podcasts such as story unbox the horror podcast on the craft writing, if you want to write us forum, if you want to be able to submit questions to each and every interviewee, head over to patreon.com forward slash This Is Horror. It is a great way to support us. It is a great way to get a number of those Patreon benefits in fact, it is the only way to get them. So go to patreon.com forward slash This Is Horror and see if it's a good fit for you. Okay, before I wrap up, a little bit of an advert break. It was
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Michael David Wilson 1:05:13
As always, I would like to end with a quote. And this is from George Orwell Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle one would never undertake such a thing if one was not driven on by some demon Whom one can never resist. not understand. Powerful stuff from your who? A demon Well, I will see you in the next episode or Keith Rosson. But until then you wonderful people take care yourselves be good to one another read horror keep on writing and have a great great day!