Davis Bunn began his career not as a writer, but as a business consultant. But while living in Europe and working for a multinational company, he came to faith in Jesus Christ and started writing fiction. He had written seven complete books and was nearly 40 years old when he had his first book published. Soon, he was able to quit his day job. During the past 20 years, he's written more than 30 books, and they've sold more than 6 million copies. He's a three-time winner of the Christy Award, which honors the best in Christian fiction. I had this conversation with him at the International Christian Retail Show on the day he was named to the Christy Awards Hall of Fame.
Help me understand how you do what you do. When you're into a book, when you’re actually writing, what does your routine look like? I am different from many other writers in that this is my primary calling. It’s not that I have a ministry on the side or I’m working at some other job. I have been a full-time writer for over 20 years. …
I was 28 years old and working as a business consultant based in Germany when I came to faith, and I started writing two weeks later. I’d never picked up a pen before to do more than write a business report, and ever since then, there has been this driving urge to do the most that I possibly can with this incredible gift that I’ve been given.
I wrote for nine years and finished seven books while working as a consultant. So by the time I arrived at a point 11 years after I started writing that I could live from the writing, it was like someone had taken the chains off my feet. My average output for the last 18 years has been four full-length projects a year. Some of them are film. As many of my audience [members] will tell you, the saving grace for many years was I did 12 books co-authored with Janette Oke. That allowed me to have three or four books that I was doing each year and have them clearly separated.
How did you keep a fresh sense of calling when you wrote book after book that wasn’t getting published? It was a very difficult time. There were a number of immense blessings that came during this period, but one of the big ones was my wife, who was working in London at the time. Twice I had this terrible urge to turn away from all of this effort. … She was certain that this was indeed God’s calling and that I had to continue.
My eighth year as a writer with nothing going on, I was offered the position of president of an American computer company’s European subsidiary. She and my pastor were the only two who urged me to prayerfully consider not taking the job. The feeling was both a gift and a challenge, one of, “Can I rise up to this?”
Your wife and your pastor encouraged you to stick with your vocation. You ultimately did get a book contract. So what does your routine now look like on a daily basis? On occasion, I will do a 12-hour day writing, but generally what I try to do is the same as a professional athlete. … I have learned to pace myself, and it’s not a question of how much I can do now. It’s a question of how much can I do every day and still get up the next day and have that sense of passion, of energy. Generally, I limit myself to four or five hours writing each day, five or six days a week. I like to be at my desk no later than 6 a.m. and then in the afternoons, it’s what my wife calls “administrivia” and research. Also, when I’m first-drafting, I like to sketch out in the afternoon what I’m going to go over and actually write the next day.
Teaching is my attempt to give back to the community of believers in a way that utilizes and shares the sense of passion. One of the difficulties a lot of would-be Christian writers have is understanding that they are taking on a commercial responsibility as well as a task for God. What I’m trying to do in my classes is teach creative writing, but at the same time, show them that there’s a binding impact to entering into the publishing world. These are big deals. In the fiction world nowadays, Christian publishers want a novelist to provide a minimum of a new book every nine months. For a lot of would-be writers, the first time they hear this, there’s this shock. They spent four years on the first book—and that is normal—but part of the process … of moving into publication is accepting that they are contracted now responsibly to hold onto this writing process.
The publishers want that because they’re trying to build an audience, and if you’re one-and-done with your book writing, they can’t build an ongoing audience for your books. That’s exactly right. It's very rare that a first book is going to make money. Very rare.
Warren Cole Smith interviewed writers Philip Yancey, Davis Bunn, and Andrew Peterson about their writing craft on Listening In: