Advice from the Masters: Don Deffner

Jan 23, 2014 | Better Writing

Officially he was the Rev. Dr. Donald L. Deffner, but everyone called him Don. He was also one of my mentors and an author with staying power. When he died in 1997, his obituary reported that he had thirty books in print. Today, sixteen years later, you can still buy 21 of them at Amazon. That’s just the books. It doesn’t count the articles or devotional series or sermons that the man produced.

Don gave me a lot of advice and I still use most of it. But I don’t have any trouble identifying the single most important thing he taught me.

I asked him how he could be so productive. His answer was simple.

“If you want to do anything well, over and over, you have to develop a system.”

Don’s system for developing material was unique. When he had an idea he wrote it down on any scrap of paper he could find. Then he put the slip into the pocket in his shirt or trousers or jacket that corresponded to the project it was for. Each pocket had a project. If an idea didn’t fit any project, Don put the scrap of paper in his left rear trouser pocket.

At night, Don pulled the scraps of paper out of his pockets and put them in a special wooden tray with multiple bins. The tray sat on top of his dresser. Every active project had its own bin.

Once a week, he gave the tray to his secretary and asked her to type them up. Then he filed the typed ideas in project folders.

Don’s personal system was unique, but only in the details. Most productive writers have a system for developing ideas that includes idea capture, sorting, and review.

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