I tested out the writing routines of 5 famous authors to see which would make me the most productive

I tested out the writing routines of 5 famous authors to see which would make me the most productive
Mel Burke.Mel Burke
  • Mel Burke is a culture writer who recently quit her full-time job to become a novelist.
  • To find a routine that works for her, she tried the schedules of famous writers like Maya Angelou.
  • She liked Schwab's 25-minute word sprints and Murakami's afternoon exercise, but none were perfect.

I recently "millennial YOLO'd" my stable content-management job to become a full-time novelist, and I wanted to have unshakeable structure as I start this new journey.

So, I decided to spend a workweek mimicking the writing routines of famous authors. I picked a different author for each day and followed their schedule and process. I also tracked my word count while noting what worked and what didn't.

There were a few obstacles upfront - namely Haruki Murakami's 4 a.m. wake-up call combined with a daily 10K. My mornings were slaughtered by pandemic work-from-home life and a cool six-mile jaunt sounded like torture.

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I decided to work up to the challenge and start with an author who wakes up a little later.

Read more: 2 steps every writer should take to land a publishing deal, according to a New York Times bestselling author


On Monday, I followed V.E. Schwab's routine

The award-winning fantasy author is known for her process transparency - there are multiple interviews and blog posts across the internet detailing her usual routine.

Schwab's schedule is generally:

  • Wake up at 7 a.m.
  • Walk the dogs
  • Make tea and check social media
  • Write for two to three hours in 25-minute sprints
  • Handle admin work and emails in the afternoon
  • Hit the gym
  • Eat dinner
  • Write for an hour before bed

I expected this day to go the smoothest, as I've unabashedly modeled my existing schedule after my hero.

By the time I sat down to write it was about 8:15 a.m., and I wasn't disappointed in tea over my usual coffee.

After two word sprints, each for 25 minutes, I took a longer break to make said coffee. By the end of the writing day, around lunch, I completed a full five sprints and my brain was goop.


I had no admin work and was excited to get up and move my body when I remembered that editing was set for afternoon hours as well. I plopped back down at my desk.

After exercising, dinner, and taking a breather, I returned for the last hour of writing before bedtime. It took everything in me to fumble a final 1,000 words before slamming my computer shut.

I tested out the writing routines of 5 famous authors to see which would make me the most productive
Mel Burke's dog at her feet.Mel Burke

My total word count for the day was 5,090, which felt insane as I'd been averaging 1,500 a day before. I loved my leisurely morning with my dog, and the tea-to-coffee transition was a nice change of pace.

Writing in 25-minute sprints made me feel like a whole novel manuscript could be conquered "one sentence at a time," as Schwab is fond of saying. However, I never want to write at 9:00 p.m. ever again.

On Tuesday, I wrote like Maya Angelou

Angelou famously laid out her entire daily routine in a 1990 interview with George Plimpton, and seeing it so precisely feels like being handed a treasure map.


Most notably, she kept a hotel room that she treated like a studio - she only went there to work, didn't allow anyone in, unplugged the phone, and took all the art off the walls.

Angelou's routine was roughly:

  • Arrive at the hotel by 6:30 a.m.
  • Take a sherry break at 11 a.m. (this varied, but Angelou said it was usually around 11)
  • Write until 12:30 p.m. or 1:30 p.m.
  • Go home and take a break, revisiting what she wrote that day at 5 p.m. with her husband
I tested out the writing routines of 5 famous authors to see which would make me the most productive
Empty walls for focus.Mel Burke

Instead of a hotel room, I took the art out of my own guest room/office and put my phone on "do not disturb."

My Angelou day was 50-50 success and failure, with a late start at 7:30 a.m. I did, however, write 45 minutes earlier than the day before, so I called it a win.

It took about two hours to scratch out 644 words, during which I mostly stared at a blank wall and listened to my elderly dog mope outside my door.


I didn't have sherry or wine in the house, so at 11:00 a.m., I poured myself a small glass of whiskey, stupidly believing the alcohol content was comparable. It was not, and after another 30 minutes, I started to worry about pulling a Hemmingway.

I tested out the writing routines of 5 famous authors to see which would make me the most productive
11 a.m. whiskey.Mel Burke

I quit writing around 12:30 p.m. and felt like I was emerging from a chrysalis. I used the rest of the day to run errands before making dinner with my husband. I told him about the portion of the story I had written for the day, and we talked through a few plot points I was stuck on.

My total word count for the day was 4,818. There were definite benefits to blocking out all possible distractions, and I'll never be upset at an opportunity to day drink, but overall I felt cooped up and lonely all day.

On Wednesday, I tested out Ursula K. Le Guinn's routine

The sci-fi queen has a hilarious but strict schedule:

  • Wake up and lie there and think at 5:30 a.m.
  • Have a large breakfast at 6:15 a.m.
  • Get to work writing, writing, writing by 7:15 a.m.
  • Lunch at noon
  • Reading and music from 1 to 3 p.m.
  • Correspondence, maybe house cleaning from 3 to 5 p.m.
  • Make dinner and eat it from 5 to 8 p.m.
  • After 8 p.m., "I tend to be very stupid and we won't talk about this."

Shocking no one by day three, I used my "wake up and think" time to nap for another 45 minutes, which turned into napping through breakfast. But I was at my desk writing by 7:15 a.m. with a cup of coffee in hand.


Writing was harder on this day than it was the days prior. I felt like I was losing steam, but I soldiered through, promising myself I'd make the 50K mark in my manuscript by Le Guinn's noon cut-off.

The rest of the day flew by, and the two-hour reading break was especially nice after several days of writing for six hours per morning.

I ran errands, cooked dinner, and then yes, was absolutely very stupid after 8 p.m.

My total word count for the day was 3,038. With lots of space for existing outside of writing and large meal breaks, I'd do this exact routine again with no complaints.

On Thursday, I was Haruki Murakami

It's here: my white whale. And somehow, I got up at 4 a.m.


Murakami's routine usually looks like this:

  • Wake up at 4 a.m.
  • Write for five to six hours
  • Run a 10K or swim 1,500 meters in the afternoon
  • Read and listen to music
  • Be in bed by 9 p.m.

By the time I hauled myself out of bed and sat down to write, it was 4:45 a.m. My stomach flipped from lack of sleep and even my dog was too tired to do anything other than follow me to the next room and flop back to bed.

I warmed up by working on a sample for another project before making breakfast and dragging my elderly dog out for an early walk. I dug into my book manuscript around 7 a.m., which had become my new sweet spot for word sprints.

I hit a massive plot snag about an hour in, but was relieved at how much time I'd left in the morning to properly sort it out. The solitude was perfect for problem-solving.

I'm not a runner and I refuse to become one, so I put together a walking route around a park nearby. Between my afternoon walk and morning dog time, I hit 10K for the day.


This was surprisingly relaxing. After spending all week staring at words, it was nice to look at the sky, listen to music, and let my brain turn off for an hour or so.

I tried to listen to music and read when I came home, but I conked out for a two-hour nap. You win some, you lose some.

My last routine was Neil Gaiman's on Friday

I saved the "Sandman" author for last because he's the only writer on this list without a published strict schedule, and I needed to sleep in after pretending to be Murakami.

Gaiman's schedule loosely consists of:

That's it.

I tested out the writing routines of 5 famous authors to see which would make me the most productive
Mel Burke's Daiso fountain pen.Mel Burke

So, I tried it. Since I hate sitting and doing nothing, I absolutely wrote during the time I'd allotted for myself.

I sat on my back porch with a cup of coffee, dog in the sunny spot next to me, and scratched and scribbled for a while. I had to swap out for a ballpoint pen about halfway through as my Daiso fountain pen dried up.

I could see the allure of using a flourishy, messy pen for a first draft. I felt like a writer, and I was far less concerned with word count than I was with getting the story down.

Final thoughts

After a full week of trying other author's routines, I see that replicating other's success exactly isn't going to work for me. These writers do what works for them. And then they keep doing it every day. So I have to find my own version of the perfect writing routine.

I will most likely keep Schwab's 25-minute word sprints, Murakami's afternoon exercise, and the popular morning writing block. I'll never turn down the opportunity for whiskey during working hours, but I won't be locking myself in an empty room or writing every word by hand.


And if I never see 4 a.m. again, I'll die a happy woman.