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IWSG: Writing 90K in 30 days

The Dan Brown Project changed my life in ways I didn’t expect. It was both easier, and harder, than I imagined.

When I decided to try Brown’s schedule of getting up at 4 am and writing for seven hours (five in my case, marketing for two), I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do it. It would mean going to bed much earlier, which has always been a struggle for me (I tended to go to sleep at 4 am, not wake up). I downloaded the same TimeOut app he uses, to ensure I got up from the computer every hour and exercised for two minutes. And, since working for seven hours wasn’t enough, I decided to get really ambitious and add two hours of gardening/yard work and two hours of housework in the afternoons.

However, unlike Brown, I took weekends off.

Did it Work?

Better than I would have expected! I wrote an entire 70K novel in thirteen days, which I’ve never come close to before. Because I was working on it almost every day, I didn’t get stuck, or lost. There was no “mushy middle.” It felt like this book wrote itself. Since it’s due to the publisher in September, this was a huge relief.

I also finished a long overdue book for another publisher, adding nearly 20K words by July 29th. This gave me the last three days of the challenge to pre-write blog posts. I was able to write and research six blog posts, and come up with a blog schedule for the next two months.

The two hours of daily marketing was a massive success. I finally learned how to create Amazon ads that work, and actually created 22 of them. Necessary improvements were made to some of my books and my website, a snazzy new book trailer is in development, I landed a spot on an upcoming paranormal TV episode (more to come on that), and my agency’s film and TV division will now hopefully pitch my GhostWriters series.

And the other stuff? While I can’t say ten minutes of exercise per day did much, jumping jacks got easier (though I was never able to do more than 140 in two minutes, no matter how fast I went), and I seemed to develop more upper-body strength. My sit-up count improved.

This is the first year I can recall being on top of the weed situation in my yard and garden. My best friend recently visited, and she kept saying how beautiful my yard was. That felt amazing. There have been many times I’ve been ashamed of it.

Two hours of housework a day wasn’t enough time to tackle bigger projects (like organizing closets) or triumphing over my laundry/ironing backlog, but my house also looks better than it has in a long time. It’s a lot more organized.

The Cons

While there weren’t many, there were a few. The mini breaks were great, but I was often so exhausted by the evening that longer exercise sessions suffered. I was just too tired.

I didn’t get enough sleep. As hard as I tried to get to bed at 10 or 10:30, plenty of things derailed that, including my own nature. Often, like today, I was working on four hours of sleep.

No night life. During the pandemic, this wasn’t so bad, but it was still difficult to have to cut time or conversations with friends short and not respond to messages and requests. This project required me to set a lot of boundaries. Not a bad thing, but difficult to do!

Neglected boyfriend. Enough said.

Striving for perfection. If I wasn’t “perfect”– if my alarm didn’t go off (which happened during the last week of the challenge) or I was distracted during my writing session, or I missed the cleaning/yard work, I was extremely hard on myself. Not helpful.

What Surprised Me

I can write 5,000 words a day, consecutively, and it wasn’t that difficult. As someone who previously thought 2,000 words was her comfort zone, this was a shock.

Getting up at 4 am wasn’t a struggle. Going to bed at 10 pm was.

You can get a surprising amount of cleaning or yard work done in just one hour. Spending 30-60 minutes tidying (or weeding) each day would make a big difference.

Some friends were inspired enough to do their own version of this, which was awesome.

One of my cats gets really agitated when I suddenly start exercising.

Lessons Learned

I believe this schedule is at least partially responsible for Dan Brown’s success. You can get a tremendous amount done in seven focused hours, with most of it completed while the world is asleep.

It doesn’t take me as much time to write a book as I’d believed (or, it doesn’t have to). I write a lot faster than I thought.

Marketing can easily be a full-time job, but spending some time on it each day makes a significant difference.

I feel a lot better emotionally and mentally when I’m productive, busy, and on a set schedule.

I can’t continue to let teaching eat up all my time if my goal is to return to being a full-time author.

Moving Forward

Since I’m a night owl, Brown’s schedule won’t work for me long term (maybe when I don’t have to teach any longer). Rushing to get to bed by 10 was a pain.

While I plan to do one more week of the DBP in August, spending the writing time on editing/revising the three books I have to polish, I’ve devised something modified for when my classes resume later in the month:

8 am – 11 am: Writing and/or editing

11 am – 12 pm: Teaching work (development and marking) when necessary

12 pm – 2 pm: Marketing (while eating lunch)

2 pm – 4 pm: Yard

4 pm – 6 pm: Housework

This will only work on days I’m not teaching. When I have plans with friends or with the Brit, I won’t force myself to complete everything like I did this past month. I’ll just do what’s most needed on the list. Also, if I’m exhausted, I’ll do the yard work or the cleaning, not both. Or only one hour of each. Yard work won’t be necessary year-round.

Final Stats

Words written: 90,829

Jumping Jacks completed: 2,301

How was your month? Would you ever try anything as crazy as this challenge, or have you? If you have, how did it work?

P.S. Book Funnel is doing a special promotion of Mask of Ghosts. Use this link: https://books.bookfunnel.com/newmysteryrelease/cygzilxx9y

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56 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Sounds like this was a massive success for you. I caught a lot of your daily updates on Facebook and I’m tempted to give this a go now.
    Debbie

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much, Debbie. If you have the bandwidth, give it a try! You can modify it to make it work better for you, as I did. It’s amazing how incredible you feel. (I will say that this week, the week following the DBP, I’m exhausted, though.)

      Reply
  2. Avatar

    Dear Miss Moncrieff
    Congratulations on achieving so much in such a short space of time.
    I feel positively shattered just reading your schedule. Keep up the good work.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thank you so much, Mark. That’s very kind of you to say. 🙂

      Reply
  3. Avatar

    Wow! I can’t imagine writing that much in such a short time, but then I’ve never written for seven hours a day. (Five, yes – but it still took a whole month to hit 50,000 words since I type so slow.)
    Congratulations on everything!

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Alex! I honestly couldn’t imagine it, either. I thought writing for five hours a day would be really tough, or that I’d lose ideas/train of thought and be unable to focus. Some days were harder than others, but overall, it was a lot easier than I’d expected, and I never dreaded it. This was a really good lesson for me, as I discovered the limitations I place on myself aren’t necessarily accurate.

      Reply
  4. Avatar

    So proud of you. What a feat! That 4 a.m. wake up would never get easier, I imagine.
    Good to hear inspiring stories like this. Congrats.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much, Lisa! I honestly didn’t find getting up early difficult. It was the going to bed early that sucked.

      I really wish I could adopt the DBP full time, year-round. I think the progress I’d make in a year would be mind-blowing. It would be worth turning myself into an “early bird.”

      Reply
  5. Avatar

    You are like Mary Shelley. Quarantined in some frozen outpost and cranking out horror! Big ups on your tenacity. (I think you wrote detailed when you meant derailed)

    Reply
    • JH

      😀 It’s been over 30C above every day…hardly frozen. But thanks! And yes, you were right. I corrected it (there are some downsides to writing at 4 am).

      Reply
  6. Avatar

    Interesting project! I know I’d get more done if I was better disciplined, and I’m making a little progress, but I can see I have a long way to go.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Patsy. This was an extreme departure for me. It ended up working really well, but it’s definitely not the norm. I still have a long way to go too!

      Reply
  7. Avatar

    You’ve been stupendous. I don’t know what I’ll need to work like that. Maybe a break from my children and all the housework in some desolate island. But kudos to you. You’re an inspiration. Good luck!

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Sonia. You could incorporate the housework, like I did. 😉 Kids, though…that I can’t help with.

      Reply
    • Avatar

      I’ve been reading your progress on this project and was fascinated! Interesting to see your perspective on what was good, what worked and what didn’t, now that it’s over. I might steal this idea for NaNo this year. Well done!

      Reply
      • JH

        Thanks so much, Donna. I’m actually offering an online “how to win NaNoWriMo” class this year, that will support and guide my students throughout the month, if you’re interested. Details coming soon!

        Reply
  8. Avatar

    Always the cat! Exercise anyway.

    I wish I could structure my days better. I’ve lived in an unbalanced state so long though I don’t know any other way. That’s wonderful you accomplished so much.

    Reply
    • JH

      Seeing that masterclass was a real inspiration for me. Ordinarily, my planned schedules always failed. Not sure why this one worked, but it did (at least until 11 am–sometimes the stuff I’d tacked on ran longer than expected, but I can’t complain with the overall results).

      Reply
  9. Avatar

    Thanks for sharing all of this, JH! I am definitely going to consider some version of this for myself when things settle down a bit – bins and boxes everywhere! More structure will definitely help me and my creativity…if I can find it again. 😮

    Reply
    • JH

      You’ll be able to find it, Madeline. It’s all about timing. Last summer, I did zero writing and felt terrible about it, but my heart just wasn’t in it. I needed a break. Timing is everything.

      Reply
  10. Avatar

    I was following your progress on Facebook and I must say I was jealous! Congrats to you on accomplishing your goals! Though I would love to try a project like that, I don’t think I have the lifestyle or the motivation to keep it up (especially not with a full time job and little kids). Maybe I can try a modified version when the kids are more independent.

    Or I lock them in a trunk in the backyard. Whatever comes first. Being trapped in the house with them for 4 months has been ROUGH. 😉

    Reply
    • JH

      OMG, CD, I can only imagine. Though I’m sure there are many benefits, having children would be so hard right now. I was also able to do this because I had a month off. I couldn’t do it while teaching, though I’d like to try a modified version. Too often, what I want to do gets usurped by what I have to do, and that means I won’t get to do what I want for that much longer.

      Thanks for the kind words, and hang in there!

      Reply
  11. Avatar

    I’m worried about meeting my next deadline, especially since I only have six non-teaching days left. I know I would hate getting up that early, but this might be a good thing for me to try to maintain momentum when teaching starts sucking up all the hours and energy again.

    Reply
    • JH

      Personally, I can’t see doing this while teaching, just because teaching takes up so much energy and time. That’s why I tried it during the month off. I’m going to try that modified version when classes start again, but on days I’m actually teaching, I’m not going to schedule myself to do anything else, because I find it so draining and exhausting.

      You might have more stamina than me, though. You’ve been teaching for much longer!

      Reply
  12. Avatar

    That’s an impressive accomplishment! I agree about having a schedule, though I’ve always struggled with sticking to any self-imposed schedule.

    And nope, I won’t be trying this one anytime soon 😀 Though it would probably be good if I spent a couple of hours a day on the house and yard!

    Getting up at 4 would be excessive, but in the summer I have to get up at 6 or so to exercise, since it gets so hot here.

    Reply
    • JH

      That’s not too far off, then. While I certainly don’t think his schedule would work for everyone, it definitely worked for me (with modifications) during the time I tried it. Couldn’t do it forever, though. Life would get in the way.

      Reply
  13. Avatar

    You did an amazing job! And all that you learned certainly made your effort worthwhile.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much, Lee. It did feel amazing. It’s always nice to discover you’re capable of so much more than you thought. 🙂

      Reply
  14. Avatar

    Okay, I’m inspired. I need more words. I can’t get up at 4am. Not happening. But I’m thinking about how to modify this to get more words on page. 70K in 13 days?! Outstanding!

    Reply
    • JH

      Modify it any way you like! That’s the beauty of it. I didn’t think the 4 am would work for me, either, but that part wasn’t as difficult as I’d thought.

      Reply
  15. Avatar

    Wow! That’s awesome! Great work and I’m so glad you’ve found something that works for you! 🙂

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Loni. It works as long as I’m not teaching. 🙂

      Reply
  16. Avatar

    Wow. You did amazing on that. Of course, I’m super impressed by the fact you got up at 4am. That’s just mind-boggling to me because I like sleep. LOL

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much, Patricia. It’s mind-boggling to me too. 🙂

      Reply
  17. Avatar

    Not as good as yours; but hey, I was hurt. A terrible weeding accident.

    I’m glad life is going well for you. Something to aspire to. 🙂

    Anna from elements of emaginette

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Anna. A terrible weeding accident?!

      Reply
  18. Avatar

    No, I don’t think I would survive getting up at 4 a.m. on a regular basis, but I find this schedule of yours incredibly impressive! Way to go.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much, Tamara. It was a one-month experiment, but if I can do it again, I will. 🙂

      Reply
  19. Avatar

    Wowzers! You accomplished a lot but i would never do that because I simply can’t physically and I need sleep. I wonder if you could just do the same but move things forward by 2 hours. Get up at 6 and follow the same schedule? I would never want to be on farm time. You have done a lot and congrats to you. I will look forward to seeing you on tv!

    Reply
    • JH

      Hi Birgit…I posted a new schedule going forward, where I start work at 8. I could try 6 am, but I don’t think that would work for me long term, either. I need to figure out something more sustainable. Thanks for the kind words. 🙂

      Reply
  20. Avatar

    Determination and a set schedule go a long way. Congratulations on finishing this tough project, JH. You must really like to write. 🙂

    While I could manage writing that many words about a topic I’m passionate about (I once wrote about 90,000 words in one month, solely to describe what I envisioned my memoir to be about!), I could probably not create a comprehensive book, or two! I could certainly not function on six hours of sleep.

    Also, I’m greatly impressed with your upcoming DBP of editing/revising three books in one week! If I get my 88K memoir revised in three weeks, I’ll be happy. Maybe I should give this DBP a try! I do think it will be beneficial, but there’s a lot to sacrifice when other things are going on in life. Plus, it wouldn’t be possible while living in one room with a husband who needs at least 8 hours of sleep… 🙂

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Liesbet. I won’t get the three books revised in one week–I wish! 😀 I’m just hoping to get a good start on that work with my last free moments.

      I was usually functioning on about four hours of sleep. Not healthy, but not overly out of the norm for me.

      There definitely is a lot of sacrifice involved, but I often sacrifice my writing for everything else, so I didn’t feel that badly about putting other things on hold for it. It’s what I want to do.

      Reply
  21. Avatar

    I so enjoyed watching your progress with the Dan Brown project. It inspired me to start working out a bit. I’m also trying to start a house cleaning and writing regiment. I’m so happy you were able to get so much writing done, even though you got fatigued a few times. I’m excited about so much that you have going on right now.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much, Toi! I’m so excited this inspired you to try your own versions. 🙂

      Reply
  22. Avatar

    Wow! I’m amazed at what you accomplished. No way could I do that. I need more sleep. lol But a schedule–any schedule–helps write. Being consistent does, too. I’ll be you are so proud of what you’ve done. Congratulations!

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Diane! I am. I thought I’d be happy for a week off, but I feel mostly aimless. I was happier on the DBP.

      Reply
  23. Avatar

    Wow–impressive! I won NaNo last year, and it about killed me. That said, I’m getting up an hour earlier and have created a more intentional schedule for myself, and it makes quite a difference. Progress on writing, but also progress on house and yard projects. I’m still not getting up at 4 AM though. You rock!

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Janet. You do too! NaNo is tough! Good luck with your new schedule.

      Reply
  24. Avatar

    This is amazing! Congratulations.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much, Damyanti. And congratulations back to you!

      Reply
  25. Avatar

    It’s been interesting watching your progress with this method. While I’m not willing to try it right now, I’m in the process of setting up a schedule I hope to stick to once I’ve had my last day at the day job in two weeks. I’ll have to post the plan and my progress to see where it leads. Glad the process worked for you for the short term!

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Shannon. And good luck! I hope leaving the day job is a good thing?

      Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much, Allie. With a month off teaching, it was a great opportunity to try it out.

      Reply
  26. Avatar

    Getting up early to write, to be able to focus with little distraction, and sticking to it is amazing. I should do something like that! Good for you for your hard work and discipline!

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Mary! It was tough sometimes, but so worth it.

      Reply

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