Writing Routines

Dean Koontz’s Writing Routine: “I don’t know what I’d do if I wasn’t writing.”

Dean Koontz is an American author, who has written many best-selling novels in the suspense, horror, fantasy, science-fiction and mystery categories.

I don’t know what I’d do if I wasn’t writing. It defines me. I love doing it. I do have a spiritual side, and I think that talent is a grace, an unearned gift. And it comes with an obligation to use it as well as you can.

Life’s Work: An Interview with Dean Koontz | Harvard Business Review

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Over the course of his writing career, author Dean Koontz, famous for his suspense and horror novels, has published more than 100 novels and a number of novellas, essays and collections of short stories. With over 450 million copies of his work sold around the world, Koontz is one of the best-selling fiction authors of all time.

During a 2020 interview with the Harvard Business Review, Koontz was asked by the publication’s senior editor, Alison Beard, how he’s managed to continue finding the creative energy and stamina necessary to fuel his writing over five decades. Koontz recalled memories of growing up in a poor family with a violent, alcoholic dad. Reading books was his only way to escape all that.

“They showed me the level of success the world offered. And that was plenty of motivation to change my destiny,” he explained. “I realized that you can make what you want of life, and I don’t think I’ve ever stopped feeling that way. I’ve never stopped being excited about books and the potential of them.”

Dean Koontz’s daily writing routine

When Koontz is working on a novel, his typical schedule has him writing for long stretches, six days a week. “I work 10- and 11-hour days because in long sessions I fall away more completely into story and characters than I would in, say, a six-hour day,” he explained.

“On good days, I might wind up with five or six pages of finished work; on bad days, a third of a page. Even five or six is not a high rate of production for a 10- or 11-hour day, but there are more good days than bad.”

In the HBR interview, Koontz described a typical day in his life when he’s working on a project:

I usually get up at five in the morning, get ready for the day, walk the dog, read the Wall Street Journal. By 6:30, I’m at my desk, then I work until dinner. I rarely have lunch, because if I eat, I get furry-minded. I do that six days a week or, if I’m at the end of a book, seven. If it’s the last quarter of a book, where the momentum is with me, I’ve been known to work 100-hour weeks. That’s all normal for me because when I’m sitting at the screen for 10 hours or so, the real world retreats, and I fall away into the novel more completely. Sometimes I’m in some scene and laughing out loud or moved to tears, and people walking by my office door probably think I’m at the edge of losing my mind.

Life’s Work: An Interview with Dean Koontz | Harvard Business Review

In the past Koontz used to write outlines for his novels, but after he “decided to wing it” with his 1986 novel, Strangers, he discovered it was the “best decision” for him, and hasn’t used outlines since. “I start with a bit of an idea, a central theme, a premise, and then I think about it for a little while — not for weeks and months, but days — and then I begin,” he explained.

He also doesn’t use the internet, afraid of it’s time-sucking abilities. “E-mail can eat you alive, which is why I didn’t even have it until about three years ago,” he revealed. “And I never go on-line for research. I leave that to an assistant, because I have seen more than a few writers waste endless hours on-line.”

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