Asimov on How to Be Prolific



Isaac Asimov was one of the most prolific authors who ever lived. Publishing over 500 books, and approximately 90,000 letters over the course of his life.
Below are a collection of some of his tips on living a prolific life

On Scheduling

“I am still and forever in the candy store. Of course, I’m not taking money and making change; I’m not forced to be polite to everyone who comes in (in actual fact, I was never very good at that). I am, instead, doing things I very much want to do – but the schedule is there; the schedule that was ground into me; the schedule you would think I would have rebelled against once I had the chance”
Asimov was the son of Russian-immigrant parents, and learned the value of entrepreneurship and long work days.
His Father bought a small candy store and required Asimov to work alongside the rest of the family for long hours to keep the business afloat.
For the rest of his adult life Asimov would cite the Candy Store as teaching him the power of a full schedule. And of how much you can get done just by putting in a full day’s work.

On Finding Ideas

“So success is not a mystery, just brush up on your
     history, and borrow day by day.
“Take an Empire that was Roman and you’ll find it is at
     home in all the starry Milky Way.
“With a drive that’s hyperspatial, through the parsecs you
     will race, and you’ll find plotting is a breeze,
“With a tiny bit of cribbin’ from the works of Edward
     Gibbon, and that Greek, Thucydides”
– the Foundation of S.F. Success, Isaac Asimov
Asimov was a student of history. Basing the history of his Foundation series on “The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” by Gibbon.

Realizing human struggles, and social structures repeat themselves. Asimov would consult history looking for exciting characters and trials to repeat in his own work.
Asimov firmly believed that a future empire would behave very similar to a past one.

“By thinking and thinking and thinking till I’m ready to kill myself”
– Asimov, when asked how he comes up with his ideas
 Even with consulting history. Sometimes Asimov came up dry. When this happened he sat down and got thinking. He came up with more ideas than anyone around him, because he thought harder than anyone around him.

Confidence

“Well, if if couldn’t, I wasn’t Isaac Asimov.”
Asimov was once asked by an editor to take on an extremely complex writing assignment.
This assignment would have required him expanding a short story about a collapsing universe, and expand it into a novel.
However, he would also have to do this by explaining the collapse from two different mirror worlds. Juggling three worlds in a single narrative.
Other writers would have backed down. Asimov, though intimidated, knew that if he couldn’t pull this off. Then he didn’t deserve all the fame he had accrued.

 “So what if it limps. Its purpose is to get you into the next stage of the story and you take off from there. Time enough when you go through the novel again to correct the transition. For all you know, the material that you will write much later in the novel will make it plain to you exactly how the transition ought to have been. No amount of rewriting and repolishing now will get it right in the absence of knowledge of the course of the entire book. So let it limp and get on with it …
     Think of yourself as an artist making a sketch to get the composition clear in his mind, the blocks of color, the balance, and the rest. With that done, you can worry about the fine points.”
– Asimov’s advice, in a letter, about ‘limping transitions’ in first drafts
Asimov felt that authors tried too hard to be perfectionists, and that this only got in the way of being prolific.

Get the story on the page. If a transition limps, let it limp. Editing is an editor’s job.

A writer’s job is to write

Mortality

“I was in a hurry, for despite everything I couldn’t rid myself of the feeling that I was mortal.”
 Asimov wrote like a man running out of time.

He didn’t have time to stop. He knew he was going to die, and he refused to allow that to happen before he put everything in his head on the page.

Still interested? Read “It’s Been A Good Life“. A curated biography of Isaac Asimov’s life compiled by his wife Janet. Featuring candid observations of how the man lived, and glimpses into his voluminous private correspondence
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