Advice from the Masters: Isaac Asimov

Jul 5, 2017 | Better Writing

Every now and again, I’m tempted to think that I’m a prolific writer. Then I remember Isaac Asimov. The man wrote more than 500 books. That is not a misprint. It doesn’t count the short stories or the columns or the postcards he used to answer readers’ questions.

He didn’t just write a lot of books. Asimov turned out high quality prose. There was classic science fiction, of course, and books explaining all kinds of things. There was at least one textbook. When you have some time to spare, just scan the list of publications in Asimov’s Wikipedia entry.

Isaac Asimov wrote so much that I decided I should share more than the usual one bit of advice. The first is a favorite of mine, taken from Asimov’s introduction to his 1989 science fiction novel, Nemesis.

“I made up my mind long ago to follow one cardinal rule in all my writing — to be clear. I have given up all thought of writing poetically or symbolically or experimentally, or in any of the other modes that might (if I were good enough) get me a Pulitzer prize. I would write merely clearly and in this way establish a warm relationship between myself and my readers, and the professional critics — Well, they can do whatever they wish.”

For the other bit of wisdom, I went to Charles Chu’s excellent piece on Quartz, titled “Isaac Asimov wrote almost 500 books in his lifetime—these are the six ways he did it.” Click through to the article for all six. My favorite is number two.

“I don’t stare at blank sheets of paper. I don’t spend days and nights cudgeling a head that is empty of ideas. Instead, I simply leave the novel and go on to any of the dozen other projects that are on tap. I write an editorial, or an essay, or a short story, or work on one of my nonfiction books. By the time I’ve grown tired of these things, my mind has been able to do its proper work and fill up again. I return to my novel and find myself able to write easily once more.”

Want more? Check out the complete list of Advice from the Masters posts

If you want even more writing advice from writers, check out Jon Winokur’s blog, “AdvicetoWriters.”

I love Asimov’s science fiction short stories. My favorite collection, Nine Tomorrows, is no longer easy to find, but the stories are in all in volume one of The Complete Stories.

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