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Isaac Asimov’s Secret to Prolific Writing

By January 8, 2019 June 24th, 2019 tips
Isaac Asimov Prolific Writers Life science fiction author writer

Isaac Asimov is one of the greatest science fiction writers of all time. He was a prolific author who wrote or edited more than 500 books.

In 1966, the Foundation Trilogy won the Hugo Award as the “Best All-Time Series. Ten years later, the fourth addition to the trilogy, Foundations’ Edge, was Isaac Asimov’s first book to hit the New York Times Bestseller list.

Isaac remembers back to when he sold his first story back in 1938. “It’s like a second birth. I remember how I felt when I first sold a story back in 1938. Even if I had never sold another story I would be a writer. I suddenly felt a kind of brotherhood or siblinghood to all other writers. This continued for 44 years. Now I’m suddenly a bestselling writer. I got a bestseller. Now once again, I feel a sudden kinship to other writers who do bestsellers, my pals,” Asimov said.

He didn’t even want to write this novel, but the readers wanted more from the Foundation Trilogy. Doubleday called him in and asked him to write another Foundation novel. They handed him a contract and gave him a huge advance. He told them that the advance was too much. They told him to “shut up and write.” He reported them to the Author’s League for being impolite to an author, but he got no sympathy. He was afraid to write it because he wasn’t sure how his fans would react to it. He felt a lot of trepidation. He had written the Foundation Trilogy in his 20s and he wasn’t sure if he could still do it. When he brought in the manuscript, they told him it was great and they should have done it ten years ago!

“The entire series is a tale of interstellar intrigue and adventure. It’s a piece of historical fiction of the future written as though you are still further in the future looking back. There’s sweeps of time. Sometimes between items a hundred years might pass. It all has to be kept consistent. It isn’t easy. I can think of a lot easier things to write than Foundation novels but Doubleday has no pity,” Asimov said.

Asimov has also written about Shakespeare and the Bible. Boggs asks about the books he’s written that required lots of research. He can imagine Asimov sitting at his apartment with the material and research out.

“What is different about the process of writing fiction?” Boggs asked.

“I’m still just sitting at the typewriter, except that I’m not doing any research. I’m making it all up out of my head. I don’t know exactly when I’m make it up because while I’m typing it’s just coming out very easily and I’m reading it with great interest and wondering what’s going to happen next. I presume that my unconscious keeps at work under such conditions when I’m wasting time like when I’m sleeping or eating or shaving . . . “

Boggs is curious to know more. What are your work habits that have allowed you to have an enormous outpouring of works, 262 books? Do you get up early? How do you organize yourself to turn out such great volume?

“I do wake up early in the morning. Six am is my rising hour. I work whenever I’m not doing anything else. That’s what it amounts to. I don’t have fixed hours. I don’t drive myself. It’s just when I’m not doing anything else, I’m writing. And I don’t like to do anything else,” Asimov said.

Some writers put some mysticism about writing. They have to be in the same place at the same time in a certain mood. There can be no interruptions. Can you just sit down and write as easily as turning on a light? Boggs asks.

“When I take a vacation, never voluntarily, I bring paper and pen with me and when no one is looking I can sit down and write with paper and pen. It comes out just as though I was working at my typewriter, except I can only do fiction. So I generally do short stories when I’m on my vacations,” Asimov said.

Boggs has known Asimov since 1970. He compliments Asimov as one whose great at telling jokes at parties. He says that Asimov is great at remembering jokes. Boggs also mentions that Asimov has been known to show up to speak without preparing.

Boggs asks Asimov about the future of telecommunications. Asimov goes on to predict the future of mobile phones . . .

“I would like to think that we are going to have what we have now, the communication satellites, the computers, but as an integral part of human society in every way so that each individual person can reach any other person at will and portably so. In other words, you have some small gadget on you at all times and by adjusting some call number or other, you can reach anyone anywhere. And for that matter if you’re ever lost, you can set up on your own private wave length, everyone will have his own wave length in a day when you have laserized communication satellites. You set up a call number. Not only will people know it’s you, but they’ll know where you are and they’ll come and get you. I’ve often thought that, children, for instance might have a little communication device that is always going so that they can’t get lost. Parents always know where they are and then I figure there will always be a built-in fight in the family because an age will be reached when the youngster thinks he doesn’t need to be on call anymore and the parents think he still ought to be on call and you will get these little devices broken.”

Boggs asks if Asimov wants to go into space.

“No. I’m a sign post. I point the way. I don’t go anywhere. I don’t even have this urge to go into an airplane or to see the Grand Canyon or anything. As a matter of fact, I’m a Manhattanite. Not only a Manhattanite, but deep down within me I feel that I don’t want to be anywhere but Manhattan. Occasionally I leave Manhattan, but it’s never voluntarily.”

Do you work as well in other places as Manhattan? Boggs asks.

“Oh sure, I spent twenty one years in the Boston area and wrote away there. Whenever I go on a trip, if I have time to myself, I manage to do something or other.”

For further discussion on Asimov’s beliefs about robots, UFOs, extraterrestrials, the afterlife, space colonies and more, check out Bogg’s full interview Isaac Asimov interview on the Midday with Bill Boggs show.

What’s the incentive to go live in space on a different planet? It won’t be a practical incentive, will it?

“On the one hand you can build a new life for yourself, just as some people from Europe came to the Americas to look for gold, but there are others who came to build a new life they could live according to their own way without having to undergo a religious or cultural persecution. In the same way, if you go out there and build a small world for yourself that holds 10,000 people, they might be all 10,000 Seventh Day Adventists who can now celebrate Saturday as the day of rest without having all these Sunday people around, squeezing them out. Or they can be people there who are secular humanists and they don’t want all this religion around. So they just live there, just a group of agnostics.”

“I’m always worried that I’m reaching the age where I’m set in my ways and can’t accept any new ideas. Every time a new idea’s forced on me, I’m so relieved. And of course it means you have new ideas for science fiction stories now. I can write a science fiction story about somebody who wants to start a colony on the moon and everyone’s against it. We don’t start colonies on worlds. We build them in space.”

If you enjoy jokes, be sure to listen to the jokes toward the end of the interview (at 39:21 in the YouTube video or https://youtu.be/1_awNtfpJRo?t=2351).

“What if your father didn’t have a candy store with those science fiction books,” Boggs asks Asimov.

Be sure to watch all the way to the end for Asimov’s answer to the question.

Lorraine is the Founder of Prolific Writers.

One Comment

  • Kumara says:

    Lorraine, this post is well presented. Love the way you curated it. One doesn’t have to watch the video to learn Asimov’s secrets to profilif writing. You’ve squeezed out the juiciest parts.

    Love these parts:

    Isaac remembers back to when he sold his first story back in 1938. “It’s like a second birth. I remember how I felt when I first sold a story back in 1938. Even if I had never sold another story I would be a writer.”
    You don’t have to be a bestselling writer to regard yourself as a successful writer. The fact that you’ve publishing something is enough reason for you to celebrate your writing life.

    “It’s just when I’m not doing anything else, I’m writing. And I don’t like to do anything else.”

    I think this is the secret to Asimov’s prolificity.
    In his artilec “The Prolific Writer” published in the The Writer (Oct 1997) he said, “To be prolific, ome must be single-minded, driven, nonstop person.”
    The only difference between us and Asimov – we watch TV or chat when we’re not doing anything else.

    “No. I’m a sign post. I point the way. I don’t go anywhere. I don’t even have this urge to go into an airplane or to see the Grand Canyon or anything. As a matter of fact, I’m a Manhattanite. Not only a Manhattanite, but deep down within me I feel that I don’t want to be anywhere but Manhattan. Occasionally I leave Manhattan, but it’s never voluntarily.”

    It dispels the myth that one has to be well-travelled to be a good writer. You can stay put where you’re and make a difference.

    Thanks again for the post.

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