Asked by Writer’s Digest magazine for the secret to his prolific writing, Asimov said:
“I guess I’m prolific because I have a simple and straightforward style.”
~Isaac Asimov (500 books)
Could it really be that easy?
Write clearly, in a conversational voice
Writing clearly, in a simple and straightforward style allows you to write fast.
At the same time, when you write fast, you don’t stop to process your thoughts . You put them straight onto the page, in a simple and straightforward style.
Best of all, writing clearly should be the goal of every writer. Clarity is the cardinal rule of nonfiction writing, and it will almost always improve your fiction.
Write fast, and you’ll have a conversational tone. You’re writing as fast as you can put the words together, just like when you’re speaking. This gives your words power and immediacy, engaging the reader.
Literary critics dismissed Asimov’s writing as colorless, with functional dialogue and a transparent style. Readers disagreed, buying his books in the millions.
In response to the critics, towards the end of this life, Asimov wrote:
“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.”
~Isaac Asimov (500 books)
Try to get your first draft down in 5-10 minutes
Writing fast improves your motivation to write. If you know you’ve only got to sit down for five minutes to get a draft down, you’re more likely to sit at your desk and put pen to paper.
When you’re writing a first draft of a blog post, article, or scene, try to get your first draft down in five minutes.
Sean Platt, author of “How to Write an Article in Less Than 20 Minutes” has published 11 books in the past nine months. He sets the following exercise:
“Get a timer and set it for five minutes. Think of a topic and write three prompts, these can be as short as a word or as long as a question. Start writing. Don’t stop until the timer goes off. Now read over what you wrote. Your writing is better than you thought it would be, right?
“This won’t seem easy until it finally is, but it will happen almost immediately. Again, don’t concern yourself with quality. You can always go back and edit, though you won’t need to clean up nearly as much as you think.”
~Sean Platt (11 books since March 2011)
Start with a question
Choosing a question to write from is the key to writing fast. Get down the question, then focus on writing the answer. No need to edit as you go, just write, as though you were giving your best possible answer to a friend.
How do you come up with a question? If you’re writing a how-to article, make it the question you’ll be answering. How do I find a holiday home in the Algave? How do I get an Angling license for the Grand Union Canal? How do I train a dog to sit on command? The more specific the question, the better.
Use established structures and plots
When you start writing fast, use established structures for the form you’re writing in. Writing what you enjoying reading will help here (Asimov read science fiction from the age of 10).
As you learn to write fast in an established structure, you will gain the knowledge and experience you need to create your own structures and plots.
Romance novelist Barbara Cartland holds the Guiness World Record for the most novels written in a single year, having written 23 novels in 1983. She says:
“You can’t lose if you give them handsome highwaymen, duels, 3-foot fountains and whacking great horses and dogs all over the place.”
~Barbara Cartland (280 books)
Treat your writing as a craft
Anyone who knows how to do something well can work faster than those who are still learning. Devote time to learning writing skills. Read books and blogs about writing. Attend writing classes. Apply what you’ve learned to you writing. The more you learn, the faster you’ll be able to write.
Writing is a craft, so take time to edit after you write.
“I have always tried to write in a simple way, using down-to-earth and not abstract words.” ~ Georges Simenon (500 books)
Know your motivation for writing – and keep it with you as your write
You will only write if you enjoy writing.
Writing fast makes writing more enjoyable. Rather than wrenching out words, you let them flow from your fingers.
Knowing why you write will also increase your motivation. Do you love telling stories? Do you want to earn a living as a writer? Are you driven by the search for truth? Or is fame the name of your game?
Whatever your reason for writing, even if you have mixed motives, search it out, and keep it close. It will come in handy on those days when you need an extra boost to get you sitting at your writing desk.
“Infatuated, half through conceit, half through love of my art, I achieve the impossible working as no one else ever works.”
~ Alexandre Dumas (277 books)
Write Every Day
When you’re motivated, you’ll write every day. When you write every day, you’ll increase your motivation to write.
Some writers find they lose momentum if they don’t write every day. Others find it better to take a break from writing every so often. I find I lose energy to write if I don’t let myself take a break from writing one or two days a week. I usually take my break at the weekend.
“How many words a day do I write? Between six and seven thousand. And how many hours does that take? Three on a good day, as high as thirteen on a bad one”
~ John Creasey (564 books)
Never Give Up
Children’s writer Enid Blyton published over 700 books. Like Asimov, she was criticised for her simple, earnest style.
Her writing was an immediate hit with the British public, yet BBC executives banned her work from being dramatized for radio from the 1930s to the 1950s, describing her style as “stilted and longwinded”.
Blyton continued to write and publish books until her death in 1968.
“The best way to treat obstacles is to use them as stepping-stones. Laugh at them, tread on them, and let them lead you to something better.”
~ Enid Blyton (753 books)
In the decade up to 2010, she remained in the top-ten best selling authors, with sales of nearly 8 million copies in the UK worth £31 million ($48 million).
How Much Do You Need to Write?
To write 100 books (75,000 words per book) over the next 30 years, you need to be writing 1,000 words per day (writing 5 days a week, 50 weeks per year). At a brisk but comfortable pace, that’s an hour a day.
If you want to write 100 books in the next 10 years, that’s 3,000 words a day.
Being prolific is closer to possible than you might have believed.
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