Writing Secrets of Prolific Authors

    Do you want to be a prolific writer?

    Isaac Asimov, one of the big three science fiction writers of the twentieth century, published over 500 books including novels, short story collections and non fiction, making him one of the most prolific writers of all time.

    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.

    If you’re writing fiction, use the story question for your scene.  Or choose three words as the pith of your scene, and write from there.

    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.

    About the author:
    David Masters is a freelance writer and storyteller helping the world tell powerful stories at inkably.

    About the author

      David Masters

      David Masters is a writer, storyteller, blogger, and amateur photographer. Follow fragments of his life on Twitter.

    • Hi David !

      Thanks for sharing an amazing article. The love the use of the title and the word, ‘Prolific’.

      Every morning, I write three pages about things that interests me. These three pages definitely take an hour and contains more than 1000 words. This is the first step towards disciplining myself to become a consistent writer.

      I love writing styles of popular writers, and definitely Asimov plain and simple use of language in his writing has helped me focus on being the same.

    • The Asimov advice is only worthwhile to writers who find no art in prose. If you care about crafting fine prose, Asimov is strictly out. He might have said, “To be prolific, write skeletal novels in telegraphic, undistinguished prose.”

    • Khaalidah says:

      This article is totally printable. In fact i need to tape it to my wall. along with these words written in bold red letters. DO NOT STOP!
      I get caught every time I am writing, by stopping to research to think, the edit. A problem for me, no doubt.

    • Very inspiring post! Thank you, David. Just the kick in the pants I need.

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    • Asfandyar Ahmad says:

      Thanks for this great article,I do agree with some facts about to become prolific writer is very honest (realistic facts)dear Blog writer David you’ve raised. And I firmly believe that not only the non-fiction but fiction writers should be to the point when it comes to writing.
      I’d love to just Inalyse Your Article briefly.Please don’t mind its my own observation and opinion.

      (1)Regarding Asimov Style; You mentioned his style as a straight forward. Anyhow,I havent read his books yet however I slightly disagree with you opinion because in writing we have to change our writng style and vary pace often write funny and in poetic style while telling about serious complex characters who uses metaphores and colourful language.So writing style changes according to character.

      (2)Regarding Story telling: The trick which I’ve used in memoir. Its Education Guys: Pakistani Student memoir. Soon to be published in America, which david you might like it. Pace in Story telling writing is important and applying straight forward style is good but I think if it is needed and have some purpose.So it must have purpose.

      (3)Be clearer: About Writing I’d say it is what when we are completely sured what we are writing and have clear thought of idea in our mind which unfortuantely many fiction writer lacks.

      Lastly,writing 100 books is not that easy and to write something you need prolific writing skills on which I have been working and If you write plain tasteless dish.Then publishers will throw your manuscript in trash.So you know what I am am mentioning. I hope so you know! Because Publishers are very strict , stubborn specially about fiction and Novel writing.Therefore I only write when I have some purpse of writing about something and have no ambiguity and inkling about writing.Because don’t mind writing is not that easy.Its often make you to shout, and wail of pain you feel and you feel being annoyed.On the whole,Your article dear david and writing skills style is excellent and very insightful.


      Have a good time, keep it up.

    • Stephen Waymire says:

      To me it seems-books are getting shorter and more to the point. Gone are the days of long long books. Can you imagine people reading 1500 page WAR and PEACE? I noitce all the best selling business books are now much shorter and breezy. Popular books now even be funny–like Who Moved My Cheese? and such. Gone are long academic books that beat you over the head with facts. We are livin in TWEET AGE. I write tweets to make say a lot in short space. I use tweets as my writin format.

    • wing says:

      I love this article. Reading about writers publishing 23 novels in a year makes me realise that my goal to write an ebook and a book doesn’t seem so impossible afterall. Recently I have doubts about my writing and other writers give me a lot of encouragement. I think finding a right support group/website (like this one) is very important for writers to continue in their writing too (: We could learn a lot from each other.

    • IIT 2012 says:

      Fantastic!! I was ‘stumbling’ for inspiration for my new blog and this was the first site that came up! Thank you.

    • Ihave a question.I have a mini series [mystery genre]I want to submit to a television studio to pitch as a pilot film in the future.Any ideas would be appreciated.thanx RICH SATTANNI

    • I really didn’t want to like this article as I’m someone who pushes quality way over quantity, hates the speedy and poorly researched articles currently drowning the world wide web, and who uses the mantra “edit, edit, edit” to go into altered states. But I did; you’ve included some great tips. I don’t think they’ll actually work for those of us with slow-moving brains, but nice work.

      • Thanks Jodi, I’m glad you found it helpful.

        I recommend trying to freewrite with a timer to see what happens. You may be surprised at the results.

    • LK Watts says:

      Hi David,

      I’ve often wondered how many words you would need to write every day to write a 100 books and how long that would take you. At least now I know that by my mid fifties I might actually accomplish this status.

      • What would you like to write 100 books about, LK?

        • LK Watts says:

          Right now I’m writing a memoir about my time spent backpacking around Canada. I have already published my first book about travelling Australia.

          For my future books I would like to write chick lit as I find I currently write in this same sort of style.

    • I also like Asimov’s emphasis. Its very great.

    • Marcie says:

      I’m going to have to get that timer to stay on point. I think I could crank out a at least one small book per month with a method and focus. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    • Asimov’s writings were clear enough that he’s the first writer whose world view I found myself clearly and consciously disagreeing with. Reading his Foundation trilogy as a young teen, I became bothered by what he was saying, Pondering my unease, I realized that I didn’t like his attitude that society needs a chosen few working behind the scenes to shape its history and culture. No, no, no! I thought. Many scifi writers are libertariana. Asimov is clearly the scientific sort of elitist and authoritarian.

      I soon realized that his other writings were also shallow and thrown together. In his robot series, he has one in which people fear what’s outside their sealed city simply because they’ve never experienced the outside. Still more elitism and contempt for ordinary people, I thought. People don’t think that way. Someone who grows up in rural Kansas doesn’t have an inordinate fear of either the seas or mountains. He may be delighted by them when he first sees mountains or the see.

      Asimov, I’d say, wrote fast not just because he had a simply style but because he had a worldview. You don’t have to spend much time developing characters if you see most of humanity as shallow. H. G. Wells was much the same. In all his writings, he has no character who’s not simply a type of an idea he wanted to get across.

    • This article was really interesting to me. I’ve always been a “sprinter” so to speak, I’ll get motivated and (in the past) that has translated to 25 or 30 thousand words in a week but then I won’t work on the project (book) again for weeks or months at a time. Do you have any advice on how to keep up that kind of motivation to keep working on a book daily?

      • “Break Writer’s Block Now” by Jerry Mundis offers the best tips I’ve found on keeping up motivation. These include:

        Have a set schedule for writing.
        Take weekends off.

        It’s available on Amazon as an ebook for a few dollars.

    • Victoria says:

      What a great article! I suppose I’m on my way as I do a couple of hours of writing a day but what an inspiration!

    • Jamie says:

      An excellent article. Writing fast and getting my first draft on paper as quickly as possible have been the most effective things I’ve done over the past few months to improve my writing. I’m going to start using a timer this afternoon!

      • My timer is a vibrating watch. I use this because it’s not loud and intrusive. When I’m writing I get deep in thought and a beeping alarm would be annoying.

    • Celia says:

      Wow, those stats put some perspective on my own petty struggles! Thanks.

    • concerned says:

      this article is a rip off of the steve manning write a book in 14 days course without any attribution…

      • Thanks for your comment, concerned. I used many sources to research this article, including this Steve Manning website, where I found the first Asimov quote: http://www.writeabooknow.com/lesson01022.html

        I first learnt the idea of writing fast from Dorothea Brande’s “Becoming a Writer”. Sean Platt helped me to understand fast writing in a practical way.

    • Skye says:

      “If you want to write 100 books in the next 10 years, that’s 3,000 words a day.”

      Provided you never edit, revise or do more than one draft – which excludes the vast majority of fiction writers.

      Personally, I prefer quality over quantity, and would rather be a crafts-person than a factory.

      • Skye – I agree it’s important to edit. I also agree it’s important to love your work (and not feel like a factory!). I think it’s possible to love your work and to edit. In fact, writing quickly gives you more time for editing.

    • Bill Polm says:

      Excellent post. Great ideas–I’m going to try them all!

    • I like Asimov’s emphasis on clarity and simplicity.
      Thanks for the great article.

    • Wow! I didn’t know the numbers were in my favor! Only writing 1,000 words a day, I can write 100 books in my lifetime?! Terrific!
      Thanks for the encouragement with this article; it’s inspirational. Definitely “tweeting” to my fellow writers…

      • Thanks Veronika, I’m glad you found it helpful. What subjects would you like to write your 100 books about?

    • David, when I wrote my diary entries in the 1950s and 60s I wrote in a simple and straightforward style. I have been transcribing them at http://parkcollege1961-1965.blogspot.com/ since January 2010. As I re-read what I said back then I know there was no deliberation on my part. I just got it down and returned to other matters or went to bed.

    • Bill says:

      I love Asimov but when you say “one of the big three science fiction writers of the twentieth century”, can you tell us based on what? And who are the other two? The “biggest” sci-fi writers of the 20th century might include Arthur Clarke, Ray Bradbury, Philip K. Dick, Robert Heinlein, Frank Herbert,… with Asimov, that’s already 6 guys. What criteria did you use to choose your “big 3”?

      • Thanks for your comment, Bill.

        I based it the Wikipedia article about Asimov, which cites an academic source.

        It’s also my personal opinion 🙂

        That said, of course it’s a matter of opinion and as you point out there were many brilliant 20th century science fiction writers.

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