Isaac Asimov on thinking and writing clearly

April 23, 2018 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: writers, writing.

“I try only to write clearly, and I have the very good fortune to think clearly so that the writing comes out as I think, in satisfactory shape.” Isaac Asimov

Isaac Asimov was a writer of extraordinary breadth, depth, and output. He was a professor of biochemistry at Boston University for much of his career, but he wrote fiction, literary criticism, textbooks, and mysteries — just to name a few. When he wasn’t writing, it seems, he was editing. His name as an author or editor is in just about every section of your local library.

Isaac Asimov

In his 72 years (1920-1992), he wrote or edited more than 500 books and as many as 90,000 letters and postcards. An asteroid, a crater on Mars, and an elementary school in Brooklyn are named after him.

Asimov’s usual daily routine was to rise by 6 a.m., or before, sit down at his typewriter by 7:30 a.m. and write until 10 p.m. that night. According to his obituary in the New York Times, this routine came from his youth:

In “In Memory Yet Green,” the first volume of his autobiography, published in 1979, he explained how he became a compulsive writer. His Russian-born father owned a succession of candy stores in Brooklyn that were open from 6 A.M. to 1 A.M. seven days a week. Young Isaac got up at 6 o’clock every morning to deliver papers and rushed home from school to help out in the store every afternoon. If he was even a few minutes late, his father yelled at him for being a folyack, Yiddish for sluggard. Even more than 50 years later, he wrote: “It is a point of pride with me that though I have an alarm clock, I never set it, but get up at 6 A.M. anyway. I am still showing my father I’m not a folyack.”

The New York Times, April 7, 1992

And he said this about himself and his writing:

[T]he only thing about myself that I consider to be severe enough to warrant psychoanalytic treatment is my compulsion to write … That means that my idea of a pleasant time is to go up to my attic, sit at my electric typewriter (as I am doing right now), and bang away, watching the words take shape like magic before my eyes. 

Asimov, Isaac (1969). Nightfall, and other stories. Doubleday. pp. 205, 244.

Two more things about Asimov:

  • He was a claustrophile; he liked small, enclosed spaces.
  • He was afraid of flying; he did so only twice in his life.


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