Isaac Asimov: How to Defeat Writer’s Block

If there’s one word to describe Isaac Asimov, it’s “prolific”.

To match the number of novels, letters, essays and other scribblings that Isaac produced in his lifetime, you would need to write at the pace of one full-length novel every two weeks for 25 years.

For Isaac Asimov, writer’s block was simply not an option.

As a semi-regular writer, I often find myself stuck frozen-fingered in front of an empty page. Looking for wisdom on the matter, I turned to Asimov’s autobiography, It’s Been a Good Life.

I wasn’t disappointed with what I found.

Let’s take a look…

1. Accept That Writing is Hard

A struggling writer once asked Isaac Asimov, “Where do you get your ideas?”

Isaac responded—

“By thinking and thinking and thinking till I’m ready to kill myself. […] Did you ever think it was easy to get a good idea?”

Aha. It’s not just flashes of insight on demand, not even for the great Isaac Asimov. Like every other writer, he struggled to have good ideas.

And the struggle was worth every moment—

I couldn’t sleep last night so I lay awake thinking of an article to write and I’d think and think and cry at the sad parts. I had a wonderful night.

Hey, nobody said conquering writer’s block was going to be easy.

2. Recognize You Are Stuck

Sometimes, the words just won’t come out. It happens to everyone—even Isaac Asimov:

Frequently, when I am at work on a science-fiction novel, I find myself heartily sick of it and unable to write another word.

We all get stuck. That’s not something you can control.

It’s what happens next, your reaction, that makes all the difference.

What does Asimov do?

3. Let Your Mind Fill Up Again

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.

That’s so powerful…

Here it is again:

  • Put down whatever you are working on
  • Go work on other projects (until they make you sick)
  • Return to find your mind filled with ideas again

Don’t fight the block. Give it space to breathe. Come back to it later, and you may find that it is no longer there.

4. The Secret Sauce

There’s something more behind all the techniques. This is the real reason Isaac was able to show up day after day and write over 200 books in his lifetime—

What I decided was that I wasn’t writing ten times as many books in order to get ten times the monetary returns, but in order to have ten times the pleasure.

Don’t be in it for the money, do it for love.


Photo credit: Thierry Ehrmann

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