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Wednesday, 2 April 2014

‘Don’t misquote me’

We are all liable to misquote from time to time, whether that’s due to a faulty memory, using a suspect source or from pure laziness.

Currently going the rounds on Facebook is a quotation from Isaac Asimov: 'If my doctor told me I have six minutes to live, I’d type faster.’

Amusing, and typical of the prolific Asimov. But it is patently wrong.

As a scientist, Asimov wouldn’t say that because – a) no doctor would give anybody just six minutes; 2) no matter how fast you type, you couldn’t achieve much in six minutes.

The actual (if less pithy) quotation was: ‘If my doctor told me I had only six months to live, I wouldn’t brood, I’d type a little faster.’
Isaac Asimov - Wikipedia commons

Asimov knew all about fast production. He would write up to eighteen hours a day. Typing 90 words a minute, he could clock up about 50 pages a day. He said, ‘Thinking is the activity I love best, and writing to me is simply thinking through my fingers.’ He let nothing interfere with his concentration. How he would have coped with social media is a moot point, perhaps, but he did say ‘You could put on an orgy in my office and I wouldn’t look up – well, maybe once.’ I can imagine him saying that with an irrepressible twinkle in his eye.

To counter his argument for speed writing, he stated, ‘To write quickly and to write well are usually incompatible attributes, and if you must choose one over the other, you should choose quality over speed every time.’ I suspect the phrase ‘usually incompatible’ applies him, regarding his unusually prolific output.

The prerequisite for good writing is constant writing. Some writers have said you need to write a million words before you can become a writer, or words to that effect! Certainly, beginning writers need to write, write and write some more. Asimov said, ‘It’s the writing that teaches you. It’s the rotten stories that make it possible for you to write the good stories eventually.’ [My italics].

There’s one other requirement for writing: ‘The one absolute requirement for me to write,”’ Asimov said, ‘is to be awake.’ In other words, he lived for his writing. And it served him well; he published in excess of 300 short stories and 500 books. With regard to style and characterisation, he wasn’t a great writer – but he was a very popular author, with books in 9 out of the 10 major categories in the Dewey Decimal Classification; no mean feat.
Isaac Asimov - 1920-1992




J.E.S. Hays said...

Excellent advice from the master! I wish I had 18 hours a day that I could write in ... I have too many other irons in my fire for that, unfortunately.

Nik Morton said...

Yes, indeed. Asimov's non-fiction output was as phenomenal as his fiction. He was full of common sense, too. Yes, I admit 18hrs a day is stretching it just a bit! Hope those irons bear fruit, to mix metaphors!