Dr. Isaac Asimov and the Art and Science of Writing

Dr. Isaac Asimov

I recently read two articles I thoroughly enjoyed and found inspiring. One is on Isaac Asimov’s approach to writing, and the other is “The Five-Step Manufacturing Process That Could Make You A Better Writer,” by Julian Bass, a Lecturer in Software Engineering at the University of Salford. Asimov, who had a PhD in chemistry from Columbia University, would’ve been intrigued by Bass’s engineering approach to writing.

These articles cross-pollinate, and should be read in their entirety. I’ll just give you a taste here.

I was particularly impressed with Bass’s approach, having once worked in the insurance industry as a methods analyst for continuous workflow improvement. Bass summarizes his approach to writing in five principles aimed at minimizing waste and increasing productivity. They evolved from the “Lean” engineering techniques based on Japanese manufacturing methods. Here are Bass’s writing principles:

Flow means to create a regular cycle of back-to-back creativity, a rhythm of finished writing projects.

Value: Good writing will communicate important ideas so that people want to absorb and enjoy them. So, you should try to write in a way that communicates your ideas and makes your audience feel excited, informed or entertained (or all three).

Waste: Finding the value is one thing, but how many projects have you started that ended up sitting on your desk or computer, ignored or forgotten about? That is exactly the kind of waste lean tries to avoid: partially finished work, half-formed ideas and wasted energy.

Pull: You should think of writing, much like manufacturing, as pulling a product towards completion. This means the highest priority writing projects are those nearest to being finished.

Perfection: My writing never achieves perfection, as you can probably tell. But I always trying to aim for quality improvement.

Compare that process to Isaac Asimov’s advice to writers:

Never stop learning – Read widely. Follow your curiosity. Never stop investing in yourself.

Don’t fight getting stuck – By stepping aside, finding other projects, and actively ignoring something, our subconscious creates space for ideas to grow.

Beware the resistance – Self-doubt is the mind-killer.

Lower your standards – Asimov was fully against the pursuit of perfectionism. Trying to get everything right the first time, he says, is a big mistake.

Make MORE stuff – Interestingly, Asimov also recommends making MORE things as a cure for perfectionism.

The secret sauce – A struggling writer friend of Asimov’s once asked him, “Where do you get your ideas?” Asimov replied, “By thinking and thinking and thinking till I’m ready to kill myself.”

It’s always fascinating to get a glimpse of how great minds work, and Isaac Asimov was truly one of the greats. Every piece Asimov wrote, fiction and non-fiction, displays his intellect, his boundless curiosity, and big heart.

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