Books

Joanita Wibowo

How Danielle Steel became one of the world's bestselling authors

How Danielle Steel became one of the world's bestselling authors

Danielle Steel is probably one of the most productive writers in the world. Since 1973, she has written 179 books, averaging to about seven each year. She has sold more than 800 million copies, and was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for the most consecutive weeks on The New York Times best seller-list with an impressive record of 381 weeks.

The secret, she revealed, was nothing short of steely commitment and work ethic.

In an interview with Glamour, the 71-year-old novelist said she works 20 to 22 hours per day – not to mention the 24-hour sessions she puts herself into “when she feels the crunch”. Sustaining herself on a diet of toast, decaf coffee and chocolate bars, she spends the day on her desk to type away. “Dead or alive, rain or shine, I get to my desk and I do my work,” she said.

Steel persists even in the face of writer’s block. “I keep working. The more you shy away from the material, the worse it gets. You're better off pushing through and ending up with 30 dead pages you can correct later than just sitting there with nothing.”

Steel is also less sympathetic with the “burnout culture” that many millennials found themselves in due to exhausting work demands. “They expect to have a nice time,” she says. “To me your twenties and a good part of your thirties are about working hard so that you have a better quality of life later on. I mean, I never expected that quality of life at 25. I had three jobs at the same time, and after work I wrote.”

Experts and writers alike have expressed skepticism over the 22-hour-work day claim. “The idea that someone could sustain that pattern effectively – work, write, commit things to memory, use their full brain capacity – is just unbelievable to me,” sleep consultant Katie Fischer told the Guardian.

“The appeal of Steel’s process, then, seems to be that every day is race day. But you can’t sustain that,” English author Liam Murray Bell wrote on The Conversation. “Little and often is my mantra, with every day building momentum.”

However, creative writing lecturer David Bishop said Steel’s routine merits an important lesson. “To be a writer does not require 22 hours at a desk each day, but Steel is right that there are no miracles, either,” he said. “If you want to be a writer, you have to write – however you do it. That much is inescapable.”