career

20 hour work days. 7 books a year. 9 kids. What novelist Danielle Steel's life looks like.

Danielle Steel has never needed much sleep.

Ever since she was a child, she remembers rushing home from school, doing her homework, and then turning to her stories – staying up far later than she should have.

At 71 years old, Steel works 20 to 22 hours a day.

Four hours, she told Samantha Leach in a recent profile for Glamour magazine, is a good night’s sleep for her.

A few times a month, when a deadline looms, Steel can find herself working a full 24 hours a day, hardly moving from her desk.

In her office where she works hangs a sign that reads, “There are no miracles. There is only discipline,” – her approach to writing, summarised.

Over her five decade career, Steel has written 179 books. In her early seventies, she’s averaging seven a year.

“Dead or alive, rain or shine, I get to my desk and I do my work,” Steel told Glamour. “Sometimes I’ll finish a book in the morning, and by the end of the day, I’ve started another project.”

It’s this sort of tenacity that has no doubt made Steel the best-selling author on the planet, worth an estimated $350 million (AUD$503 million).

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Alongside her remarkable career, Steel has raised nine children from three different marriages.

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The romance novelist had her first child at 19, and her last at 40, telling The Telegraph UK in 2006 that she had spent 35 years of her life being a full time mother – “the most fulfilling job” she’s ever done.

Her relationships, however, have been a little more complicated.

Steel was 18 when she married her first husband Claud-Eric Lazard, with whom she had her first daughter Beatrix.

While she was still married to Lazard, Steel was interviewing an inmate in a Californian prison when she met another prisoner named Danny Zugelder.

They began a relationship and Zugelder moved in with Steel briefly, before returning to prison for robbery and rape charges. In 1975, she married him in the prison canteen.

Danielle Steele in 1994. Image via Getty.
Danielle Steele in 1994. Image via Getty.

Their marriage only lasted two years, and in 1978, Steel married William George Toth. Two years later again, she divorced and remarried a man named John Traina, her fourth marriage, and third in six years.

It was with Triana that she became a step-mother to his two sons, and went on to have six children of their own.

Then, in 1997, Steele lost her son Nick to suicide. He was 19 years old.

She wrote a book titled His Bright Light: The Story of Nick Traina as a way of memorialising her beloved son. "I didn't want him to slip away in silence," she told The Telegraph"I wanted people to know that he was an amazing kid... and [wanted] what we learned to serve others."

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It was uncharacteristic of a notoriously private Steel to share so much about her family.

Danielle Steel with three of her daughters in 2003. Image via Getty.
Danielle Steel with three of her daughters in 2003. Image via Getty.

"It's hard being visible, so I've made myself invisible," she said in 2006, a few years after the end of her fifth marriage. "I've shut myself inside these walls, and I'm going to be a very lonely old lady if I'm not careful."

A self-confessed "recluse", Steel said she now has all these "wonderful homes, and no one to share them with," expressing a desire to meet someone new.

Now, she spends much of her time in a cashmere nightgown, typing away on her 1946 Olympia typewriter.

Despite having written 176 books, raising nine children, surviving five marriages and working 20 hour days, perhaps the biggest surprise is that she doesn't drink coffee - and hasn't in 25 years.

For Steel, her work has always been a "saving grace" - the thing that's been there even when things go horribly wrong in her personal life.

She never set out to be a best-selling novelist. She just knew she had to write.

And more than five decades later, she still does.

If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner or in Australia, contact Lifeline 13 11 14 for support or beyondblue 1300 22 4636.

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