Best-selling author Danielle Steel has published 179 books and says she writes 20 - 22 hours a day

Hall of fame inductee Danielle Steel arrives at the 2009 California Hall of Fame induction ceremony at The California Museum on December 1, 2009 in Sacramento, California.
Araya Diaz | WireImage | Getty Images

To become as prolific an author as Danielle Steel, you'd need an almost superhuman level of energy and very, very little sleep.

The 71-year-old romance writer, whose work has earned her a Guinness World Record for spending the most consecutive time on a bestseller list — 390 weeks, or 7.5 years — told Glamour that she works 20 to 22 hours a day.

And when's she feeling behind, a full 24 hours.

If you're calculating, yes, that leaves, at most, four hours for sleeping. Steel apparently doesn't really need it and says she won't go to bed until she's so tired she could sleep on the floor.

After these brief snoozes, she rises and heads to her office, just a short walk from her bedroom in her 55-room San Francisco mansion, and begins writing at her desk, which is shaped like three of her best-selling novels stacked atop one another, by 8 a.m.

The only sustenance she needs to maintain these writing streaks? A piece of toast and an iced decaf coffee in the morning and bittersweet chocolate for snacking.

Depending on the day, she may be in a cashmere nightgown or her usual uniform of black jeans, black sweater, black shoes, a long ponytail and no makeup. (If she's working from her home in Paris, she might try harder with her look by opting for slacks, a great blouse and high heels, according to T Magazine.)

"Dead or alive, rain or shine, I get to my desk and I do my work," Steel told Glamour.


Such dedication it seems is necessary to sustain the creative outflow that leads to publishing seven new novels a year.

But Steel says the biggest help to her productivity is her unwillingness to let herself slack, even during moments of writer's block. Instead, she keeps working, believing that 30 pages of dead copy is better than nothing. She did admit to Glamour that some days it feels like "dragging an elephant across the table," but she keeps going, hoping to get back to a place where a book flows out of her and it feels magical.

And if you think Steel's lengthy workdays would led to feeling burnt out and a poor work-life balance, it is likely she'd tell you that's not the point.

When Glamour inquired about the topic, she told the publication: "I think your twenties and a good part of your thirties are about working hard so that you can have a better quality of life later on." She adds that during those years, she worked three jobs and wrote in between.

When she toured the Amazon headquarters, Steel found the tech perks many workers long for, such as free beer and food, video games, and pet-friendly offices more of a hindrance and distraction to good work than an aid.

It might seem old-fashioned to think of a job as a job, to not expect to be home by 5 p.m. each day or work to be fun or to feel like your family, but at the same time Steel shares some very strong traits with the younger workers she likely encountered at Amazon. Like many millennials aspire to, she carved out her own path doing a job she loves and that she finds personally fulfilling, all while enjoying flexible and remote office hours.

Danielle Steel and her daughter attend the Christian Lacroix Haute Couture Autumn Winter 2008 fashion show on July 1, 2008 in Paris, France.
Michel Dufour | French Select | Getty Images

And though Steel does admit to taking off one full week a year in summer to vacation in the south of France, as well as occasional breaks to view Paris couture shows, shop, spend time with her nine children, and indulge in an occasional hour of British television programs, she's not keen on the idea of relaxing too much.

When Glamour asked if she would ever retire, she recounted that Agatha Christie, another prolific novelist, told her she intended to die face-first on her typewriter — a fitting response from someone who already spends every waking hour perched in front of their own.

Like this story? Subscribe to CNBC Make It on YouTube!

Don't miss: An MIT study reveals 5 things highly productive people do every day—and you can start doing them today

How to be more productive