Anthony Trollope’s way: three hours a day of literary labour should produce three three-volume novels a year

January 2, 2013 § Leave a comment

All those, I think, who have lived as literary men—working daily as literary labourers—will agree with me that three hours a day will produce as much as a man ought to write. (Anthony Trollope, An Autobiography)

Trollope’s autobiography did not enhance his reputation; the sales of his novels declined. Perhaps readers took offence because Trollope rendered an account of his earnings. Were these mercenary revelations too sordid? Or was it his prosaic modus operandi that offended them?

Here is the Trollope method:

1. Be at your table every morning at 5.30. Better still if someone else (as Trollope’s groom did for years) rouses you and makes your coffee.

2. Read your previous day’s work; this should take about half an hour.

3. Write at the rate of 250 words a quarter hour.

4. If you fear that you might slacken, put your watch on the table before you.

5. When you are sitting at your table, you will be writing not chewing the end of your pen.

6. Your literary work will be completed before you dress for breakfast at 8.30.

7. Keep this regime up for ten months, and you will write three novels of three volumes every year.

Please note one other thing: Trollope saturated himself in the lives of his characters. When he was away from his desk, he was creating them, dreaming of them and their lives. So when he sat down to write, the words gushed out at the rate of 1000 an hour.

In his autobiography he notes: There are those who would be ashamed to subject themselves to such a taskmaster, and who think that a man who works with his imagination should allow himself to wait till—inspiration moves him. When I have heard such doctrines preached, I have hardly been able to repress my scorn. To me it would not be more absurd, if the shoemaker were to wait for inspiration or the tallow chandler for the divine moment of melting.

We must remember that people read Trollope today when most of his contemporaries have passed into oblivion. Can we afford to disregard the lessons of a master?


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