Trollope On Writing

A few weeks back I alluded to a quote from Anthony Trollope’s Autobiography about three hours writing per day being all that was needed from an author. Being as methodical as I am lazy I have eventually dug up the actual text.

“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. But then he should so have trained himself that he shall be able to work continuously during those three hours,–so have tutored his mind that it shall not be necessary for him to sit nibbling his pen, and gazing at the wall before him, till he shall have found the words with which he wants to express his ideas.”

Trollope goes on to say: “It had at this time become my custom,–and it still is my custom, though of late I have become a little lenient to myself,–to write with my watch before me, and to require from myself 250 words every quarter of an hour. I have found that the 250 words have been forthcoming as regularly as my watch went. But my three hours were not devoted entirely to writing. I always began my task by reading the work of the day before, an operation which would take me half an hour, and which consisted chiefly in weighing with my ear the sound of the words and phrases. I would strongly recommend this practice to all tyros in writing. That their work should be read after it has been written is a matter of course,–that it should be read twice at least before it goes to the printers, I take to be a matter of course. But by reading what he has last written, just before he recommences his task, the writer will catch the tone and spirit of what he is then saying, and will avoid the fault of seeming to be unlike himself.”

And in a lament that all reasonably fast writers will recognise he finishes with: “This division of time allowed me to produce over ten pages of an ordinary novel volume a day, and if kept up through ten months, would have given as its results three novels of three volumes each in the year;–the precise amount which so greatly acerbated the publisher in Paternoster Row, and which must at any rate be felt to be quite as much as the novel-readers of the world can want from the hands of one man.”

Trollope’s Autobiography is one of those books that I think every professional writer should read at least once in their life. I go through it every couple of years just to refresh my memory of what the great man said. In the book he discusses such things as methods of working, finances and idiosyncrasies of publishers with the frankness of a man who was planning on being safely dead by the time the book came out. He names actual sums paid, when he was paid and when he was defrauded with a candor that even Joe Konrath might envy. He discusses his contemporaries like Dickens and Thackeray honestly and through it all he comes across as a thoroughly decent and likeable man.

The book is available for free on the Kindle in the US and UK. If you have another reader or simply want to read in your browser you can find it free in multiple formats at It can also be found at the very wonderful Project Gutenberg.



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