Trollope’s pearls of wisdom, part one

For the modern writer, Anthony Trollope’s autobiography may not seem the obvious place to seek inspiration and advice. While it’s true that unless you have a fondness for Trollope already (as regular readers will know that I do) you might not find it the easiest or most entertaining read, there’s still a lot to be learned.

Anthony Trollope was 28 when he started writing his first novel, and 32 when it was published, which in itself is reassuring to those of us who might feel like we either started this writing lark a little late, or are getting too old to make a proper go of it. Even then, his first few novels saw little success and his publisher advised him to give up; Trollope was sustained by a belief in himself, a degree of stubbornness and an understanding (gained from his mother’s experience as a popular novelist) that it’s often the vagaries of the market rather than the quality of the writing that dictate the success or failure of a book. Given his eventual and long-lasting success and popularity, it just shows that you shouldn’t let a mountain of rejection slips put you off.

Despite his prodigious output, Trollope continued to work for the Post Office (he notes that stone-breaking would have been a more profitable pastime, and that by 1857 writing had earned him £55 for 10 years’ hard work, which would be roughly £3000 now) until he was in his 50s, often writing in the early morning or on the train as he went about his official business. While it wouldn’t work for everyone, Trollope saw writing as a second profession which should be taken just as seriously as his primary one: at the start of a novel (once he’d built up some experience of how long a novel took him if he set his mind to it and worked hard) he set out a period of weeks in which to write, and allocated a reasonable number of pages per day (now with electronic assistance we’d probably set a word-count) then each day wrote down how many he’d actually completed. If I had the discipline to write this sort of plan in the first place, this might work for me as a method of keeping on track – one of my major failings is that I’m not always aware how much time’s passed or how much I’ve achieved, but seeing on a calendar that it’s now 3 weeks since I began and instead of 15000 words I’ve written 800 might spur me on a bit (or alternatively render me unable to work due to being weighed down by feelings of guilt and inferiority. Depends on mood, weather, and biscuit consumption).

Which brings me neatly (or maybe not) to the end of part one. Heavy rain splashing onto the window behind me being somewhat distracting, and more time than I intended having been spent on this post already, it’s time to break for tea and biscuits and I’ll return to this topic later.

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