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How to Write as Successfully as Anthony Trollope


Anthony Trollope (24 April 1815- 6 December 1882) was one of the most prolific and successful (financially and critically) Victorian novelists. The dominant impression given by his literary career is of enormous vitality and versatility.

Over a thirty-eight-year period he wrote forty-seven novels, eighteen works of non-fiction and numerous short stories and articles. He had his first book, Macdermots of Ballycloran published in 1847 and his last book was released in 1885, three years after his death. All while he lived an otherwise full and busy life.

 A brief biography of Anthony Trollope

 Trollope grew up in a family of privileged background but few monetary resources. His father failed as both a barrister and a gentleman farmer and it was up to Trollope’s mother, Frances Trollope, to ultimately support the family with her income from writing about domestic practices. He was bullied at the great public schools of Winchester and Harrow and his adolescent awkwardness continued until well into his 20s.

Instead of going up to either Oxford or Cambridge as his more monied peers did, he went to work at the General Post Office as a junior clerk. He spent a miserable seven years in this position, failing utterly to distinguish himself.  When he was twenty-six, he was on the verge of being fired but was able to secure an appointment as a post office surveyor in Ireland — as Victorian Historian, Dr Anastasia Dukova says, “It was a position “which no one else would accept”.  In Ireland, he began to enjoy a social life and achieve some success in his career as he travelled around Ireland for his work, “it was altogether, a very jolly life”. In June 1844, he married Rose Heseltine, daughter of a bank manager at Rotherham, and set up house at Clonmel, in Tipperary.  They had two sons. Around the time of their marriage, Trollope took up writing as means of increasing his income. The Times reviewer compared one of his earlier works to a “leg of mutton¾‘substantial, but a little coarse.’ In 1850, his publisher paid him £20 (about $6000 dollars) for La Vendeé. Trollope’s two subsequent Irish novels “enjoyed a fair measure of popularity”. (‘Trollope, Anthony’, Dictionary of National Biography, Vol 19, pp. 1165-1176)

 In 1851, he set off on a two-year work tour of England as an inspector of postal deliveries in rural districts, often astride a horse, and conceived some innovative practices for his employer. Notably, in 1852 he recommended erecting the first of the now famous red pillar roadside letter boxes in the British Isles at St Hellier in Jersey in his then capacity as a Surveyor’s Clerk for the Post Office. Throughout his travels across south-west of Great Britain, Trollope amassed “immense stock of information respecting persons and things” which then imparted extraordinary variety to his novels.

He enjoyed fox hunting twice a week; playing whist at the popular men’s club, the Garrick; entertaining at home; and six weeks of holidays each year. 

In the mid-1850s, his novels finally garnered notoriety and success.

 He was a world traveller

Concurrently, Trollope was rising in “official dignity and emolument”. By 1858, he was so well regarded that he was sent on post office business to Egypt and Palestine. From there he went on to Malta, Gibraltar and Spain. He visited the United States twice, before and after the Civil War, visiting the West Indies and the Caribbean as part of his travels.

His writings

His novels explored clerical issues; the domestic dangers and politics, and other gender issues; and the permanent appetite for power and prestige, where everything devolves to personality, temperament and fate. His fiction is written against a background of institutional crisis produced by reform and standardization. All issues which remain relevant today.

His writing practice and why it was so successful.

“Let their work be to them as is his common work to the common laborer. No gigantic efforts will then be necessary. He need tie no wet towels round his brow, nor sit for thirty hours at his desk without moving—as men have sat, or said that they have sat.” ~An Autobiography, Anthony Trollope

 He knew his “Why”.

Trollope was crystal clear on the results he wanted from his writing. He wasn’t doing it as a hobby or because he was inspired. He was doing it to make money (this came out in his autobiography, published after his death, and caused the critics, who thought he should be writing for the sake of his art, to heap scorn on him). In deciding to be a professional, he knew he had to behave professionally. He treated his daily writing practice as he treated his paying job and kept meticulous records of how much he earned from each book.

 He wrote to a strict schedule

“It was my practice to be at my table at every morning at 5:30; and it was also my practice to allow myself no mercy.” An Autobiography, by Anthony Trollope. 

A servant woke Trollope in the early morning with a cup of coffee to get him started. With the exception of the midsummer months when the days are long, he wrote by gaslight as electric light wasn’t a common fixture in UK homes until after the First World War. From 5:30 AM to 8:30 AM, he wrote by hand, pen to paper as his work primarily predated the advent of the typewriter, the first of which only came onto the market in 1874*.

Showing up consistently is a principle tenet of professionalism and it has been proven over and over again to lead to successful outcomes. He made writing his priority and during his three allotted hours, he did one thing and one thing only – he wrote. Deciding what is truly important and doing one thing at a time are two key skills developed by highly productive people.

He did it first thing every day

“If you do the most important thing first each day, then you’ll always get something important done.” writes James Clear on his website. In addition, your willpower is highest at the beginning of the day plus you will be less likely to be overtaken by other events such as unexpected tasks and interruptions.   

He broke big projects into bite-sized pieces.

With his watch on the table in front of him, he broke his writing time into 15-minute segments. His unyielding goal was to complete 250 words in each increment, 1,000 words per hour and 2,500 words over the three-hour session. This allowed him to maintain a steady momentum of 10 pages per day, enough productivity, he worked out, to give him three full-length novels in a year.  

At the end of each day, he could tick off his intervals, tally up his pages and feel a sense of accomplishment, something he clearly recognized as important. “A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labours of a spasmodic Hercules.” ~Anthony Trollope.

 Big projects can be overwhelming and discouraging when you work on them day after day without an end in sight. Unfinished projects create an unresolved tension and stress in our minds. “When we start something, we want to finish it,” writes Clear. Rather than making his goal “finishing a novel”, but rather achieving his bite-sized piece of the day, Trollope was able to finish a ‘project’ every day as he ticked off each 15-minute increment.

He has good advice for anyone wanting to be a writer.

While he was determined to make money as a writer, he knew it would take time and effort to learn his craft.

My belief of book writing is much the same as my belief as to shoemaking. The man who will work the hardest at it, and will work with the most honest purpose, will work the best. All trades are now uphill work, & require a man to suffer much disappointment, and this trade more almost than any other. I was at it for years & wrote ten volumes before I made a shilling–, I say all this, which is very much in the guise of a sermon, because I must endeavor to make you understand that a man or woman must learn the tricks of his trade before he [or she] can make money by writing.” The Letters of Anthony Trollope, Edited by N. John Hall.


All of which is still good advice today, in our age of instant gratification, for anyone beginning a new venture or career, whether it is writing or any other new enterprise.

 “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.” ~Bill Gates

Trollope’s morning routine was simple, straightforward and consistent. By choosing to work at a steady pace, and measuring his progress in bite-sized chunks, he was able to sustain his productivity over the long run leading to financial and critical success as a writer. And, by all appearances he felt his life well-lived. As he noted in his autobiography, “Few men I think ever lived a fuller life and I attribute the power of doing this to the virtue of my early hours.”

*Fun fact: Mark Twain was the first author to submit a typewritten manuscript. 

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