Literature

To Maintain Your Passion Despite Your Day Job, Do What Anthony Trollope Did

When it comes to making art while holding down a "real" job, English author Anthony Trollope could check off several hashtags: #winning #goals #bookbeast #multihyphenate. He wrote 47 novels and 16 other books in his lifetime, and most of that was as an employee of the post office. How did he do it? A daily regimen that you, too, can follow — if you have the will.

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Portrait of Anthony Trollope by Samuel Laurence.

Workin' 9 To 5

Anthony Trollope's novels are celebrated for being ultra-detailed slices of real life. Nathaniel Hawthorne once wrote that they were "just as real as if some giant had hewn a great lump out of the earth and put it under a glass case, with all its inhabitants going about their daily business, and not suspecting that they were made a show of." That makes sense, considering that he was a regular guy steeped in his own daily business — no extravagant parties or holidays in foreign lands for this civil servant.

In 1834, at 19 years old, he was hired as a junior clerk in the General Post Office. He began writing his first book in 1843, and by the time he retired in 1867, more than two dozen of his books had been published. As Trollope wrote in his autobiography, he accomplished this feat with determination, discipline, and a very early alarm.

Trollope's Daily Ritual

"It was my practice to be at my table every morning at 5:30 a.m.; and it was also my practice to allow myself no mercy," he wrote. "By beginning at that hour I could complete my literary work before I dressed for breakfast. 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, Trollope said, not all hours are made equal. It's easy to set aside time for yourself to write only to sit "gazing at the wall" trying to think of ideas.

To combat this, he set mini-goals: he watched the clock, and made a rule that he would write 250 words every 15 minutes. With that responsibility before him, the ideas just happened. "I have found that the 250 words have been forthcoming as regularly as my watch went," he wrote.

That merciless approach got results. "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," he wrote. "I have never written three novels in a year but by following the plan above described I have written more than as much as three volumes; and by adhering to it over a course of years, I have been enabled to have always on hand — for some time back now — one or two or even three unpublished novels in my desk beside me."

It was that simple. Working just three hours a day (something Charles Darwin did too, by the way) adds up to quite a lot over a lifetime. What's stopping you? Just set your alarm, lay out your stopwatch, and allow yourself "no mercy."

For more looks at famous artists' regimens (and those of other thinkers), check out "Daily Rituals: How Artists Work" by Mason Currey.

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