Writer’s block was invented in the early 1800s. Before then, writing was a labour and a craft. The more time you spent, the more skilled you became. You could then to produce better pieces, faster.
Writer’s block arrived once quality was attributed to inspiration.
If you were building a house, you wouldn’t concern yourself with whether the muse was present. To move forward, you need to lay some bricks. Inspiration be damned.
Every day for years, Trollope reported in his “Autobiography,” he woke in darkness and wrote from 5:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m., with his watch in front of him.
The writing session was followed, for a long stretch of time, by a day job with the postal service.
He required of himself two hundred and fifty words every quarter of an hour.
If he finished one novel before eight-thirty, he took out a fresh piece of paper and started the next.
This quote blows me away for so many reasons.
He was a writer, external validation or no. He wrote and he shipped.
He didn’t have the resources to quit his job and work undisturbed on his masterpiece. Instead, he just wrote. He wrote before his dayjob.
He held himself to a ridiculous standard. He was his own harsh mistress.
His standard didn’t hinge on quality. It was quantity-driven. 1000 words an hour. 3 hours a day. He didn’t let his ego get all tangled into what he was producing. The ego delays shipping.
Trollope shipped while working days as a postman. And then he could stop delivering parcels. If he had quit his job to dive in head first, would he have found success before he ran out of runway? He certainly might have. Instead, he chose to skirt the risk entirely.
He acknowledged writing as mundane and refused to deify the output.
Had this advice been given in 1850, it might have been gratefully accepted. But Trollope’s autobiography was published in 1883, the year after his death.
By that time, romantic notions about writing had filtered down to the public. Many readers now believed that literature was something produced by fine-minded, unhappy people who did not hunt, and to this audience Trollope’s recommendations seemed clear evidence of shallowness.
According to Michael Sadleir, who wrote the introduction to the Oxford World’s Classics edition of the “Autobiography,” the book “extinguished its author’s good name for a quarter of a century.”
All quotes are from The New Yorker. It’s a seriously great article. Check it out!
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