Anthony Trollope on Speed Writing

At every turn, indie writers are encouraged and urged and pressured to write faster. Quality seems to be a second thought. Just as long as thousands of words are written every day, the indie writer is told he or she is on the first step to success.

Books abound telling us how to write faster. The following appeared on the first page of an Amazon search: 2K to 10K, Fast Fiction, Write Fast, 5000 Words Per Hour. And of course the authors of these books are making money hand over fist by telling us how to write faster. But none of the authors of those books are in the same league as Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope, Stephen King, Sandra Brown or Dean Koontz. Generally speaking the writers of how-to books don’t make their living by writing fiction. They make their money telling wannabe writers how to write. And that should be a warning to us all.

There is no secret to writing fast. To put it bluntly, all one needs to do is to park one’s butt in a chair for a set amount of time, cut the distractions, and write. As Australian science fiction and fantasy writer Patty Jansen has said, 1000 finished words each day will produce at least four novels per year. At the end of three years a writer could have four three-book series for sale. That is a solid step in the direction of writing for a living.

Four weeks ago I mentioned Anthony Trollope’s method for producing three-quarters of a million words per year. In his own day, the Victorian novelist was known as The Writing Machine. In an era when artists were supposed to work by inspiration, Trollope quite baldly and boldly showed that successful artists work by perspiration. Let’s expand a bit on Trollope’s method.

Anthony Trollope viewed writing just like any other business. To be successful, one had to have goals and then set up a plan to meet those goals.

In several different chapters of his Autobiography, Trollope gives us a window into his working life as a successful author. I recommend that every writer read Anthony Trollope’s Autobiography. It’s available for free at Project Gutenberg.

Goals

Trollope’s overall goal was to be a successful author, which by his definition meant he had to earn a livable wage from writing.

The first step in achieving that goal was to write books. For each novel, Trollope set a date for the novel to be completed and submitted to a publisher.

To hold himself accountable, he kept a writing diary and recorded his progress in it. In that way he didn’t have to guess if he was making progress towards his goal. He knew how much he had written every day. He also knew if he was slacking off. The diary was his production manager.

By setting a goal, Trollope had made a commitment. We all know the benefit of setting goals. We also know the benefit of being held accountable to reach those goals. Trollope held himself accountable by means of his writing diary and his desire to earn a livable wage from his writing.

In the end, we are the ones who are responsible for our own success.

Write Every Morning

To achieve his greater goal, Anthony Trollope set smaller goals. Goals that could be achieved every day, and thereby be an encouragement to him.

He set aside three hours every morning as his writing time. This was a daily goal.

He got up at 5:30 AM, spent the first half-hour reviewing the previous day’s production, then wrote for the remaining 2 1/2 hours. Afterwards, he dressed, ate breakfast, and went to his day job at the post office.

Why write in the morning? Why not in the evening? Trollope doesn’t specifically tell us. However, he was a very busy man. He had a family and a full-time job. He was a social person and, after a day at the post office, he’d go to the club, visit with friends, play whist, and two or more times a week he’d go fox hunting.

Practically speaking, that only left mornings in which to write — and early mornings at that.

Psychologically, though, writing first thing in the morning says something else. It says we value it above everything else in our day. It’s so valuable that we make sure we get it done before we do anything else. Even eating breakfast. Whether Trollope realized it or not he was telling himself that writing was the most important thing in his life.

Lawrence Block noted he was fresher first thing in the morning. The issues of the day hadn’t filled up his mind yet. So in addition to the psychological value, writing first thing in the morning means we get to start with a clean slate — and thereby hopefully produce our best work.

Write To The Clock

It’s one thing to get up at 5:30 AM to write and it’s another thing entirely to produce something in the three hours you’ve set aside to write.

Trollope left nothing to chance. To sit and stare at the wall or out the window, waiting for inspiration to strike, was not the Trollope way. He was a busy man. He had to make the most of his time. And make the most of it, he did.

After reviewing the previous day’s work, Trollope took out his watch and set it on the table. He took out a sheet of paper, dipped his steel dip pen into the ink pot, and commenced writing.

Writing 250 words per page, he turned out one page of his novel every 15 minutes. One thousand words per hour. Two thousand five hundred words, or 10 manuscript pages, by the time his morning writing session was over.

By setting both a daily goal and an hourly goal, Trollope could gauge his progress. And we all know how exhilarating even small successes can be.

By writing to the clock, Trollope produced 47 novels, 17 works of nonfiction, 2 plays, 44 short stories, in addition to numerous articles, lectures, and letters. And all that in the span of 35 years, from 1847 (when his first novel was published) to December 1882 (when he died).

Summary

How did Anthony Trollope produce a full-time writer’s output only writing part-time?

He made efficient use of his time. In a nutshell, this is his method:

  • Write at a set time every day.
  • Write for a set amount of time every day.
  • Write a set amount of words in that time every day.
  • Set a deadline for the work to be completed.
  • Keep a diary of your progress to inspire you or chastise you.

Two thousand five hundred words each day will give you 912,500 words a year. That’s seven 120,000 novels. Or eleven 80,000 word novels. Or eighteen 50,000 word novels.

Honestly, does anyone need to produce more than that in one year?

As always, comments are welcome! And until next time, happy reading (and writing)!

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Fast Writing: Additional Thoughts

Last week we talked about fast writing. This week I want to riff on some of those points we made.

For years now, I’ve maintained “The First Draft” is a myth. There’s no need for it or the accompanying second, third, fourth, fifth, etc drafts. The multiple draft approach is an Academic Belief System all wannabe writers are taught to believe by people who don’t write for a living. It has no basis in reality. At least the reality of those who write fiction for a living.

The belief system of Academia and the editors in the traditional publishing world believe this formula:

Slow Writing = Good Writing.

Or conversely, Fast Writing = Bad Writing.

This is a belief system. A religion. It is not The Truth. It has no basis in reality. It’s no different than belief in God. No one can prove there is or isn’t a God. One either believes there is a God or believes there isn’t one. Simple as that.

We writers can choose to believe the myth about fast and slow writing or we can choose not to believe it. For myself, I don’t believe it.

In high school and college, as a matter of course, mostly due to time pressure is my guess, I wrote out my papers and essays by hand. Then I typed them, editing as I went along. When I was done, I submitted. No first draft, second draft baloney. There was no time. And I’m pleased to say, I never got poor marks on my papers.

But for some odd reason, I didn’t apply that intuitive course of action to my fiction writing. I struggled trying to make it perfect. To do all of the “right” things. And consequently, I got nothing written.

Nearly 40 years ago now, I read a book on writing advice. I don’t remember the title, author, or anything about it except the summary of how Isaac Asimov wrote and his advice for writers. It went something like this:

  • Write every day — whether or not you feel like it.
  • Write simply.
  • Forget the critics.
  • Don’t rewrite. That’s what editors are for. This point was Asimov’s restatement of Robert Heinlein’s 3rd Rule of Writing, something I learned later. Asimov didn’t rewrite unless his editor demanded it. Asimov followed what, in business, is called the OHIO rule: Only Handle It Once. And it does work for writers. I practiced it with my essays for school.
  • Don’t use an agent. Because you make more money if you don’t. I.E., you aren’t paying the agent his or her commission.

That book and the brief bit of information from Isaac Asimov was my first introduction to prolific writing. And I loved the concept!

But for some reason, I still didn’t apply it to my fiction. And nothing got written.

Later on, I learned about the Victorian speed demon, Anthony Trollope. I learned Heinlein’s 5 Rules of Writing. I was awed by the fabulous production of Robert E Howard in his very short writing career. And I learned one thing about myself: I needed to be like them. I needed to be a fast writer.

In 1989, I wrote a novel. The process took me a year. I didn’t really know what I was doing. But I did get it written while working full time and learning the ins and outs of raising a very young child. After a few rejections of my query, I set the work aside. I decided it wasn’t up to standard. And in truth, it wasn’t. I didn’t quite have down how to write a good story. I also came to the decision, I couldn’t write longer works of fiction. They took up too much time. So I turned to poetry. And that worked.

For a span of fifteen or so years I wrote thousands of poems, following Asimov’s advice. I was a prolific poet and got hundreds of poems published. But I tired of poetry and wanted to write what I’d always wanted to write and that was fiction. So once again I turned to novel writing. And once again I stubbed my toe on another myth — that of the outline. And no matter how much I tried, I couldn’t get an outline to work. Every time I took my wonderful character or story idea and tried to outline the book, I suddenly lost all inspiration. It vanished.

Then I stumbled upon Kazuo Ishiguro and Yasujirō Ozu and the plotless novel and movie. To be fair, their books and movies aren’t without plot. The storyline, though, is minor. What is important are the character studies taking place on the page and screen. That was what broke the ice. I liked reading about characters. I could not care less about the story. I want interesting characters.

Suddenly, I felt free. There were no restrictions. Just write. Do what Ray Bradbury advised: create your characters, have them do their thing, and that’s your story. Simple as that. The words have been flowing like a flood from my pen ever since.

But getting back to Asimov, there was one “rule” he didn’t articulate but is clearly implied in his methodology — and which I follow. Namely, write it right the first time.

How does one write it right the first time? Confidence. You must be confident you know the basics of good writing. You must be confident you can tell a reasonably good story.

I’m not referring here to deeply profound writing. Or writing that is symbolic or “literary”, whatever that means. Or writing that is approved by Academia. I’m not referring here to writing that will win you the Pulitzer or Nobel or Booker awards. I’m referring here to good writing that will hopefully earn you a few bucks and maybe a lot of bucks. Straightforward writing that tells a good story.

Shakespeare did not set out to become the doyen of English literature. He was writing to make a buck. He used prefab storylines and created memorable characters and wrote some doggone good dialogue. But his main goal was to make a buck to support his family, mistress, and keep his theatre afloat. Shakespeare had confidence he could tell a good story.

The critics hated Isaac Asimov and ridiculed his very simple and straightforward writing style. However, the readers loved him and Asimov himself undoubtedly laughed at his critics all the way to the bank. Why? Because he told a good story. Was it a perfect story? No. And he would have been the first to admit it. But the story was good. In fact, Asimov wrote once that he tried to follow the multiple draft method and couldn’t. He liked what he wrote on the first draft and didn’t see any way he could improve it. Besides, it was a waste of time — if he wanted to be prolific and make a buck. Asimov had confidence.

Dean Wesley Smith tells an interesting anecdote from back when he was part of the traditional publisher world. He wrote a novel and his editor sent it back with a list of rewrites. Smith agreed with most of them and spent a day making the fixes. He was getting ready to send the typescript back when his wife told him to wait 3 weeks. Why? Because if Smith sent it back right away, following the “Slow Writing = Good Writing” myth, the editor would reject his work. He’d done the rewrites too quickly. So Smith waited. After 3 weeks he sent the typescript back and the editor praised his work and how quickly he’d made the fixes. Smith laughed. In those three weeks he’d almost finished another novel!

So what’s my point here? Here it is in a nutshell:

  • Learn the writing craft. Know your grammar and know the basics of good storytelling. If you don’t know those basics, you will not be able to tell good stories no matter how many rewrites you grind out.
  • Write every day — even if you don’t feel like it. Routine is good. Stick to it.
  • Don’t pot around worrying about outline and plot twists and all the other hoopla. Just write the story. Create your characters, put them in a fix or give them a problem to solve and then start writing. You will learn in the course of writing. We are writers. Not rewriters. When I read of writers who LOVE editing and rewriting… Well, there is something wrong there. IMO.
  • When done, reread to make sure your story is coherent and to catch typos, grammar issues, and any clunky sentences you may have written. But the sake of everything that is of value to you, don’t rewrite the thing. IMO, if you have to rewrite then you don’t know how to tell a story. Yeah, I know, that’s harsh. But it is just my opinion. The choice is yours: pot around rewriting, or get it right the first time and try to make a buck.

I’ve written and/or published in the span of 2 years, 11 novels, 6 novellas, 16 short stories, and a weekly blog. Are there better writers out there than me? Certainly. Are there worse writers? Sure are. But am I a good writer? Like Asimov, when I look at a story or novel I’ve just completed I like it. Do I tweak it? Usually. But I don’t rewrite. I just fix the little things like typos and grammar mistakes and maybe reword a sentence or two if they come off sounding clunky. That’s it. If the beta readers spot a big issue, I’ll fix that. Following Asimov and Heinlein, I only rewrite if my “editors” insist on it. And the so called rewrite is usually only a paragraph or so.

That’s the secret to fast writing. Go out there and tell your stories. Because only YOU can tell YOUR stories.

Comments are always welcome. Until next time, happy reading!

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Writing Fast: To Go Where Few Of Today’s Writers Have Gone Before

If you are a writer, I’m going to save you at least a buck today. A buck might not be much, but save enough of them and you can retire.

The other day I ran across a podcast interviewing Rachel Aaron, “Miss 10K Words A Day”. After reading through the transcript of the interview I decided to check out her blog. I found the original post from 2011 in which she outlined her system for writing 10,000 words a day. After reading it, I came away singularly unimpressed. There was nothing new there. Which is so often the case with writing advice. As the writer of Ecclesiastes wrote, “There is nothing new under the sun”.

Now my intention is not to put down Ms Aaron. After all she’s radically increased her word count per day — and tossed onto the rubbish heap the myth that fast writing is bad writing. And I say, Good for her! But what’s apparent to me is that she’s young and has little knowledge of the fact high word counts for writers used to be very much the norm. They had to be. Those writers of the pulp era wrote for a living. Every word they wrote was money in their pocket. No words on the page, no money. It was that simple.

Ms Aaron also writes for a living and she too has discovered fast writing is one of the keys to making a livable wage from the writing of fiction. But fast writing is nothing new, although I get the impression she seems to think so.

Nevertheless, she’s come up with a system, a good system by the way, and is willing to sell it to you for 99¢. Which is very generous on her part. Some writing gurus charge a whole lot more for a whole lot less.

But everything she has to say can be gotten for FREE on the Internet. Starting with her own blog post in 2011.

Michael Moorcock

Michael Moorcock, that prodigious writer of science fiction and fantasy, used to write novels in three days. Karen Woodward outlines how he did it in a blog post from 2014. And you can find another article at wetasphalt.com.

The Guardian, in 2010, presented Moorcock’s “Ten Rules For Writers”. Wonderful advice from a master.

The articles above are all free, just click on the links, and if you follow the advice you will increase your daily word count substantially.

Lester Dent

But Moorcock didn’t come up with his method all by himself. He got it from Lester Dent, a pulp era writer with a fantastic output. Dent was the creator of Doc Savage. If you’ve never read Doc Savage, you are missing out on a classic.

Karen Woodward has a fabulous series of blog posts on Lester Dent’s method of fast writing. The first one is “Lester Dent’s Short Story Master Formula”. The links to the other four articles are at the bottom of the initial post. And note, the formula works equally well for novels. A shorter version of Dent’s formula can be found at Dirty 30s! on paper-dragon.com. And once again, this information is all free!

Anthony Trollope

But fast writing didn’t originate during the pulp fiction era either. It began much earlier. Alexandre Dumas (1802 – 1870) made frequent use of assistants and collaborators to increase his production. Which is, of course, a time honored method of doing so. James Patterson does it today.

One of my favorite authors, Anthony Trollope (1815 – 1882), in a writing career that spanned 37 years, produced 35 standalone novels, two 6-novel series, 42 short stories, 2 plays, 18 works of non-fiction, and 3 articles, as well as keeping up a voluminous correspondence. Without the help of assistants or collaborators. How did he do it? Quite simple, really.

For most of his writing career, Trollope worked a full-time job at the post office. Which meant he had to make the most of his time. He’d get up 2 1/2 hours before he had to leave for his day job in order to have time to write. The first half-hour he reviewed what he wrote the previous day. For the next two hours, he wrote.

He wrote by the clock. Literally. There was a clock on his desk. He wrote, by hand, with a dip pen, 250 words every 15 minutes. Or 2000 words in those two hours. He did that every day.

If during the two hours he completed the novel he was working on, he took out a fresh sheet of paper and began the next one. What that tells me is he had the story idea already in his head or written down somewhere. The key is he didn’t have to think about it. It was already there.

Trollope also kept a journal in which he recorded his daily word count. The purpose was to catch himself if he started slacking off.

Let’s summarize Trollope’s method:

  1. Have the storyline in your head, at the very least. Jot a few notes, if you need to. Moorcock and Dent did the same thing by writing in fictional universes they’d already created in detail. They didn’t have to figure out stuff on the fly.
  2. Set aside a regular time and place to write EVERY DAY. This is one of the secrets Rachel Aaron discovered and used to increase her word count.
  3. Review the previous day’s work to prime the pump and get the juices flowing. This is akin to warming up exercises before a person goes jogging.
  4. Don’t dawdle. Write quickly and get the words down. If you need notes or an outline in order to do so, then take a few minutes to jot them down. Writers often get bogged down when they have to spend time thinking about what they are going to write instead of writing it. Another secret Ms Aaron discovered.
  5. Record your progress. That way, if you find you are falling behind, you can easily pinpoint why and correct the problem. This is another one of the secrets Ms Aaron discovered, which I am passing along to you.

There you have it, Anthony Trollope’s secret to speedy writing. The granddaddy of speedy writers. You also now know Michael Moorcock’s method, Lester Dent’s method, and Rachel Aaron’s method of speedy writing. And all for FREE! You’ve just saved yourself a buck.

The secret to fast writing is no secret. Writers have been writing quickly for many, many decades. As Dean Wesley Smith has pointed out, it is the traditional publishing world and academia that has made us think fast writing equals hack writing. I am very glad Rachel Aaron has discovered the secret to fast writing and is popularizing it. But it has never been a secret. It’s just been demonized by those who didn’t and don’t write for a living.

So get out your pencil, pen, or keyboard and start writing. You’ve nothing to lose but those doggone low word counts.

As always, comments are welcome. Until next time, happy reading! And happy fast writing!

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