“Three hours a day will produce as much as a man ought to write.” Anthony Trollope, Autobiography.
Anthony Trollope – one of my favorite Victorian novelists, both in terms of the quality of his work and the character of his life – knew what he was talking about.
He paid a servant £5 a year extra to wake him up at 5:00 a.m. with a cup of coffee. He was a novelist from 5:30 to 8:30, then he stopped writing – in mid sentence, if necessary – and went to his job as a functionary in the post office, where he found time to invent what the British call the “pillar box,” allowing mail to be picked up en route more efficiently. If he finished a novel at 8:15, he started in on the first 250 words of the next one. By working in this way he produced 47 novels in the course of his lifetime, including some of the best portraits of clergy life, and the effect of that life on families, that have ever been written. I could do much worse than to follow the advice of Anthony Trollope.
Yet I find myself wondering what on earth Anthony Trollope would make of the class I am taking right now – not a class on writing itself, but a class on The Writing Habit.
Why would someone who can push a button on her Mr. Coffee in the morning and save £5 on a servant need to take an 8 week, $240 course in order to find time to write?
I’m not quite sure, but there are sixteen of us. We meet from 5 to 7 p.m. on Tuesdays in a classroom at Open Book, the arts organization in which the Loft Literary Center is housed.
Our instructor is a popular “creativity coach,” a warm, friendly, humorous woman who has made a business of figuring out how to motivate people to do this work.
In the time we spend gazing at our respective New Age navels, Trollope would have written 2000 words.
People can spend an inordinate amount of their check-in on their self-care regime.
Occasionally one of us admits that we completely forgot to put in any product time.
We do a guided imagery meditation to free up our imaginations.
You come to a spot that is marked with an “X”- just like it would be if you were walking on a treasure map – and you start digging.
Eventually you pull up a beautiful box, and when you brush it off and open it up it is brimful of treasures. These treasures are all the thoughts and feelings and experiences you have to write about. Now open your eyes and write down everything you saw in the box.
There is only one thing at the bottom of my imaginary velvet-lined box.
A band of gold I took off six years before.
My wedding ring.
I cry through the whole hokey exercise.
Anthony Trollope sits in the chair next to me, embarrassed and confused.
Women are never prepared for these things. The imaginary hankie he pulls from his breast pocket is of no use to me, and the Saboteur has to run to the rest room for toilet paper. Tears splash down on the hand I hold discreetly to my sniffling nose.
I keep on writing.