When Anthony Trollope’s Autobiography (1883) was published a year after his death it shocked many of his readers and turned critics against him. In it, he revealed that he wrote to a strict schedule, writing for several hours a day, before breakfast (his “freshest hours”). In the words of John Barry:
What writers call ‘waiting for an inspiration’ he considered nonsense. The result of his system was that he accomplished a vast amount of work. But, by telling the truth about his system, he injured his reputation. When his ‘Autobiography’ was published after his death, lovers of literature were shocked, instead of being impressed by his courage and industry. They had the old-fashioned notion about writing, which still persists, by the way. They liked to think of writers as ‘inspired,’ as doing their work by means of a divine agency. As if we did not all do our work by a divine agency no matter what the work may be. But the divine agency insists on being backed up with character, which means courage and persistence, the qualities that make for system. In the ‘Autobiography,’ Anthony Trollope unquestionably showed that he was not an inspirational writer, and that he was a man inspired by tremendous moral force.
Do we still have the same prejudices over a hundred years later? A Vanity Fair profile of James Patterson — only the world’s best selling author since 2001, with an income estimated around $90 million a year — shows how an industrious twenty-first century author gets the job done. The secret seems to lie in lots of delegation.