Who is your literary role model?

As a writer, or aspiring writer, you might be asked if you have a literary role mode, or to name a successful writer who particularly inspires you. If you do not have a literary role model, but you’re thinking of finding one, although nobody says you have to have one, consider these points.

First, don’t choose a literary role model for the sole reason that you enjoy their work. Instead, pick someone who embodies the work habits and traits that you want to emulate. For example, I have read and re-read The Great Gatsby countless times, and I believe it to be one of the finest books written in the twentieth century. Still, I would not say that Scott Fitzgerald is my literary role model. The same goes for dozens of other writers whose work I have enjoyed over the years.

Second, I suggest that one choose a literary role model who has been dead for a very long time. This will eliminate your running into him, or her, at a book signing or other similar affair, where you are likely to be blown off as an aspiring nobody. You will also be unlikely to read unflattering news about your role model when they are taken into custody for drunken driving, wife beating or plagiarism. Most importantly, dead writers do not have websites on which you will be tempted to malinger, robbing you of hours that could be better spent working on your own novel, short story or blog. Dead writers don’t Tweet, nor do they have Facebook pages, or any of the other time eating social media distractions that cause the aspiring writer to divert attention from their own writing projects, and generally dishearten the aspiring writer who falls short of 56,000 Twitter followers.

So of course I have a literary role model, or I wouldn’t be bringing this up today. In coming up with a role model, I sought someone with the following traits: he or she must have written prolifically, and they must have exhibited great tenacity and focus in their approach to work – tenacity and focus often trumping talent when the talent is unfocused and slovenly in their approach to craft.  For this reason, the writer that I would most like to emulate is nineteenth century literary legend, Anthony Trollope. Dead since 1882, Trollope will not be tweeting. Sometimes overlooked, as he stands a bit in the shadow of Dickens (a fact that some say drove him to write to extremes), Trollope turned out 47 full length novels, countless short stories, and a slew of non-fictional works in the course of his 67 years, including his 1859 classic “The West Indies and the Spanish Main”.

Starting each day at 5:30 AM, Trollope wrote for 3 hours straight, running only on coffee provided by a servant. In all of his writing years, the servant was never late with Trollope’s coffee, a fact that was not lost on the great writer as he attributed much of his literary success to this faithful servant who apparently kept him caffeinated enough to work. The first 30 minutes of Trollop’s day (from 5:30 until 6:00 AM) was spent reading the previous day’s work. The next two and a half hours were spent writing. Trollope was able, with much practice, to spend this time actually putting words on paper, and not as he himself said  “nibbling his pen, and gazing at the wall before him”. Trollope worked with a watch in front of him and clocked himself at about 250 words per fifteen minute period. Subtract that 30 minutes of review time from the allotted three hours, and you will find that he churned out an astounding 2500 words a day!

Trollope put a great deal of emphasis on his daily reading of his previous day’s work. He felt that this was one of the most important parts of the writing process, as it helped him to achieve the same tone and spirit throughout his finished work.

One of my favorite stories about Trollope confirms his literary discipline. Upon completing a lengthy work, with fifteen minutes left in his ‘writing day’, he penned the words THE END, and put the manuscript aside. A lesser writer would call it a day – but not Anthony Trollope. He pulled out a fresh sheet of paper and began his next book.

It is unlikely that I will follow the disciplined Trollope into literary greatness. But I do find that studying his work habits have inspired me to try to improve my own by adding more structure to my writing periods.

If you have a literary role model, or if you have any particular suggestions to help motivate aspiring writers to keep the words flowing, feel free to comment here.

As for me, the hour grows late, and I have a 5:30 AM date with my laptop.

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