The Frivol, the Geek and Writers’ Time

Units of measurement are wondrous things. Someone – it may have been a Cambridge Professor of Physiology, W A H Rushton FRS; or Isaac Asimov; or even Willie Rushton, Great Man of Thought that he was – proposed a unit of pulchritude. If Helen’s faced launched a thousand ships, argued this philosopher, then we can measure how beautiful a woman is by the number of ships her face would launch. One boat launched equals one milliHelen.

Whoever he may have been, this chap steps effortlessly into the Gallery of Frivols. Welcome, friend!

Writers need a unit of measurement, too.

Anthony Trollope, who invented letter boxes and ran a large part of the Post Office, as well as being the author of the Barsetshire and Palliser novels and much else besides (and my very favourite Victorian) wrote for three hours every day.  He measured his output.  (Don’t we all?)  Only he did it not by time or by number of words written.  He did both.

As Post Office Grandee, he went all over the country in those stately Victorian steam trains and, in order not to waste time, had a portable desk made and wrote while he chugged along. When at home, he got up at half past five and wrote for three hours. And he wrote at the rate of 250 words every quarter of an hour. Apparently he kept a diary recording how many pages he’d done every day.

Now you make think this is a bit obsessive.  Maybe even a touch of the Geek?  Imagine what that man could have done with a fully powered  MacBook Pro.  But by golly, it got the work done.

Because I,too, need to get the work done I propose:

let one Trollope be 1,000 words per hour, a semiTrollope would be 1,000 words in 2 hours;  a demisemiTrollope would be 1,000 words in 4 hours.   So if you write 1,000 words a day, as recommended by Graham Green and Stephen King both, you could do it at the rate of one Trollope, two semiTrollopes, fourdemisemiTrollopes . . .or even eight semidemisemiTrollopes, if it takes you the whole working day.   

Alternatively, a deciTrollope would be 100 words in an hour. 

Writers should always have targets.  I foresee hours of happy calculation to achieve mine.



  1. Kate Hardy said,

    September 14, 2009 at 7:58 pm

    LOL, Jenny. I’m tempted to say that today (working on revisions) I’m measuring my writing in coffee spoons. (Bit pretentiously Prufrockian of me, I know.) Or maybe I’m measuring it in square of Green and Black’s…

  2. anne gracie said,

    September 15, 2009 at 12:04 am

    I love it. From now on I will say, “No sorry, I can’t come out to play. I’m busy Trolloping.”

  3. Jan Jones said,

    September 15, 2009 at 4:32 pm

    Oh, I think I’m definitely a demisemiTrollope.

    Or I would be if I could only keep my procrastination-quotient down

    Fab post again, Jenny

  4. Liz Fielding said,

    September 15, 2009 at 7:21 pm

    So, a-Trolloping we will go! Thanks for the fun, Jenny. 🙂

  5. October 30, 2009 at 9:20 am

    Now – what’s 2000 words again?

  6. Jenny Haddon said,

    October 30, 2009 at 9:26 am

    Depends on the time it takes. If it takes you four hours, it would be two Trollopes. Good luck!

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