American novelist Herman Melville (1819-1891), best known for writing Moby-Dick (or The Whale), wrote six to eight hours a day. It took Melville 18 months to write Moby-Dick. In September 1850, Melville had purchased a 160-acre farm, located in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, from his father-in-law for $3,000. In this remote, bucolic setting, he learned how to balance writing with farm life. In a letter (dated December 1850) to a friend, Melville wrote: “I rise at eight — thereabouts — and go to my barn [where I feed my horse]… Then, pay a visit to my cow [and feed her]…. My own breakfast over, I go to my work-room and light my fire — then spread my manuscript on the table… take one business squint at it, and fall to with a will. At 2:30 PM I hear a preconcerted knock at my door, which (by request) continues till I rise and go to the door, which serves to wean me effectively from my writing, however interested I may be.” He goes on to describe how he spent most evenings: feeding the horse and cow, eating dinner, and taking his sisters and mother on a sleigh ride to the nearby village. When he returned home he spent time “skimming over some large-printed book” since he was too tired to read.
Incidentally, students of American literature know that Melville’s magnum opus, Moby-Dick, about man’s epic struggle with evil was a commercial failure when it was first published in 1851. The 600-page book sold only 3,215 copies in America; he earned about $1,259. Melville died in 1891, and it took about 100 years, specifically the 1919 centennial of his birth, for literary critics and scholars to discover his works. This critical reassessment of his work (known as the “Melville Revival) finally established Melville in the pantheon of America’s greatest writers and recognized Moby-Dick as a classic of American literature and certainly one of the Great American Novels. Today, a first edition of Moby-Dick is worth more than $60,000 and the novel has sold millions of copies.
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