Today marks the start of another National Novel Writing Month (commonly called NaNoWriMo), which means thousands of hopefuls across the nation are readying their pens for a long 30 days of scribbling, scratching out, and starting over again. Certainly some greats toiled over their manuscripts for decades (we’re looking at you Victor Hugo), but others churned them in near-NaNoWriMo fashion. Below, six great works tossed off in six weeks or less:
On The Road by Jack Kerouac
Jack Kerouac loved promoting the flashbang nature of On The Road’s composition—typed, he said, in three weeks in April 1951 on one giant roll of paper. The reality is slightly murkier, of course. Turns out there was quite a bit of note-taking during the actual road trip. Still, the Beat’s benzedrine-fueled writing fit is, if not admirable, one for the record books.
The Gambler by Fyodor Dostoevsky
After losing nearly all his money at a gambling table and then pawning his watch, Fyodor Dostoevsky desperately signed a dangerous deal with publisher F.T. Stellovsky: he had mere days to turn in a completed novel or risk losing the rights to his own works for the next 9 years. With help from his future wife, Dostoevsky turned to his own debilitating addiction for content, and The Gambler was born (with hardly any time to spare). Thank God for women.
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
The beloved protagonist of Muriel Spark’s most famous novel was based, unsurprisingly, on Spark’s own teacher. More surprising is the pace at which Spark penned her masterpiece. She claimed it took her less than a month.
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
Anthony Burgess claimed to have written his cult classic in less than a month: “The book I am best known for,” he said “ or only known for, is a novel I am prepared to repudiate: written a quarter of a century ago, a jeu d'esprit knocked off for money in three weeks, it became known as the raw material for a film which seemed to glorify sex and violence.” Needless to say, Burgess wasn’t happy with Kubrick’s film version.
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
William Faulkner famously worked the night shift at a local power plant, and used the time to his advantage. The literary giant turned out his genre-shattering magnum opus in just 6 weeks and claimed not have changed a single word. Which begs the question: Who was checking on things at the power plant?
Casino Royale by Ian Fleming
So, Fleming’s first Bond novel may have taken slightly longer than six weeks (about two months instead), but it paved the way for the series-turned-worldwide phenomenon and kickstarted Fleming’s incredibly streamlined writing process. He claimed all the Bond books that followed were written in six weeks or less. Oh, and don’t forget he designed the original Casino Royale’s cover art in that two-month period, as well.
Hillary Kelly is the digital media editor at The New Republic.