18 February 2013

Fast Times

By Fran Rizer

In my youth (a hundred years ago), no young lady wanted to be labeled as "fast," and I wasn't.  Yet, looking back, I did seem to always be in a hurry.  I started school a year ahead, finished high school in three years and my first college degree in three years, which put me in a high school classroom teaching senior English at age nineteen.  The older I grow, the more I realize how truly little I knew back then.

For my newest "baby" to be delivered around October since it's a Christmas story, it needs to be completed by June.  This didn't scare me because books two and three were written and edited in six months each, but it did start me thinking about how long people spend writing a book.

Margaret Mitchell
Margaret Mitchell spent from 1926 to 1934 writing Gone With the Wind, working steadily except for brief periods of discouragement in 1927 and 1934.  Harper Lee devoted three years to producing To Kill a Mockingbird.  More recently, Heidi Durrow says she worked on The Girl Who Fell from the Sky for thirteen years.

Anthony Burgess
What's the other extreme?  Who are the writers who claim to have churned out best sellers in very little writing time? 

Anthony Burgess said that A Clockwork Orange was "knocked off for money in three weeks."  But more impressive than that is the backstory.

In 1959, Burgess was told that he had an inoperable brain turmor and would be dead within a year.  Hoping to provide for his wife after his death, Burgess wrote five novels in the next twelve months. A Clockwork Orange was published in 1962.  Burgess lived another thirty years (died in 1993) and left more than thirty novels.

Mickey Spillane wrote his best seller I the Jury in nine days.  It sold seven million copies in three years.

It's said that The Running Man  took Stephen King (writing as Richard Bachman) only three nights.  There are some claims though that a lot of it was lifted from previous manucripts King wrote.
Jack Kerouac

Jack Kerouac's actual writing time for On the Road  is touted to have been three weeks, but he'd spent seven years traveling the USA and making notes.  Another interesting fact about On the Road is that Kerouac wrote it on a 119-foot long scroll of paper so that he didn't have to keep inserting sheets into his typewriter.  The scroll  has been exhibited in museums and libraries around the world.

On the end of the scroll is a note in Kerouac's handwriting.  He states that a cocker spaniel ate the last lines, so no one knows the original final words.  That sounds an awful lot like some Colonel Parker business to me, and if you believe it's the gospel truth, please let me know because I've got a bridge for sale in New York, and I'll give you a real deal on it!

Until we meet again, take care of . .  .you! 


  1. Fran, I read about a science-fiction writer who could polish off a book in about three days. He was commissioned by an editor to write a novel, and the editor told him to not rush through it and do a hack job. Piece of cake; the writer did it over a weekend, put it in a drawer and mailed it off about a month later. His editor told him "See how good these turn out when you take the time to do it right?" I can't think of the writer's name, but the story is in the Science Fiction Book of Lists.

  2. I remember reading Mickey Spillane was a phenomenally fast writer. Any novel most of us wrote in 9 days would take 9 months of editing.

  3. Jeff, if you think of his name, please let me know. That's a great story!
    Leigh, I don't know about everyone else, but rewrites and editing definitely takes me longer than writing the rough draft.

  4. Did you notice I used a singular verb with a plural subject in the comment above? That's why I have to spend so much time editing!

  5. Well don't feel like the Lone Ranger, Fran. If it weren't for Spellcheck and editing, I'd seem an absolute Cretin. lol

    Jeff, could that Sci-Fi writer have been Heinlein? I've heard he was very fast and despised editing.

    Never heard this about A Clockwork Orange, Fran. Fascinating stuff! Thanks for a great article.


  6. I read somewhere that Harper Lee threw away the manuscript at one time during the writing of it. (I shudder just thinking about it.) How long she actually spent working on it I would guess is a matter of conjecture. How many of you are like me and spend hours in front of the computer twiddling our thumbs while trying to come up with the right word or sentence, only to throw it out when we edit the final draft?

    Writing a novel in 9 days? Forgeddabout it!

  7. It wasn't anyone as famous today as Heinlein. It might have been Leroy Yerxa (!!) And it isn't even in the book I cited, but I have read it!


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