The Tortoise And The Hare

No doubt like many writers I find there are days when I can effortlessly write several thousand words, and others when I struggle to write anything of note. This has often led me to wonder how long it has taken famous authors to write their novels.

 HareOn The Road by Jack Kerouac – The defining text of The Beat Generation was written in only three weeks, on a 120-foot scroll of paper. In this largely autobiographical account of Kerouac’s adventures in America and Mexico, the speed of the journey is mirrored by the frenzied pace of the prose.  Click here to read my review.

The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne – This contemporary Irish novelist claims to have written his best selling fictional account of a boy living through the Holocaust in only two and a half days, which left him very little time to eat or sleep.

The Gambler by Fyodor Dostoyevsky – The iconic Russian author purportedly wrote this novella in only twenty-six days, which is all the more impressive when one considers that he was also working on Crime and Punishment at the same time.

The Tortoise and the Hare by Elizabeth Jenkins – This largely autobiographical account of the author’s romantic relationship with a man, who refused to leave his wife, was written in only three weeks. Jenkins has stated publicly that she has never looked at the book since.

 TortoiseCatch-22 by Joseph Heller – Based on Heller’s own experiences as a bombardier in WWII, this best-selling, satirical, anti-war novel, took the American author eight years to write. Catch-22 is frequently cited as one of the greatest literary works of the 20th century.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov – The Russian-American author’s seminal work took five years to pen. This highly controversial novel is about a man’s (Humbert Humbert) infatuation with a twelve-year-old girl called Lolita.  Click here to read my review.

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett – Published in 1989, The Pillars of the Earth is a popular historical novel, about the building of a cathedral. The story, which is set primarily in the 12th century, took the former thriller author ten years to write.

And Ladies of the Club by Helen Hooven Santmyer – This story about a group of women, who start a study club, in a fictional town in Ohio, took its author fifty years to write. The eighty-eight year old Santmyer achieved critical acclaim when it became a best seller in 1984.


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  • Thanks for sharing Guy. It makes me feel a bit better about the length of time it’s taken me to publish my first novel. Life and work do have a tendency to get in the way of things a little. 🙂

    • They do indeed Diane. Some of these authors certainly had a tough time getting their books to print. I imagine once we’ve been through the process a few times it gets easier. Here’s for hoping.

  • Great post Guy. I am not amazed on the length of time for Catch 22. It was my awakening to the beauty of the wild satire which Heller employed. Most of my writing papers received barely passing grades since they were deemed “not realistic enough.” I read Heller during my last year of college and stopped taking writing courses altogether. My books take about 3 months for the first draft. I average about 1000 words a day. Have a great weekend.

    • I recently purchased a copy of ‘Catch-22’. Looking forward to reading it, but have a few books, including ‘It’ to read first. Three months for a first draft is pretty quick in my opinion John, but there is nothing like momentum, and if you keep up a rate of 1000 words a day it soon adds up.

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