From 'The Remains of the Day' to 'A Clockwork Orange', bestselling books written in six weeks or less

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We tend to think of novel-writing as a long, arduous process fraught with anxiety and indecision. Margaret Mitchell took ten years to write Gone With The Wind and J.R.R. Tolkien spent nearly 16 years forming his Lord of the Rings trilogy (fair enough, it was a beast of a story). 

But other authors seem able to turn round a masterpiece in the metaphorical blink of an eyelid.

Whether it's Anthony Burgess penning A Clockwork Orange in three weeks, or John Boyne creating The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas in 60 hours straight without sleep, this particular brand of writer can churn out thousands of words a day and come up with a credible draft in the same amount of time it takes us to achieve... well, very little. 

We don't know whether this is inspiring (anyone can write a best-seller in two ticks!) or depressing (how did they do it?) but it's definitely food for thought.

From Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to Elizabeth Jenkins, we profile ten best-selling authors who wrote some of their greatest works in six weeks or less - along with a closer look at how they managed such an incredible feat.

  • The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro (1989)

    Kazuo Ishiguro wrote one of his most beloved stories in four weeks, after going on what he terms a "crash" - a period where he cleared his diary, refused to answer any calls or mail, and just wrote solidly all day, every day.

    He says: "I wrote free-hand, not caring about the style or if something I wrote in the afternoon contradicted something I’d established in the story that morning. The priority was simply to get the ideas surfacing and growing. Awful sentences, hideous dialogue, scenes that went nowhere – I let them remain and ploughed on... I kept it up for the four weeks, and at the end of it I had more or less the entire novel down."

  • The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne (2006)

    In what he describes as "a very strange writing experience", John Boyne wrote the draft for his hit novel The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas in just two and a half days.

    He says: "I just started writing and the story seemed to take me over and I couldn’t walk away from it. I wrote all the way through one day and I felt at the end of the day if I walk away from this now I’m going to lose this story, I have to keep writing. So I wrote through the night and the next day I wrote all day, I wrote all night, and on the third day at lunch time I finished the first draft and I hadn’t slept. I wrote for 60 solid hours but only taking a break between chapters for a cup of tea or a sandwich."

  • The Tortoise And The Hare by Elizabeth Jenkins (1954)

    Elizabeth wrote her 1954 classic in three weeks, drawing from an affair she had just had with a married doctor who refused to leave his wife.

    She says: "I offered him my heart on a plate. Yes, he made me unhappy, but it was worth it... I have never looked at it [the book] since; it marked an era to which I had no desire to return."

  • The Confidential Agent by Graham Greene (1939)

    Graham Greene was in the middle of writing heavyweight novel The Power and the Glory (1940) when he decided he wanted to make some quick cash. So he began penning The Confidential Agent, a light "entertainment" thriller in the mornings - he wrote 2,000 words per day in the mornings for six weeks.

    He says: "I fell back for the first and last time in my life on Benzedrine. For six weeks I started each day with a tablet, and renewed the dose at midday."

  • Devil May Care by Sebastian Faulks (2008)

    Birdsong author Sebastian Faulks followed the work pattern of Bond creator Ian Fleming to write a James Bond follow-up in just six weeks.

    He says: ""I enjoyed the rush. There was a way in which my own race to the finish line mirrored the chase of the plot... There is a careering, out-of-control feeling, which is exhilarating. The main danger is that the writer hasn't worked out his/her theme. They don't really know what the novel's about."

  • The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark (1961)

    Muriel Spark wrote her acclaimed 1961 novel, set in a girls school in Edinburgh in the 1930s, in just a month. She was inspired by a class assignment.

    She says: "We were given to write about how we spent our summer holidays, but I wrote about how [my teacher] spent her summer holidays instead. It seemed more fascinating...I'm paralysed as a writer unless I write according to this queer dictatorial sense I have."

  • A Study In Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle (1886)

    It took Sir Arthur Conan Doyle a mere three weeks to pen A Study in Scarlet, where he introduced the world's most famous literary detective in the first of his Sherlock Holmes novels. 

    He says: "I've written a good deal more about him than I ever intended to, but my hand has been rather forced by kind friends who continually want to know more."

  • A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (1962)

    Anthony Burgess' infamous Dystopian novella was apparently turned around in just three weeks, and written primarily "for money". 

    He says: "The book I am best known for, 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." 

  • On the Road by Jack Kerouac (1957)

    Jack Kerouac wrote his beatnik masterpiece in just three weeks back in April 1951, using a continual scroll of paper. However, he'd been mulling the idea of writing a book about a road trip for around four years before he actually began writing it. 

    He says: "I spent my entire youth writing slowly with revisions and endless rehashing speculation and deleting and got so I was writing one sentence a day and the sentence had no FEELING. Goddamn it, FEELING is what I like in art, not CRAFTINESS and the hiding of feelings."

  • The Gambler by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1867)

    Finding himself in serious debt, real-life gambler Fyodor Dostoevsky had just 26 days to dictate his novel and meet his publisher's deadline in 1866, or risked losing the rights to his own work for the next nine years. He managed it, drawing from his own crippling addiction as inspiration. 

    He says (in an 1871 letter to his wife, Anya): "You had pawned all your possessions for me during these past 4 years and followed me in my wanderings with homesickness in your heart! Anya, Anya, bear in mind, too, that I am not a scoundrel but only a man with a passion for gambling."

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