Monday, November 15, 2010

In Which We Discuss Books Written Quickly And Well

We're now at the half way point of National Novel Writing Month.  Here in Seattle, there was an event for it hosted at Richard Hugo House in which masses of tables were set up and hordes of writers, most of them young and all equipped with laptops, set to working on their word counts.  I glanced in only briefly, and was struck by the resemblance to a college library in the days before finals: everyone working on their own computer, everyone intent, everyone silent.

I could have been one of those people, except for two slight hitches.  One, I don't actually own a laptop, and two, I'm done with my novel.  It's 175 pages, almost 54000 words, and it took 10 days to write.  I think, also, that it might actually be pretty good.  There's not much of a case to be made for a book written in such a short time to be any good, only...well, maybe there is.

We'll begin by looking at a very good but very short novel, Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde, which was written in no more than 6 days.  On vacation.  It's a great read, and has turned into a veritable classic in fiction, known and read around the world.  So there's that one to start.

The brilliant magazine Mental Floss brings us a list of others, most of which I didn't know were written in anything like that short a time.  But really, look at them:  A Study in Scarlet (hello, most famous detective in the world, how nice to meet you); On The Road (almost required reading for young men of a certain age); The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (also a charming movie with Dame Maggie Smith).

There are certainly others.  A few authors assuredly had monthly outputs greater than 50000 words.  Both Dickens and Dumas were paid, in many cases, by the word, and so their output was prodigious.  Good stuff from both of them, though, so the possibility of speed and quality meeting is certainly there.

And one more story, about Simenon, a rather prolific French mystery writer of the first half of the 20th Century.  For a while he was dating Josephine Baker, who was the loveliest and most talked about woman of Paris, and maybe the world.  Only he broke up with her after a year, because she was too much of a distraction.  You see, he'd only written a dozen books in the time they went out, and that sort of output (a book a month) just wasn't up to snuff for him.

I don't think anyone's going to be breaking up with a modern Josephine Baker because they're writing NaNoWriMo novels every month.  But maybe...



  1. The Mental Floss site is super cool and funny.

  2. I was lucky enough to read the 10-day NaNoWriMo that Jason wrote, and it is unbelievably good.

    I didn't participate in NaNoWriMo this year, and I already regret it! I think that there are so many ways to create art, something as meaningless as the time spent producing it is no accurate way to judge quality, at all. (And Dumas, once criticized as a novel factory, is still one of my favorite authors.)

    Good luck to all those still laboring to finish by Dec. 1!

    And Jason, congratulations on finishing so soon!

  3. James Hadley Chase wrote No Orchids for Miss Blandish in 3 weekends (no ordinary thriller - read what Geprge Orwell had to say about it.) Candide took Voltaire 3 weeks (he was threatened with prison for debt). The Siege of Trenchers Farm (filmed by Sam Peckinpah as Straw Dogs) took Gordon M Williams 8 days (it isn't all that good, but it has a certain dynamism).


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