November is almost at an end, and for NaNo writers that means one of two things. If things have gone to plan, you have written almost an entire book in just one month! At least fifty thousand words have flowed from your brain onto the page (or screen), your first draft is finished, and your month is ending with a glowing sense of accomplishment. High fives and champagne, you productive, high-speed writer, you!
For the other half, the end of November is increasingly frantic. That word count is nowhere near the magic 50K, you’ve wandered off into eighteen different tangents and research projects, and the book that seemed so simple in October is the bane of your existence by now. It’s easy to get discouraged, and to think that the failure to write an entire book in a month means that you’ll never be a “real” author. But that’s just not true. In fact, most best-selling authors would be hard-pressed to churn out a book in thirty days.
In solidarity with those NaNo writers who are still slogging away, despite little hope of reaching that winner's circle, we’ve pulled together a list of some of the best authors in the world, all of whom have had their works adapted for the big screen… and who would also be absolutely terrible at NaNoWriMo!
Stephen King - The Dark Tower Series
Although he is an incredibly prolific writer, with over fifty novels and two hundred short stories published in his career so far, King hasn’t always been the fastest author on the shelves. Some of his books could well have been NaNo success stories, but his magnum opus, The Dark Tower Series, took him decades to pen. The first novel in the enormous Dark Tower universe was The Gunslinger – a short novel that King began in 1970, while still in college. Eight years later, King published the first of five short stories which came from The Gunslinger, but it wasn’t until 1982 that the book was finally complete and up for publication. The following six books took over two decades in total to complete, with the concluding novel (The Dark Tower) published in 2004.
Instead of a novel in thirty days, that’s a series in over thirty years! King is actually still publishing books within the Dark Tower universe to this day, with The Wind Through The Keyhole published in 2012, and has famously said that he “is never done with the Dark Tower."
George R. R. Martin - A Song of Ice and Fire
As all Game of Thrones fans know, George R. R. Martin is not one to knock out a book in under a year, let alone a single month! The wildly successful fantasy author has been working on the series for twenty five years so far, and we still have at least two novels to come. The first book, A Game of Thrones, took Martin five years to complete, between 1991 and its publication in 1996. That seemed to set the standard for the remaining novels, with A Feast for Crows also taking five years, A Dance with Dragons taking six, and the upcoming The Winds of Winter currently five years in progress.
Two of the earlier novels were managed in a little less time, but both A Clash of Kings and A Storm of Swords took two years each – and that’s not including the planning that went into the series at the very start.
Audrey Niffenegger - The Time Traveler's Wife
In a NaNoWriMo pep talk, Audrey Niffenegger happily admits that the thought of whipping through a novel in only thirty days fills her with horror. This is an author who likes to take things slow. She took four and a half years to write The Time Traveler’s Wife, and a further seven to write Her Fearful Symmetry. She says “I once spent fourteen years working on a graphic novel” – a time span that makes George R. R. Martin look positively speedy! Niffenegger admits that she doesn’t write every day, that she gets lost in research, and that she takes her sweet time. In short, she does everything you aren’t "supposed to do" and she still managed to hit the New York Times Bestseller lists.
J R. R. Tolkien - The Lord Of The Rings
Although The Lord of the Rings was split into three volumes for publication (The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King), it was written as a single novel, and the writing took Tolkien twelve years. Conceived as a sequel to The Hobbit, which took seven years to complete, The Lord Of The Rings was written between 1937 and 1949 – with plenty of rewrites along the way. Tolkien is known for his incredibly detailed world-building, and the creation of Middle Earth was a labor of love, drawing on Old English writing and Norse mythology. Given the scope of the books, we’re honestly a little impressed that it only took him a couple of decades!
J. K. Rowling - Harry Potter
J. K. Rowling actually managed to publish the entire Harry Potter series in rapid succession. The first four books in the series were released within four years (from 1997 to 2000), and the remaining three books in the next seven. With a writing speed like that, she could actually do quite well at a NaNoWriMo challenge… as long as she was given several years worth of planning time first! Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone actually took seven years to go from conception to publication, with five of those spent on planning. Rowling is famous for her attention to detail and spent those years writing (and drawing) detailed character biographies, working out the laws and customs of the wizarding world, and creating intricate plot charts for the entire series.
Margaret Mitchell - Gone with the Wind
Margaret Mitchell wrote only one novel over the course of her life, and it took her nearly a decade from start to finish. Mitchell initially started working on Gone with the Wind as a hobby, to keep herself occupied as she recuperated from an injury. Starting in 1926, she toiled in secret, refusing to tell anyone what she was working on. Even after she found a publisher for the novel in 1935, Mitchell spent months more checking the historical facts and re-writing (especially the first chapter) before it was eventually published in 1936. It’s not surprising that this massive tome took so long to get right, or that a journalist would want to get every detail perfect.
Of course, these are only a few of the authors who like to take their time over their novels. And while others may not take a decade or more, it’s rare for a writer to actually knock out a full first draft in a month. Even authors like Michael Crichton, who was known for being a workaholic who would routinely work on almost no sleep, would take six weeks to get his drafts down on paper. (And we don’t recommend sleepless nights!) So whether you are looking down at your draft with pride or gazing despondent at the ten pages you did manage – you are in good company! Besides, we all know that editing is the really hard part…