1. The Gambler // Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, author of Crime and Punishment, was heavily in debt when he wrote The Gambler (1866), his semi-autobiographical novella, in just 26 days—he thought it might help get him out of the red.
2. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas // John Boyne
Irish novelist John Boyne has said it took him two-and-a-half days to write his tale of a boy living through the Holocaust. “The idea came to me on a Tuesday evening, I began writing on Wednesday morning and continued for 60 hours with only short breaks, not sleeping on Wednesday or Thursday nights and finishing the first draft by Friday lunchtime,” he recalled in The Irish Times.
3. A Study in Scarlet // Arthur Conan Doyle
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote his debut novel—which also introduced detective Sherlock Holmes to the world—in a mere three weeks. (Publishing it, however, took much longer: Scarlet was rejected by a number of publishers, some of whom didn’t even both to read it. It was eventually accepted for publication in October 1886 and finally published in Beeton’s Christmas Annual in December 1887.)
4. The Tortoise and the Hare // Elizabeth Jenkins
Of this 1954 book, which she wrote in three weeks, Elizabeth Jenkins has said, “I have never looked at it since; it marked an era to which I had no desire to return.” The love triangle in Hare, her sixth novel, reflected her real life: Jenkins wrote it in the “white heat of betrayal,” after the married man she was seeing refused to leave his wife.
5. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie // Muriel Spark
“The first things I wrote about were my brothers and my mother and my father. I wrote about them, made up poems, made up stories,” Muriel Spark once recalled. “Then I wrote about the school, and my first writings were about the teacher who later became Miss Brodie. I wrote about her. We were given to write about how we spent our summer holidays, but I wrote about how she spent her summer holidays instead. It seems more fascinating.”
As an adult, Spark would funnel that fascination into writing Jean Brodie, a fictionalized version of her teacher, Christiana Kay. She wrote the book in four weeks.
A version of this story ran in 2011; it has been updated for 2022.