NaNoWriMo Would Be Peanuts to Heinlein

When I read Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue With His Century, Volume 2 by William H. Patterson a few years ago, I was struck by how fast Heinlein wrote his “juveniles,” the science fiction adventures that we would now term “young adult fiction.” It usually took him a month to write one. He was fast with his other novels too (except for Stranger in a Strange Land, which he periodically got stuck on).

It appears that every November was the time that he was scheduled to write one of these for the Scribner publishing company. Here’s one:

“Heinlein began writing Schoolhouse in the Sky [to become Tunnel in the Sky] on November 11, 1954, finishing the 76,000-word draft on December 10, ahead of his usual work schedule, with ample time over the holidays to trim it and have it professionally retyped.”

And another:

“The book was written over a three-week period from November 12 to December 8, 1956, with four alternative titles, but when he had the manuscript professionally retyped for submission, he gave it a new name: Citizen of the Galaxy.”

And the first one I read:

“By November 1951 it was time to start his annual boys’ book for Scribner, and he didn’t have even the glimmering of an idea. Heinlein asked [his wife] Ginny what he should write about. ‘Why don’t you write about a pair of mischievous twins,’ she suggested, ‘always getting into trouble.’ … He finished the draft of The Rolling Stones a couple of days before Christmas and found that his usual ‘tightening-up’ edit – striking unnecessary phrases, surplus adjectives, and so forth – was almost not needed this time.

So good luck. If you can achieve quantity and quality, like he did, you have it made.

Cover image of Heinlein's novel The Rolling Stones, which show his flatcats floating in zero-g. They were the precursors to Star Trek's tribbles.

An aside: The Rolling Stones featured “flatcats,” notably more than an inspiration for “Star Trek”’s tribbles in the “Trouble With Tribbles” episode. The producer of “Star Trek” contacted Heinlein, worried about a lawsuit when they realized the similarity. Heinlein let it go, though it bothered him later when scriptwriter David Gerrold started merchandizing tribbles.