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How Much Time Does It Take to Write a Great Novel?

One of the classic novels in American literature might not have existed had it not been for two people you've never heard of. In 1956, well-to-do couple Michael and Joy Brown gave their friend, an aspiring writing who was working as an airline ticket agent, a year's salary for Christmas so that she could follow her passion. The result? To Kill a Mockingbird. Harper Lee had wanted to write for years, but like so many struggling and aspiring authors, she was too worn out from her day job to focus. The Browns' Christmas present gave her the time and freedom she wanted, so she quit the airline and set pen to pad, reportedly for six to 12 hours a day. The Browns stepped in again after she finished the novel, putting her in touch with the agent who got her published in 1960. As of today, To Kill a Mockingbird has sold 30 million copies in more than 40 languages.

An inside look at Harper Lee:

  • Truman Capote took Harper Lee, a friend of his since childhood, to Kansas to help with the groundwork for his classic nonfiction novel, In Cold Blood.

  • Despite all of the royalties she earned from her book, Lee continued to use a manual typewriter, never had air conditioning, and carried her clothes to a laundromat for washing.

  • Harper Lee's real first name was Nelle, which was her grandmother's name, Ellen, backwards; she never used it because she worried people would call her Nellie.

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