A story I just love: It’s about the writer James Hilton, who is probably best known for his legendary novel, Lost Horizons. While that book is a classic today, it didn’t make much of a splash when it was published in 1933. In fact, it was a book published a year later called Good-bye, Mr. Chips that actually turned the tide for James and made him a best-selling author. But it almost wasn’t written. Here’s what happened:
In 1933, hard up for cash (ah, the old, familiar story!), James Hilton agreed to write a 3,000 word story for the Christmas issue of a popular British magazine. He was given a tight, two-week deadline. By the end of the first week, he was still coming up dry and had no idea what to write about.
One day, he was so frustrated that he decided to “just run away from my hag-ridden self.” He hopped on his bicycle and rode off into a nearby forest. The trip must have jolted away the cobwebs because the whole story for Good-bye Mr. Chips came to him in a flash. Three days later, he sent off a completed manuscript, but there was one problem: it was 18,000 words long!
The magazine published it as a special insert and it was an instant hit. It was picked up by Atlantic Monthly and released in book form just two months later. It was reprinted 17 times in the next 10 months. Happily, Lost Horizon got a much-needed boost from its success. Suddenly, James had not one — but two! — best-selling books and quickly became one of the hottest writers around.
All of which goes to show, that sometimes it can be a good idea to run away — to get out of your head, do something physical, and find a refreshing, relaxing place to retreat to. Think I’ll take up bike riding myself — it certainly worked for James! Write on!