Second chance saloon.

In 1951, the acclaimed novel From Here to Eternity was published. Many readers were unaware that James Jones fought to keep in sexual content and profanity, but he was forced to give in to the demands of his publishers.

It was only in 2011 that the deleted content was restored by e-publisher Open Road, who also released his book To the End of the War for the first time. Unfortunately, it came too late for Jones as he died in 1977.

In the same month in 2011, Kate Bush was allowed to use text from Ulysses in an album, having originally been refused permission in 1989. A little-known Tennessee Williams play from 1983 was also given its premiere.

Perhaps it was just a golden year for second chances. But attitudes and standards are constantly reshaping, editors come and go, and even individuals change their minds. What was unacceptable or clichéd several decades ago might be in fashion right now.

Major delays are extremely common in the screenwriting industry, where ideas can knock around for several years waiting for the right producer and director to pick up the project, not to mention the protracted process of re-drafting the script – often dozens of times – plus the actual filming.

Phone Booth (film)
Phone Booth (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the 1960s, Larry Cohen first had an idea for a film set entirely inside a phone booth and he pitched it to Alfred Hitchcock. At the time, neither of them could think of a good reason to keep the character in the same place for an entire movie. When Cohen revisited the idea in the 1990s, he had the idea of using a sniper; the mobile phone had also been invented by then, and this is a major plot point. Within a month, he’d written the script for Phone Booth.

I’m aware that last week I discussed when to let go of work. But if you’ve had a manuscript languishing in a drawer or an unopened computer file from years ago, bring it out. Can you look over it with more experienced eyes? Have those who rejected it now moved on? Is the subject matter acceptable today, or perhaps even more pertinent than when it was written?

If you’ve answered yes to these, it might be worth another shot.

A minor word of warning, however. If Victor Nabokov had written Lolita today, it’s unlikely any publisher would have taken it on. And when an uncensored version of The Picture of Dorian Gray was published in that aforementioned golden year, many critics felt it inferior to the original.

The hardest goodbye.

For a writer, receiving a rejection letter is one of the hardest things you’ll have to face. But probably the second hardest is realising that what you’re writing is going nowhere, or that it has no place within the context of a longer work.

Earlier this year, I began to edit a novel I wrote four years ago because the current storyline wasn’t working. This meant cutting out several sections I liked, such as the 10,000 words where the main character arranges to rent a minibus with six football fans when their plane is cancelled.

Once I decided on a new plot direction, I needed to fill in the gaps. But around 2000 words into what I thought was a great idea, I found I was bored while writing it. These will therefore be cut on my next edit. And I still don’t know the exact direction I’m going to take the book.

Nevertheless, always keep the parts you cut out; you never know when they might be handy in the future.

I was given a writing group challenge to come up with a story that included an A to Z structure, however loose that structure might be. My story was called The Eternal Student, and it centred around a young man from a family of accountants who had been sent to university to gain the formal qualifications. As he knows it all, he enrols in evening classes through boredom, each with a name one letter higher than the last. It would then have gone on to describe his disillusionment with university management and how he set up his own institution.

With 1500 words on the page, there was no more mileage left in the idea, so I put it to one side. A few months later, An Abundance of Apples was born, using the idea of an A to Z structure.

A year after The Eternal Student was penned, I rediscovered it in my files. Using a fresh cast and a different situation, I borrowed the element of disillusionment and wrote another story called Plans that ended with the main character setting up a new university. This then inspired another novel starring the same character and borrowing some elements from Plans.

And to date, I still haven’t been able to do anything else with my trainee accountant.

The work-work balance.

I’m on annual leave from my day job at the moment, but that won’t stop your weekly blog post from being delivered.

From Friday to Sunday, I planned to have three late nights at the T in The Park music festival. Then tonight, I’ll be running a writers’ open-mike before seeing a friend’s band in town. Tomorrow, I’m up early doors for the launch of Go Set a Watchman at Waterstone’s – Please note, warn the organisers, Harper Lee will not be in attendance – then a play by MLitt students at night, with a day of writing in between.

The rest of the week is packed in a similar fashion. The only thing that didn’t happen was Sunday at the festival, but I made sure to fill the time with more writing.

But why not rest up? Because as I’ve become older, I’ve realised that being idle doesn’t suit me. I won’t stop unless I absolutely have to, otherwise I would never manage to do anything. To demonstrate this, imagine I had to go to the Post Office and send a parcel.

If that were the only task I needed to do all day, I might wake up at 7am, realise there were two hours until the Post Office opened, start doing something else and be distracted by it until midday, tell myself there were five hours left and do something else to fill the time, and be distracted by that instead. The net result is that the parcel wouldn’t be posted.

On the other hand, let’s suppose the parcel was just one more thing I needed to fit in. I might go to work at 8am, leave the office at 4pm, visit the Post Office, then head to the gym and crack on with writing when I returned home. Net result: I’ve done my task.

It’s unfortunate that almost all UK employees are required to take 5.6 weeks of leave every single year, as I would be far more productive without a break, and I’m sure the economy would benefit too. If I ever reached a stage when I was able to be a novelist full-time, I would probably still rise at the same hour as I currently do and churn out a target number of words over a certain number of hours.

Stephen King has this one right: he produces 2000 words every morning, including his birthday and holidays, and spends time in the afternoons catching up on his correspondence. And that’s why you’re receiving this blog post as normal, and next week, and the next, until I no longer feel productive by producing them.

You are here. ↓

If you’re a fan of The Big Bang Theory, you’ll know that Sheldon Cooper is particular about which seat he chooses, particularly in his own apartment. Writers can be similarly picky about where they pen their works.

Among my writer friends alone, there is one who writes better with absolute silence and another who penned most of her novel in a noisy student pub. There is no right or wrong way. For my own part, I’m typing this entry in one of my favourite places: at the bottom end of my bed, standing with my back to the window. But when I’m stuck on a project, I sit on the mezzanine floor of a particular cafe in town and it usually unblocks my flow.

On Saturday, I was given the opportunity to attend a one-off writing group at the secluded Barry Mill near Carnoustie to raise funds for its restoration. After a tour and a demonstration of its working waterwheel and machinery, the nine or so attendees followed the stream back to the weir through acres of wild flora.

The tranquillity, location and history of the place was supposed to serve as inspiration for a poem or prose piece – and it worked. It took me some time to put something together, but I managed to write three verses, using the mill as a starting point, and nearly everyone had written something for reading out. It didn’t help, however, that it was raining onto our notepads for much of the visit, or that two of the chairs collapsed – mine included – before the session even began.

So if you feel your writing is becoming a little stale, try going somewhere else. Not everyone is able to escape to the countryside, of course, but it might work even to move location within the same general area or even the same building. Before I discovered my current spots, I experimented with a number of places before finding one that felt just right.

I’ll leave you with an electronic postcard of Barry Mill.