Saturday, 8 June 2013

Writing Too Slowly

"Who's Afraid Of The Big Bad Sprout?" is the working title for my second collection of poems for younger children, the sequel to my first collection "There's A Gorilla In My Pyjamas".

I reached a milestone with it this week as I finally finished the second draft. It's only taken me three and a half years! OK, so I have been writing a lot of other things in between and I also had quite a long break from working on it when I decided it wasn't worth spending time on a second collection when I hadn't had the first one published. Oh and I also took a year's sabbatical from writing during that time to concentrate on my crafting.

Even so, I was a bit shocked to realise how long it had taken to get to this stage. Add that to the two and a half years it took me to write the first draft and I've already spent six years on one project that is not even ready to send out or self-publish yet.

I know I am a slow writer. Not a slow "writer", as in I can write extremely quickly when I have to, even if I can't always read it afterwards. Years of doing phone interviews for the Guardian without having shorthand taught me to "speed-write" pretty efficiently. No, I'm just very slow when it comes to completing long-term projects and I think there are several reasons for this.

Firstly, I tend to leave a lot of time in between drafts, usually so long that I end up starting other long-term projects. I'm also a terrible perfectionist so I'm not good at letting things go without spending hours and hours (and hours) perfecting them. I'm also ashamed to admit that I get bored very easily so I'm hopeless at working on something for long periods of time without changing to something else. Finally, I use a method called the "salami" technique for every major project I attempt, including non-writing ones. Although the idea of breaking things down into small, manageable "slices" is good in theory, it does mean that completing projects takes a much longer, if not larger, chunk of time.

Finally, I think that not having a definite deadline for completion, ie one set by an editor or an agent, makes all the difference. I've tried setting my own "mock" deadlines but it never seems to work. I either set a ridiculously tight deadline which means I usually give up when I realise I can't possibly meet it or no deadline at all and end up taking far too long to complete anything.

So, if anyone has any thoughts about how I can spend six months on something instead of six years and still be satisfied with the quality of work, I'd be really interested to hear from them.

In the meantime, here is the second draft of a poem from "Who's Afraid Of The Big, Bad Sprout?" which might arrive on an editor's desk somewhere around 2019!


When I go to watch City with Dad,
Mum drives us both down to the ground.
We walk over the bridge with the rest of the fans
And buy a programme for nearly four pounds.

When I go to watch City with Dad,
There is always a bit of a crush.
Dad shouts very loudly "Now please mind these eggs!"
And I feel dead embarrassed and blush.

When I go to watch City with Dad,
It’s quite a long walk to our seat.
But it doesn’t seem such a long way coming back
Unless the City get beat.

When I go to watch City with Dad,
Mum makes us a flask for half-time.
I like it best when it's tomato soup
And Dad doesn’t try to drink mine.

When I go to watch City with Dad,
There are often some grown-ups who swear.
Dad covers my ears with his icy, red hands
And gives all the swearers a glare.

When I go to watch City with Dad,
I shout ‘til it hurts in my chest.
Dad waits for the ground to go quiet,
Then shouts really loud at the ref.
When I go to watch City with Dad,
I like to stay right to the end,
But Dad likes to leave several minutes from time,
Which drives me a bit round the bend.

When I go to watch City with Dad,
We cheer at the end of the game.
Whether we’ve lost or whether we’ve won,
I like it that things stay the same.

Copyright Melissa Lawrence 2013




  1. This is painfully familiar, especially the bit about deadlines. Self-imposed ones tend to get overridden by those imposed by others. So, although I technically finished my NaNo novel at the end of last November, the second draft is languishing somewhere in the doldrums. I can't seem to get beyond Chapter 5. So I am entirely the wrong person to offer any advice on this.

    I do like your poem, though.

  2. Hi Vanessa. I'm glad I'n not the only one. Well done for finishing the first draft of your novel. Have you tried starting the second draft at the end and working backwards? Just a thought but it's a case of "Do as I say not as I do"! Thanks very much for your compliment. The poem is one of my favourites and is based on personal experience which may be one of the reasons why I think it works.