Writing under pressure


Limited time doesn't need to limit you.

The poet Dylan Thomas had a doting mother. She did everything for him, still removing the tops of his boiled eggs when he was seventeen. Thomas was also known to have a slow work rate, sometimes only producing a line of poetry a day.

I wonder if these two facts are related. Thomas’ poetry is wonderful. Perhaps Fern Hill is such a memorable and powerful poem because Thomas produced two hundred separate drafts of it. But I can’t help wondering what would have happened if he’d had to boil his own eggs, even get breakfast for his whole family, do the school run, work a full time job then fit his writing into what was left of the day. Would his poems have been flawed as a result, or would time restrictions have compressed his genius, even making it more intense?

Not all writers have the luxury of time, or indulgent relatives to cosset them. Yet they still manage to produce excellent writing in the precious minutes snatched here and there. Sometimes it is the very lack of time that enables us to create our best work, whereas when we have no restrictions it takes more attempts to get things right. The ‘soldier poets’ didn’t have the luxury of whole days to write; they scribbled frantically in trenches or dugouts, with little time for lengthy revision, yet their vivid, intense observations gave us insights into war that are unsurpassed.

When we have busy lives and little support, it’s tempting to think we have no time to write, but if we can make every second count, then we might be surprised what can be achieved.

Even if we have to cut the tops off our own eggs!