It’s sometimes the case that an idea exists in the mind of a writer years before it’s published, or sometimes long before it’s even committed to paper.
Larry Cohen, for instance, pitched his screenplay Phone Booth to Alfred Hitchcock three decades before it was made, but neither of them could think of a reason to keep the main character in the booth. Jilly Cooper lost the original manuscript for Riders in 1970, and it took until 1985 before the novel was finally published.
One of my own pieces took around 15 years to write. When I was in high school, I had a fragment that was supposed to be set to music:
Have I known you too long?
Are we too far gone
as just friends?
But I could do nothing with the fragment. I hadn’t begun writing poetry or even short stories at that point, and I didn’t pursue my interest in playing music.
It wasn’t until 2013 that I revisited the fragment, just when I was beginning to feel confident to call myself a poet. With help from online friends, I shaped it into its current form and it appeared on The Purple Spotlights EP in 2016.
I didn’t mean to write a companion piece. Over the last few months, I’d thought of another fragment I’d initially been unable to use, though I knew it would make a good refrain:
Let’s shag each other senseless.
The catalyst for the companion piece was when I found out something surprising about a couple of friends, which put me into a strange mood and then became entangled with the fragment above. The next day, I was due to take a train journey of 5½ hours each way, and I’d have access to pencils and paper, so I had the means, the motive and the opportunity.
On the trip, I remembered that Tied Up was about platonic friendship, and that the poem I was writing would be about a couple who couldn’t go back to being that way. The first draft was completed in around 24 hours; I named it Tied Down.
Some pieces feel finished once they’re on paper. By contrast, I pulled out this one every day and simply looked at it, trying to make sense of my own words, perhaps because it isn’t a sentiment I normally express in my work. Sometimes I’d score something out; sometimes I’d shuffle around the words.
It currently sits at 67 lines, longer than what I usually write. I haven’t modified it for around a week now, but I’ll probably come back to it in a month and see what changes need to be made.