The challenge of juggling song lyrics and writing a poem - Ian McMillan

Here’s Ian McMillan trying to multitask. Look at him, like somebody attempting to tightrope walk and bake a cake at the same time.

There's an art to multitasking when you're a writer, says Ian. (YPN).

The trouble is, at the same time as cracking the eggs, he’s trying to balance as the rope sways in the breeze. Yes, you’re right: something’s going to go very wrong.

Of course I’m not really on the tightrope/baking interface; that’s just a metaphor describing me having a go at writing two very different things at once. I know I shouldn’t attempt this kind of literary job share but the deadlines are knocking at the door and they can’t be ignored.

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I’m writing some lyrics for a song that me and my mate Luke Carver Goss have been asked to put together for a workshop we’re going to be doing soon; the idea is that the participants get to hear our song and we talk about the process and then they have a go.

The song is about writing songs, which could be seen as a bit of a cop-out but time is pressing and there aren’t many words on the page yet and writing a song about writing a song seems (or seemed, when I had the idea a little while ago) the best way to proceed.

I’m also writing the second draft of a poem I’ve been asked to write for a local museum; the first was written a while ago and then the clients (as we call them in the writing trade) came back with some ideas for rewrites and a reminder that the deadline was looming like a giant looming thing.

My idea is that I’ll do half an hour on the lyrics and then half an hour on the poem and by the end of the day I’ll have breasted the tape of the deadlines. I begin to scribble lyrics in my notebook but at the same time an idea about the museum poem sneaks in through the wide open window of my thinking.

So I abandon the lyrics for a moment and write another line of the poem, but as I’m putting the finishing rhyme to the line just in time, an image for the lyrics barges everything aside and so I write it down. Or I write it up.

I’m confused. I seem to have transposed a lyric line with a bit of the poem and vice versa. Neither makes any sense; I know you can be ambiguous in this kind of writing but, in the words of TS Eliot, not that blooming ambiguous.

The notebooks are too close to each other so it’s inevitable that some of the language will jump the divide between them and the solution is simple: separate the notebooks like they’re unruly kids in a class.

I take one notebook and put it in the back room; I take the other and put it in the front room.

Now, let the multitasking begin! Except that when I’m in the front room I have an idea for the back room notebook and when I’m in the back room the opposite is the case.

And I’ve just remembered: I’ve got a column to write and all!