Writing in Transit

Photo Credit: Sebastiano Pitruzzello

Trains have become an integral part of my life and we’re not talking a daily half hour commute here. For over a year now I have happily been in a long-distance relationship and enjoying it. I’m often asked how I manage the distance and my response quite honestly is that I have the best of both worlds, I have some great weekends as a couple and enjoying the relationship stuff and the rest of the time I get to do my own thing and be my own person. It’s great!

There is also another upside. When it’s my turn to make the four hour journey down to London and back I have something I have always struggled to squeeze into my life- dedicated writing time. No one disturbances, not even a television to distract me. I can be one of those busy writerly types scribbling away while I transported down the country.

That was the hope anyway but as you have probably guessed by now it didn’t quite work out like that. I have tried and had intentions every single time I have made this journey but only a handful of times have I ever succeeded in getting anything written and I have to be honest- it wasn’t very good!

On occasion I imagine I have had some sort of excuse- noisy passengers, an overcrowded carriage or a stress-induced headache- but I have also sat there in a quiet near-empty carriage listening to music while looking out the window and making no attempt to reach for my notebook.

Maybe I just can’t write while on the train. I have been known to sit very comfortably reading Writing Magazine only to end up feeling sick and in need of a nap! But… I want to change this, I am spending eight hours a month on a train where I could be doing something constructive, that’s a full working day!

So I put it to my readers-

Can you write on a train and if you can how do you do it?

I’m wide open for advice on this one. Alternatively should I just give in, enjoy the journey and use my status as a writer as an excuse to eavesdrop on the conversation of fellow passengers.

Writing to a Schedule

Recently, in an attempt to take my writing more seriously, I have been trying to stick to something of a writing schedule and, surprisingly for me given I have been known to have the attention span of an dim-witted goldfish, I have stuck to it. I have been spending a couple of hours several evenings during the week and a few hours every weekend shut away in my study. The only problem is I’m not sure if this is actually working.

Finding time to write has always been a problem for me, I have a full-time job and I’m studying towards my AAT, but lack of time is only part of the reason for my previous lack of productivity. When you’re tired and are often kept busy it is all too easy to avoid anything that appears like an unnecessary challenge and, although I love writing, it is a challenge. Having some sort of scheduled time I quickly found helped with this, it was like keeping an appointment, and the vast majority of the time I found I was writing more than ever.

There was only one major problem- what I was writing was utter drivel! The biggest problem is right now I’m not working on a project as such, not in a writing sense anyway, so I was splitting up my writing time between research and what I called ‘writing something new’. The idea being I was keeping my hand in writing something.

I’m still not sure what is causing my inability to write anything of any quality right now. Maybe I’m a little out of practice, or maybe putting creativity on a schedule just does not work for me. Yes, the schedule has been positive in some senses, I actually feel I’m achieving something, but maybe, for me anyway, trying to write something new is not something I can pinpoint down into a set diarised event.

So do you have a writing schedule?

Keeping It In Sight

The first bit of news is that I am writing this from my study. In my last blog I talked about how I had got into the very bad habit of writing in the lounge whilst in front of the television but, following a spurt of renewed enthusiasm, I have now cleaned up my study and I am having somewhat of a ‘tie leg to chair’ attitude to writing. So, although there has still been the distractions- a printer needing fixed (which turned out to be unfixable), a camera I cannot seem to retrieve my pictures from, not to mention the endless procrastination opportunities offered by the Internet- I am staying in the room and so far it seems to be working, or at least it feels more productive.

The other thing I have done is made my current writing project more prominent visually. This is a tip I have read at some point from some writing guide/magazine over the years which I used to be more proactive at doing and it did help. Having a constant visual reminder of what you are writing about keeps you in focus and that’s something I need.

I find I tend to flit from project to project and get easily distracted, call it a low boredom thresh-hold, which of course I blame on intelligence and creativity but some may argue otherwise. I figure having something visual and constant can only help. And then there is also that hope that in having it there it may also have some self-consious effect in generating ideas and getting my brain going- unfortunately I think it may be too much to ask to be able to write the entire novel subconsiously but I live in hope.

So here it is, my visual prompt:

Basically it’s a cork board filled with lots of reminders of the prime location of the novel- Amsterdam. Obviously as I progress I can add to it or take anything away that has become less relevant. The point is it’s there and serves as a constant reminder that THIS is what is important and what I need to be thinking about.

So how do you keep focus? Do you use anything as a visual prompt?

Why Why Why?

It’s a simple word. One that used to be a favourite, to the great annoyance of our parents, but why is it that, as we get older we seem to ask it a lot less? As adults our lives are dictated by work and time constraints so we never seem to get the opportunity to actually take a step back and question it.

One good example of this is writing. If you think about it logically and without involving emotions being a writer is not a sensible lifestyle choice it’s time-consuming, lonely and very very difficult to actually make any money from and yet we do it. Against everything that’s negative about it there is something that drives a writer to write.

I write because there is something inbuilt into me that makes it feel important. Because when I’m not writing I feel I should be. Because it feels part of my identity and because it gives me an outlet for everything I feel.

So why do you write? Because remembering the why can help us keep that childhood passion.

The Writing Exercise Challenge

Due to recent events (i.e. being in hospital) my writing has somewhat teetered into oblivion. With me it seems to be a recurring theme that my writing, on occasion will reduce or disappear, and once that happens it develops into almost a fear to go and sit back down at the desk.

It is a vicious circle– because I am not getting any writing done I feel guilty and not whole but then, because I feel bad about it, I avoid thinking about it and thus avoid doing any writing! The biggest obstacle for most writers is themselves, whether that is the tendency to procrastinate or self-doubt and that is certainly the case for me.

The theory is that once I get back in the habit of sitting at my desk and writing an hour a day I will be back to normal! Not as easy as it sounds. The thought of sitting there and pouring myself onto paper at the moment in disjointed paragraphs and meaningless garble is just… terrifying. It is easy to forget all former success and all previous pieces of writing I did do well with and was proud of when I am so preoccupied by a notion of inferiority because I now feel out of practice.

Thankfully, after weeks of living baron of writing I think I have came up with a possible solution and one that seems so damn obvious that I’m kicking myself for not having done anything sooner. Writing Exercises. That is the solution. I have a book of writing exercises and for the next three weeks I intend to do one writing exercise for an hour a day 5/6 days a week. It seems so obvious and eliminates that fear of not knowing what to write.

The idea of the challenge is that it is realistic and achievable and three weeks should be long enough for sitting down to write for an hour a day to become almost a habit. After three weeks I am hoping. without getting carried away, that my enthusiasm and confidence in writing should be reignited and my productivity be back to a level I am happy with. Either way, I’ll have at least 15 pieces of writing from these exercises and some of those are bound to have something I can work on or use.

Wish me luck xx

Writing as a means of venting

Something that is often mentioned as an important source for writers is using your own experience. This is pretty obvious when you think about it, but, if you’re not actively trying to find inspiration for writing, your own useful experiences can easily be forgotten.

Recently I was able to turn a negative and unpleasant experience into a useful writing exercise. So the piece of writing will probably never become anything particularly constructive in this example but not only does it allow me to keep up the mentality of writing regularly it also allowed me to vent how I felt about the experience.

The experience in question was the Christmas Food Shop. I probably had the common experience that most people have involving stress, annoyance and a vow to boycott the supermarket you used as a result. Normally I would rant about this experience for several days afterwards to my unfortunate other half however on this occasion I chose to put down how I felt in words.

As a result I have a piece of something to show for the event, a piece of writing I may use extracts from in the future (you never know) and also a complaint that, should I decided to, I can always forward to the company in question and maybe get some nice vouchers as an apology in return (but that would have effect on the said boycott).

Any experience can be used in your writing and even if it does not create something sellable or even publishable it is an effective method of exorcising the event and your emotions. If it is perhaps a difficult event you want to write about however it is important to mention that you ensure you have the support you need around you as you may find this exercise conjures some difficult emotions.

My ranty vent can be found at http://www.complaintletter.org.uk/christmas-food-shoppin/