Part 1: Writing While Waiting
Making time to write is a familiar challenge. But a few months ago when I took a new job the challenge suddenly got much bigger. Before, as a freelancer in a home office, the work day started when I walked downstairs and turned on the computer. Now, with a full-time in-house staff position, I drive or ride my bike to a train station, wait for the train, sit on it for 40 to 50 minutes, and then walk to work. It’s an hour and 20 minutes door to door, twice a day, most weekdays.
That’s a lot of time. So after a couple of weeks, I started using it to write.
Writing on the train has its advantages. It’s a scheduled time with no distractions. I might look out the window, but the view is always the same. The internet is easy to avoid; the trains have free WiFi but it’s so slow that it’s not worth using unless you’re desperate. And opening up the computer every day at the same time really does evoke an almost Pavlovian response: Time to write. This is the place, this is the time. My brain goes into the story, picking up wherever I left off when the train last pulled into the station.
Writing on the train has its hazards. Typing into a laptop—one that’s truly perched on your lap—with your elbows hugged in tight to avoid bumping walls and strangers, and the heels of your hand brushing up against the touchpad, leads to mishaps. The worst so far was the time I accidentally deleted two entire chapters. Then I re-saved the file before I even realized what had happened, making “undo” impossible. I was very, very, VERY happy to be up to date on backups, that day.
Do I get a lot of writing done on the train? Yes and no. Two train trips typically yield only about 500 words—a drop in the bucket for any novel. Plus, not every commute is spent writing. Sometimes I’m completing critiques for my writing buddies or composing blog posts like this one. Some mornings just getting to the train is a major accomplishment, and I’m taking a nap.
But writing almost every day does something crucial: It keeps my head in the story. Picture book writers and poets may not have to deal with this, at least not the way that novelists do. But this has turned out to be so important that I’m going to repeat it, with emphasis:
WRITING EVERY DAY KEEPS MY HEAD IN THE STORY.
Having my head in the story keeps it fresh. It keeps me excited. It guards against writer’s block. It helps me to see my characters in the people around me. It keeps my subconscious working on plot points when I’m not at the computer. And it helps me to get started quickly when I have bigger chunks of time to devote to writing. (More on that in Part 2.) So writing on rails contributes more than the raw word count suggests.
Writing during the daily commute won’t work for everyone. I do NOT recommend it if you commute by car, at least not if you’re driving. You can’t write while you’re walking or riding a bike, and I can’t imagine getting much done on a packed subway train or city bus.
But think about your own week. Are there any regular chunks of time when you have nothing to do but wait? Can you tote a laptop or tablet along, and write?
Could you write while:
- Waiting for children? Must Love Dogs author Claire Cook wrote her first novel sitting in her minivan during her daughter’s early-morning swim practices.
- Waiting in line or in a doctor’s office? I remember reading about an author who carried index cards, one for each scene of her book. When she was stuck waiting somewhere, she’d pull out a card and decide, “okay, time to write this part.” (Probably more effective if you’re a plotter rather than a pantser.)
- Waiting at the airport? Writing while in flight is great, too.
- Waiting at the DMV, or waiting for car repairs? The latter depends on where you take your car for service. A dealership with a dedicated waiting room may work better than a grubby seat in the corner of the garage’s office–though the atmosphere in the garage may spark your imagination more.
- Watching the kettle boil?
- At the Laundromat?
Finding Time to Write Part 2 will address how to find bigger chunks of time. Until then, look for opportunities. Use them when you find them. And happy writing!
What creative ways can you turn waiting time into writing time?
I usually ride my bike to work, or when I don’t in the winter, it is a short trip, so I can’t physically write. I do, though, contemplate plot points, think about characters or even rehearse lines in my head.
Think time counts as writing time!
Awesome! I work once a week about an hour and a half from home on a train, and have trained (no pun intended) myself to start writing the minute I sit down. The trains usually have Wifi, but I deliberately leave it off. There are usually outlets, but I know my battery can last. So I just whip the laptop out, open it, and start. Glad others work this way, too.
I don’t know what I’ll do when my job ends in October. There’s no way to buy a ticket to and from the same station, or else I’d just head an hour in one direction and then turn around to come home!
(The other day I was taking the train home late at night, not from work, but I happened to have my laptop and found I couldn’t just sit there… my fingers started to twitch, so I pulled it out and did an hour then, too.)
Jennifer, I am so glad to hear that someone else is making this work, too! I have started taking the non-express train that stops at more stations (and is also less crowded) so I can have 10 minutes more writing time, so I know what you mean about wanting to get on the train just to write. Thanks for reading!
You are absolutely right! I always think that I will get more writing done during summer vacation, but strangely enough, I don’t! Scheduled time during the school year seems to work out better. It’s like, when I’m busier, I write more… Thanks for your post! I’ve got to get my head back in the game.
Thanks Marianne! This is a great reminder and help especially in the summer when I have five kids home with me and I’m having a really hard time getting into the writing mode 🙂
Kirsti, good luck with finding time under those circumstances. One of Louise Dickinson Rich’s books (Maine author from back in the day) had an entire chapter about everything she did with her kids and her mother while they stayed in a house on the ocean for a month–but she was supposed to be writing instead of staring into buckets of snails and starfish all day! She got caught up in September, that year.
Just the kick in the pants I needed. Thanks.
Rosi, once it’s a habit, it’s a joy–no kick in the pants needed! Happy writing, and thanks for visiting.
I love writing while moving! It keeps me focused. I’ve written in the passenger seat while my husband drives and I do some of my best work in the tight seating of an airplane. Of course, I prefer writing on my deck on a beautiful day, but it’s nice to know we can write anywhere with laptop in hand. Thanks for this post, Marianne.
Carol, did you see the piece on walking boosting creativity that I retweeted earlier today? Maybe it’s simply moving–whether you’re in a car, on a plane, or on foot!
Yes, I retweeted that post! It relates back to our posts on yoga and taekwondo. I think movement is relaxing and allows us to be our best creative selves.
These were some really great tips! I know I need to start writing more in my free time!
Hope they help! It really is impressive how a habit can build on itself, even writing.