Signal Failure vs Roadworks

Or why the train is always better than the car

Changing my job revolutionised my writing. And my job has nothing to do with getting my book written.  I used to drive 45 minutes to work and loved it. Not too much traffic once I was on the motorway, shouting at the radio, getting cross with John Humphreys for not allowing his interviewee to get a word in edgeways, applauding those who gave a damn fine interview without too much hesitation, deviation or repetition.

I’d spend a good portion of my day (certainly more than my employers would be happy with) mulling over ideas, plot twists, character traits, staring out of the window whilst pretending to be drafting important documents. If you scribble intensely in your notebook during a meeting, it is presumed that you are taking notes.  Maybe you are.  Maybe they aren’t about the meeting.

Then I would get home, the drive not so much fun on the return, rustle up the dinner, oversee homework, nudge the bedtime routine along and then sit down just after nine deciding that perhaps tomorrow evening will be when I will get the laptop out.

Then I changed jobs.  One that involves a thirty minute commute.  And crucially sees me getting on the train earlier enough in its journey to mean that most days I get a seat.  I am writing this whilst zipping along through the Surrey countryside.  Now I get an hour of work done every day over and above my actual work.

Granted I find I can’t do the writing itself in just half an hour – not really long enough to immerse myself deeply enough, but what I can do is loads of planning and research.  Really sharpen up those characters and create compelling back stories, take the time to consider the consequences of the plot twists and how they will play out, surf the web to check my facts.

My journey is only half an hour but every day by the time we pull into Waterloo something has slid out onto the page that I didn’t know when I got on the train.  Every day.  There is always a little nugget, a scrap of dialogue, an incident in my character’s past that explains their motives, a new event to drive the story forward.  I confess I am sometimes amazed at my brilliance.  Where on earth did that come from? I scribble away in my notebook or tap away at my ipad keyboard and out it pops, like a newborn from an unsuspected pregnancy I had been hiding with baggy jumpers. Fantastic.

Now, even if don’t fancy writing, don’t feel the love for it, have no idea what I want to think about, am tired, bored, fed up, demotiviated, I drag out my pencil nonetheless and prop my notebook on my lap and start to write.  I have never let myself down. Something unexpected is always let loose.

This has proved to me what most writers have said.  You can’t wait until you are in the mood.  Until you feel creative. Until you feel compelled to pick up your pen.  You have to force it out whether you like it or not.  Two half hour journeys add up to five hours writing a week and it is amazing how much you can get down in that time like it or not.

The result is that I don’t dismiss the odd half hour now.  If that’s all I have I will give it a go. Grab a pencil and start to write.  See what happens. As a consequence I have now fnished the planning for book number two.  I know my characters so well that I would recognise them in the street.  I know what happens to them and why they do the things they do.  I have pinpoointed the crescendos in my stories and the moments of quiet reflection.  In short I am ready to go.  I am probably the only one on this train praying for a signal failure.


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