What is a Railway Writer?

I Think I Can. I Think YOU can.

little-engine-that-could
Yes, I think you can make it as a writer, even if you have a full time job and a household on your wee shoulders

I had been struggling for a while with juggling a full time job with a long commute (by… you guessed it! TRAIN) and coming home to my lovely, rambunctious, demanding children and my husband who was also juggling a full time job and the demands of the household. I would start my day at 6am, rushing to a bus which would get me to the train station, where I would have a 40 minute commute. Spend 9 hours in a demanding high tech startup job with high risk responsibilities. I would get back home at 6:30 pm. Exhausted. Most evenings I just collapsed on the couch and played with my kids. Some writers use their weekend time. With four young children in tow, we were lucky if we managed to have ten uninterrupted minutes in the shower. Our weekends were usually spent with the family and what precious little time was left we used to go on a date, just the two of us.  The rest of the day was usually spent preparing food for the next few days. Oh, and housework. That needs to be done too. All right, so what did I have left? What was left was my commute time on the train, which supposedly would give me 40 minutes each way.

What do you do with 40 minutes?

Settle down in a seat   = 5 minutes

Check Facebook  = 5 minutes

Oh, who am I kidding = 5 more minutes on Facebook. Don’t you dare open Pinterest.

People behind me having an interesting, loud conversation. Listen in.  5 minutes.

What! How do I have 0nly 20 minutes left? When did that happen? PANICK.

Open Pinterest just to calm myself down.

Oh wow, story ideas. That is surely beneficial.

F#$# you! There are only 10 minutes left!!!

PANICK.

Cry.

Call yourself a lousy human being.

We will never be published.

And now there are just 5 minutes left and I have to get to the back door so I’ll be first in line to go out and make my bus.

 

 

You get the idea.

I imagined how amazing it would be if I didn’t have to work like a dog (who invented that phrase? Most dogs I know are living the life). If only I had time, even an hour a day, to do my writing. It’s so unfair. There are people who can afford to work part time, or keep a housekeeper, or who don’t have to commute as long. Maybe if I had that time I would be able to make my dream come true.

But daydreaming alone has not got anyone published yet. And the reality was, I had to work, I had to pay the mortgage and feed the kids. We were not going to move to be closer to my work, because my husband’s job was right across the street from our house, which allowed him to be the main at-home parent, soccer league schlleper, homework officer and sandwich maker (please feel free to send him flowers). I could not give up gym time (staying alive and healthy is a necessary prerequisite for this writing thing). I needed to put in my share of the cooking and the housework.

 

It was time to face reality. The reality was that my circumstances were not going to change in the near future (little did I know, etc.) I was not going to get that undisturbed time to dive into writing. I had to be fierce and fight my exhaustion and ADHD if I was going to get anywhere. My writing was just as important to me as my job, right? And how did I treat my job? I did not compromise in any way no matter how tired I was! I never checked notifications on the job! I whipped myself into professional excellence! I kept learning! I climbed up the professional ladder! I did not whine.

So, if my writing was just as important as my job, I must start treating it in the same manner. Like a job that can be done 30 minutes at a time. A part time job! Didn’t my Dad work 3 shifts to feed us? He did. I could, too.

And so I wrote. On the train. I had a 10 inch old netbook that fit in my purse, and that’s what I used. I would not permit myself to check notifications and, knowing myself, I put my phone on silent. On most days it worked.

Sometimes it was easier – sometimes the ideas just wanted to flow. When inspiration hits, it’s like what Anne Lamott calls writing as if you just got amoebic diarrhea. It doesn’t matter where you are, you are GOING TO FIND THAT BATHROOM. Best metaphor I ever heard.

Seriously, Anne Lamott’s book on writing, Bird by Bird, is like a trusted comrade by now (I bitch to it whenever I need to and it understands); from there I learned how to write in 20 minute chunks by concentrating just on one scene, dialogue or image. This is what I have to tell myself when the bad days came, when I didn’t have inspiration: just do the thing. Write, even if it’s going to be horrible, get down whatever you can in 30 minutes. Skip to parts that inspire you if you have to. Just get moving.

Doing this every day kept the rhythm going. Listening to music that reminded me of the current piece I was working on helped my brain stay subconsciously in tune with my story throughout the long day at the office. I jotted down notes as ideas came to me, and kept them in my purse. If I had faced a problem in the plotline or with a certain character the day before, I played around with different solutions during my coffee or bathroom break, and when the time for writing came I would try them out.

It didn’t always work. More often than I would like to admit, I was too nervous or tired or sad, and I would lull myself into the vortex of my smartphone. But yet, in one year I had finished a first draft. It was a patchy draft, being done in 30 minute increments as it were. It definitely demanded a lot of work. But still – it was there, written, something to work with.

 

 

On a practical note:

Do you work full time and have a family? Here is how you make time to write:

  • Find half an hour each day where you can hide and write. It can be during your lunch break, during your commute on public transportation, or you can lock yourself in the bathroom. Put your phone on silent, and write.
  • Focus on one scene at a time. Don’t expect it be perfect, just get the words out there. You can fix the draft later. Repeat: focus on the current scene, dialogue or image.
  • Feed your subconscious writer even if you are not writing. Listen to music that inspires you. Listen to a writing podcast when you are driving or doing the dishes, or ironing.
  • Sometime you will have an idea or a solution and you will not be at a time or a place that allows you to just zone out and write. So keep notes, either on classic index cards or by using an app like Evernote which you can access anywhere.
  • This is worth saying twice: don’t expect it to be perfect. When you must work like this, your writing could turn out patchy, moving like one of those clunky-stop-at-every-small-town kind of trains. But it will get you there.

 

How do you manage your writing time? I would love to hear your solutions in the comments.


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