Writing In The Margins

Lately I’ve received a strong response to the fact that a decent amount of my writing is done on the subway. To me, this is common sense, but to others it’s as if I write while suspended upside down in the nude (don’t worry, I don’t). I have a full-time job and a family complete with a newborn… Where the hell else am I going to get writing done other than late at night or my 40-minute, twice-a-day commute?

So often we think of writing as this pristine thing. Something precious, something that requires a special place and a special time. This is crap. Writing is getting words out of your head and on to some media. No matter what, no matter how, no matter where. Don’t get me wrong, some writing is better than others, but the gist of how it’s done is fairly universal.

If I waited for a special time, little would happen. My newborn will cry, my three-year-old will have a bad dream, my wife will want me to do something that I probably should have done without her asking and there would go that. If I hoped for a special place, I’d have to wait for us to move out of a two-bedroom apartment and look for something that is out of my budget with a spare room for work. For now, the subway and the dining room table will have to suffice.

We often think about time as these big blocks, an hour here, three hours there, but there is so much potential for filling the tiny gaps, for taking small pockets of time, using them wisely and making something bigger out of them. You need to work out your process and you need to figure out your right tools, but it is doable. Novels have been written this way, business plans have been created, careers and lives have been changed all by making the most of the spare time that most take for granted.

It doesn’t matter what you want to accomplish, if you really want make something happen, you find time. You find space, you figure out a way. Unless you’re a professional writer or single, life may only give you the margins to write in. Take what you can and make something out of it. Your process may be unusual, it may even be uncomfortable but it is certainly possible.

No matter what you attempt, as long as you are mildly realistic, you can find the time to make it happen. If you can’t, you probably want to have a hard conversation with yourself about how bad you really wanted it in the first place. Once you start eliminating some of the useless crap in your day (another post for another day) and start taking advantage of the little moments of the day you’ll be surprised by what you can accomplish, even if it is on the B Train.

25 Responses to Writing In The Margins

    • Thanks Robyn! You are so dead on, constantly coming up with interesting nonsense, especially on the days where my brain and eyes start to wander. The beauty on having the tools with you to write is that you can actually capture and expand on those ideas right in the moment.

  1. B-train; is that the one John Rocker dissed about when Atlanta was up there in the World Series.

    Because we are empty-nesters at home and I can find that ‘thinking’ time that is how I plan it. However, you make a good point in that you will find the time. If it’s part of your schedule, your routine if you will, you will make it happen. 

    BTW – I got to meet Gini in person for the first time Monday night in Orlando. Adam Toporek and I were able to catch up with her for an hour before the TweetUp she was sponsoring. I know you have this love-fest thing going on with her but I’m pretty sure she said she likes me best. I hope I didn’t ruin your day, but I did want to keep you in the loop so you didn’t get caught by surprise. But I’m a nice guy like that………

    • I’ve never liked him…

      Unfortunately/fortunately, the two little ones make that fairly impossible. I have the late night for more writing and polishing, but ideas tend to hit me during the day and expanding on them seems to happen more at night (read: I’m weird).

      Jealous of your Gini time, but just know that she was lying to you.

  2. You know, I want to get a laptop because between the bus and the train, my commute to the Financial District where my boss’s office is takes over an hour. That is valuable time that is (mostly) undisturbed. I also draw inspiration from looking around on the train and observing people.

    Time can be the enemy or it can be our friend. It is all in how we are using it.

    • I tried with the Air, but it just didn’t work and it also becomes impossible on the days where I can’t get a seat. I’ve been amazed at how much I’ve actually been able to do with the iPhone.

      I’m also with you for drawing inspiration and getting ideas from those around you, I’m actually touching on a “subway observation” in tomorrow’s (hopefully) post.

      Time is always our enemy, but I just find we’re better off not fighting it.

  3. I can’t imagine an objection to the fact that you write on the subway. Anywhere you can be focused and away from distractions seems like a smart time to write. I have always either read, written or rested during subway rides. Now I only get on them once or twice a week, but that time still holds so much value.

  4. I think it’s great that you aren’t making up excuses on not having time to write and take advantage of the opportunity that you do have. It’s also cool that you have developed the kind of focus to concentrate in a public place like that. I know people that don’t even work saying they don’t have time to write or work online. We get out of it what we put in. Nice topic.

    • Thanks, because I am really, really, really good at making up excuses for things. Just finally decided to look at all these little moments as something to value and all the sudden, value started coming out of them. Go figure…

      As for the concentration, it’s a fun one considering my ADHD, but I find a good pair of in-ear headphones attached to absolutely nothing does a great job of helping you tune everything out.

      Thanks for popping in!

  5. […] Writing In The Margins: So often we think of writing as this pristine thing. Something precious, something that requires a special place and a special time. This is crap. Writing is getting words out of your head and on to some media. No matter what, no matter how, no matter where. Don’t get me wrong, some writing is better than others, but the gist of how it’s done is fairly universal. […]

  6. So true. Many a post modern book will be written on subways, planes, trains and automobiles. Well, maybe not automobiles but you get the point. Juan Carlos Ortiz composed a book on his BlackBerry, whilst on international flights.

    Maybe it’s not so much finding time as making time.

    • It’s amazing when you hear those kinds of things. I am nowhere near a book, but it is amazing what you can create with unexpected devices in small places (that probably came out wrong).

      Love and couldn’t agree more with that final quote there. There is always time, we just tend to waste a lot of it.

  7. Michael,

    Glad we are not talking about scabs today. 

    I’m easily distracted, so if I was taking a ride on the B Train every day, and it is as interesting as I think it is, I wouldn’t get much done. I guess you are now used to whatever chaos is going on around you … oh yeah you have a newborn! I remember those days. I have a 17 year old and an 11 year old … it never stops, ever. They still drive me insane. 

    I do need to get a laptop or ipad for when I’m away from the desktop. I just can’t work on an iPhone, way to frustrating.

    • That certainly makes two of us. 

      I’m right there with you, my ADHD is powerful. I actually started small, just capturing ideas on the subway which inevitably led to bursts of writing which led to a full blown habit. I will tell you this, a decent pair of in-ear headphones can block out a lot of nonsense. 

      I’d really suggest laptop over iPad for writing (although I need to play around with it now that the keyboard splits). I get the most done on my laptop, but oddly enough I do more on the iPhone than I can on the iPad.

      • I work better in bursts too, but my bursts are 45 minutes to an hour. Then I get bored and need to move onto something else.

        When I lived back east, I used to ride the train from Baltimore to D.C. Then take the D.C. metro (well, many, many years ago) so I can certainly understand the need for headphones. Might have to crank up some ambient music to get things done these days.

        Looking at the MacBook Air, but not sure I want to fork over the money if I can be as productive on the iPad. Still amazed at people who can type effectively on the iPhone. My kids dazzle me with their manual dexterity in this area.

        • The easy answer, you can’t. There is no way you will be as productive with the iPad that you can with the MBA, that said, you can certainly be productive with the iPad. You may want to check out David Sparks iPad at Work book, gives some solid insight for getting the most out of the device. I can’t write or read with music, messes with the ADD :) But the sound reduction does wonders.

          As for the dexterity, my hands are for crap and I’m pretty quick. Like anything else, it’s just practice.

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