Avoiding Strangers on a Train to Write

Strangers on a Train
Photo Courtesy of IMDb

Like many indie authors, I work for a living. There are worse things, like plantar warts. Never mind. Because I live in LA, having a day job requires me to endure a long, daily commute. Several years ago, I decided to abandon my car and use public transportation. Though the combination of trains and ride services such as Uber and Lyft, my commute isn’t any shorter, it does free me up to do other things. For instance, I can read. And more importantly, I can write.

Stalling Our Way to Happiness
Most writers I know are born procrastinators. Netflix and Amazon Prime were made for us—not to mention mobile phones bursting with games and social media apps. And if like me, you are stuck on a train with a bunch of strangers, it’s easy to tell yourself there’s no way you can get any real writing done. For one thing, it’s too noisy, what with all the announcements and people watching funny cat videos without earbuds.

And then, there’s the problem of where to put the device. The light rail trains don’t have flat surfaces, other than the floor. And the seats are narrow, so other passengers are usually sitting very close. In short, there are plenty of reasons not to write on the train.

When You Wish Upon a Star
A few months ago, I decided I’d had enough. I was going to write every morning on the train, no matter what. So, I took myself on a journey of discovery. I already owned a MacBook Air, which is what I use to do most of my writing. Unfortunately, because of the problems mentioned above, I found that it was too large for me to work comfortably. I needed something I could balance on my lap—a device that runs Microsoft Word.

Surface Go

After spending time researching laptops, I decided on a Microsoft Surface Go. Though small, the device is responsive, and the screen is bright. And battery life is outstanding. As a rule, I don’t like touch screens, so I decided to purchase the optional keyboard, which I find to be comfortable, though compact.

My only complaint is the touchpad. It’s overly sensitive and often sends my cursor flying to unknown parts of the page, which I didn’t intend. But, trust me, that’s a small price to pay to avoid writing with paper and pen. Even on a full train, I can bang out anywhere from 750 to 1,000 words, which is plenty for a morning’s work.

Go Forth and Write
Now, I’m not trying to sell you on Microsoft products. I’m sure there are plenty of other choices out there. All I’m saying is, writing on a train—or a bus—is possible with the right device. If you’re the kind of person who can get work done on an iPad, then go for it. I’m just happy I found a solution that works for me.

Happy writing.

Your Home Workplace—5 Things to Start Using Right Now

[Emily Johnson]Guest post by Emily Johnson

This post contains new, original material, and is based on the article “How to Organize Your Writing Space at Home,” which appeared at GalleyCat in September.

As a writer, if you know how to organize your home workplace, that’s great. If you know which items can help you stay more productive, that’s even better!

It’s simple: try to use these things to boost your productivity.

1. A digital highlighter. This device can help you scan, translate, and transfer texts. Once you start using this gadget, you’ll start boosting your productivity. Create texts and just transfer them to your computer or phone.

2. Mini elliptical trainers. If you want to stay productive and focused, you need to pay attention to your health. Using mini elliptical trainers helps to prevent health problems and promote a good posture.

3. A USB cup warmer. We often drink coffee or tea while working. If you want to take a cup of hot tea, you should use this gadget. Plus, try to drink green tea only, as it contains L-theanine and caffeine that lead to improving brain functions.

4. Live plants. As soon as you decorate your workplace with live plants, you will see spirits boost. Plus, it goes without saying that live plants freshen the air. No matter what type of plant you like—whether a cactus, an aloe, or an Orchidaceae—you can make your writing place look cozy.

5. A painting or quotation. Every writer needs to find his or her muse. If you want to get inspiration, find a corner where you can hang your favorite painting or a quote. It will motivate you to work harder and better!

Is there anything we left off the list? Add your own ideas in the comments section below.

[Your Writing Cabinet]

About the Author
Emily Johnson is a writer and a blogger at OmniPapers.com, an academic writing extravaganza. You can find her on Twitter.

Want to Write Well? Learn to Research

Photo Courtesy of Ed Yourdon via Creative Commons
[New York Public Library]As writers, we like to pride ourselves on our ability to turn a phrase. And after having written for a while, we find that we’ve developed our own style—our own voice. But the best writing in the world can be ruined if we haven’t researched a topic properly. The cold blade of Truth will cut through our words and leave a wreckage of pretty ideas that, though appealing, make the reader want to scream. There’s a wonderful moment in Woody Allen’s film ‘Sleeper’ where the Diane Keaton character has written a poem (heavily influenced by McKuen) about a butterfly’s metamorphosis. The only problem is, she gets it wrong, with the thing ending up as a caterpillar. Awkward …

Some time ago I read a book that was, for the most part, enjoyable. The plot was taut, the characters real. And I probably would have given the author an excellent review, until I came to the part where he described the protagonist attending Mass. Now, I am Catholic and I know what a Mass looks like when I see it. And his description landed pretty far from the truth—to the point where I would have thrown the book across the room had it not been downloaded to my Kindle. Just imagine your readers tossing your book aside in disgust when they come across something they know to be patently false. Yeah, awkward.

A bad piece of writing advice goes like this: “Write what you know.” Well, here’s what the author Joe Haldeman has to say about that:

Bad books on writing tell you to “write what you know,” a solemn and totally false adage that is the reason there exist so many mediocre novels about English professors contemplating adultery.

The point is this—if you are a horror, fantasy or sci-fi writer, then obviously you cannot write what you know. You are creating worlds that don’t exist, for crying out loud. But that doesn’t obviate the need for some solid research. You need to describe places and things, and how stuff works. But here’s the beauty part—most of the time, all you need is a great Internet connection.

Learn to Become Self-sufficient
I am a member of several online groups catering to authors. And nothing gets me more wound up than someone posting a question like this: “If my character gets shot, how long will it take for him to bleed out?” I have three little words for you, Mr. Lazy-ass writer: Look it up! Here’s a better question: “I’ve been researching gunshot wounds, and there seems to be a discrepancy on how long it actually takes for a person to bleed out, depending on where they were shot. If my character takes a bullet in the abdomen, what do you think is a safe estimate to make my story believable?”

Now, that’s a great question. The author has taken the time to do the research herself, and she’s also told us what she learned. Finally, she’s made her question very specific. A gold star for you!

Wikipedia is Good But …
Look, I am as guilty of this as the next guy. I use Wikipedia prodigiously. The key is to not treat this well-known site like Encyclopædia Britannica. Typically, when I find something of interest in Wikipedia, I also check one or two other sites to see if they are saying the same thing. If so, then I’m pretty confident that what I’m reading is accurate.

Another great source of information—especially when you are writing about how things work—is YouTube. It’s utterly amazing the stuff people post there! Want to know how to assemble or disassemble a particular weapon? Need to know what the inside of a morgue looks like? More than likely, there’s a video that will show you. Related to that are television shows. Many of the better ones hire real-world consultants who advise the writer and director on how something actual works. I recently finished watching the brilliant new Amazon series ‘Bosch’ (based on the Michael Connelly books), and I have to believe these guys know what they are doing.

The other thing to check for accurate writing is online product catalogues. I am currently completing my horror-thriller trilogy, THE DEAD SERIES, and all of the books reference weapons, both large and small. There are gun shops in my immediate area, but they don’t necessarily carry RPGs and Browning M2 .50 caliber machine guns. Both YouTube and online gun catalogs have proven invaluable.

The Joy of Research
In my view, research should not be burdensome. I’m the kind of person who likes to learn new things. So, the fact that I have to stop the creative process momentarily and look something up doesn’t bother me. Now, I may not get everything right. I’m not a trained doctor, soldier or police officer. So I may find things that are technically accurate, but would never work in real life because those people just don’t do it that way. Think ‘Bosch.’ And if I get something wrong, I always appreciate a reader contacting me and telling me so I can fix it.

Writing is not just about creativity and a command of the language. It’s about discipline. And doing research is a very disciplined way to approach your craft. Oh, and here is a link to a post about gunshot wounds and bleeding. In case, you know, someone in your story just got shot.