Friday, 5 May 2017

In Transit (by Cecilia Peartree)


I’m never quite sure how much, or what, I am going to manage to write while I’m on the move or away from home. On one occasion a few years ago I found myself travelling from Edinburgh to a meeting in Brighton the day NaNoWriMo started. I was determined that two nights away from home and two whole days, more or less, on the train, would not cause me to fall behind right at the beginning of November. Fortunately in those days my little netbook was still working and I doggedly tapped away at the keyboard for part of the train journey, and sat at a table in the window of my guest-house room typing after dinner during the two evenings I spent there.
As I remember, that was also the year I had decided to use the ‘snowflake’ method to outline the novel I planned to write. I expect it works well for some people, but I think I can safely say that even without the trip to Brighton the book would have been doomed from the start, and having to start writing it while in transit was just the icing on the cake.
Since then I have become less and less able to cart large technological devices around, so the chances of my writing anything much while on the move have become smaller and smaller. Using a notebook is sometimes the only option, although my hand-writing is not perfectly legible, to put it mildly, at the best of times and on a moving train it becomes even less decipherable. Although I still like to carry a small notebook with me, I mostly keep it for odd flashes of what I like to think of as inspiration.

All I saw of Copenhagen
It has taken me a while to realise that this could change for the better if I invested in a keyboard for one of my Kindle Fires. I bought the first of these a couple of years ago in advance of a trip by rail and sea to a conference in Finland, and almost the first thing I did with it was to write a live travel blog illustrated with pictures of trains, stations and boats, as well as of the hotel I unexpectedly had to stay in after my train broke down en route somewhere in Denmark. The smaller version, which I acquired only a few months ago to take into hospital with me, obviously has a much smaller display and would be less suitable for writing at length, but it and any accompanying keyboard would be quite a bit lighter and more portable than the larger one. I bought this second one partly because it cost a ridiculously small amount in Amazon’s Black Friday sale and partly because I wanted a device without any of my passwords saved on it, in case it was stolen. At the moment I am still dithering over what kind of keyboard to buy and which tablet to take away with me the next time I travel.
Of course, realistically I will not be writing a whole novel or even very much of one, in this way. During the train journey, if past experience is anything to go by, I will be mostly listening to music playlists and staring vaguely out of the window, with perhaps the odd word game thrown in to pass the time, and while in my hotel room I will be alternately lying on the bed in a heap to recover from the journey and wrestling with the wi-fi to try and get it to function.
Having said that, I have sometimes used the on-screen keyboard on the Kindle Fire to write a few hundred words here and there while in various unpromising situations such as the above-mentioned international train journey. I think the place where I felt least optimistic about getting anything done was the waiting area at KwikFit, where my car was having its MOT test. By some fluke of the calendar, this always comes round in November, so once again I was on a deadline for NaNoWriMo and found myself compelled to add several hundred words to the day’s total. This despite being distracted by a couple of other customers who were having a meltdown about the probable cost of getting their car through the test.

This brings me back to my main problem with writing on trains, buses, in garages, and in hotel rooms. It isn’t that I’m afraid other people will look over my shoulder and see what I’m writing. I’ve had practice over the years at writing in local coffee shops at NaNoWriMo write-ins, and I usually find I can relax enough to write up to around a thousand words at a time in these circumstances.

The Forth Bridge from a train
No, it’s because during journeys and in unfamiliar places there are always distractions. As someone who doesn’t like to miss anything, I can never resist the temptation to stare at the ornate metalwork on a station roof, a herd of deer running away from the train, the view from the hotel room window, no matter how mundane, or even the room-service menu from which I have no intention of ordering, in preference to keeping my eyes on the screen. So when I travel from Edinburgh to Oxford this very week, I will be the one with the Kindle Fire on its lovely new keyboard stand in front of me, while my eyes are firmly fixed on whatever is visible around me either inside or outside the train, whether it’s an interesting-looking cloud, some cars at a level crossing or the instructions for escaping from the coach in the event of an emergency.

2 comments:

Umberto Tosi said...

I really enjoyed your descriptions of writing on the go. I empathize with the problems of zoning out distractions, especially window-gazing. Our tablets do make things so much easier than in the days of portable typewriters, or notepads. You triggered one of my fondest fantasies - that of writing a novel while crisscrossing continents by train, with onboard characters and events filtering into the narrative.

Katherine Roberts said...

I don't seem to have much success writing prose on the move - but often write poems, or jot down ideas that find their way into books. Travelling for me seems to be a time to let writing (plots, ideas, etc) settle in my head, especially on a train, when I can drift into a semi-daze akin to meditation.

Didn't know you could get keyboards for a Kindle!