Have you ever been so entirely snared by a story idea that everything else immediately takes second place? I’m not talking about a bolt-of-lightning idea – one of those rabbits that comes out of nowhere and invades your thoughts for a day or a week – I’m talking about something more long term. A story idea that came to you a year ago, built upon itself by occupying your free thoughts when you didn’t even realize you were daydreaming, and came to become a wave so large it blotted out the sun. It pushed your current WIP, day job, social life… everything… into the back seat of the car.
Yes? No? Stop saying weird stuff, Dave?
Well that’s where I’ve been for the last four months, ever since the day I finished my most recent manuscript (quick ‘woo!’ in celebration). I thought I would work on this new idea for a week or two while I let my previous WIP breathe and then go back and edit it.
Now, I haven’t abandoned my previous work, fallen into that trap that tells us all that new ideas are better, more fun ideas; but while the new ideas are flowing so easily, I’m not going to do anything to stop them. My recent first-draft will be around for editing later.
And that brings me to my second entry in the ‘Write in Weird Places’ series (read part one here), where I took my new ideas, my computer, and my headphones, and headed to…
The D.C. Metro System?
Write in Weird Places II – D.C.’s Metro
If you have ever spent any length of time in D.C., or spoken to one if its residents about its public transportation, you will likely have heard stories about the Metro. Namely that it’s always late, sometimes trains simply don’t show up, there have been fires in stations and in metro cars, stations close seemingly at random, and then there is the dreaded ‘single tracking’… don’t get me started on single tracking.
But even with all of its flaws I still use the Metro on a regular basis. I take it to and from work, I use it to get back to my mom’s house out in the suburbs, I ride it to Nationals games. And it’s clean, which is nice. Even nicer, the new cars on the tracks are spacious, comfortable, and gleaming. (WMATA, if you want to send me a free gift card or something for my review, hit me up).
It’s also a really nice place to write.
Over the course of two 40-minute metro rides (to the suburbs and back) I wrote 874 words. Reading back through them before writing this post I was actually shocked to find that they were pretty inspired.
No, I would not choose a Metro car as my office to work in every day (but how cool would that be, to write a book and be able to say in interviews – because obviously it’ll be a NYT #1 Bestseller – that you wrote the entire thing on the Metro), but it was a really interesting space to write in. The swaying of the train, the annoying jolts, the rumble of the tracks, the screeching breaks, the buzz of conversation; the different scenes on the platform, the kids talking to each other behind you, the colorful clothing styles you see; the easy and familiar interactions of the couple standing by the door holding onto the handrail, the furtive glances that young woman just gave the strange man who sat down next to her, the one guy who took his book out of his backpack, dropped it, picked it up, found his page, dropped it again, said ‘Fuck it’ and put it back in his backpack… (These are just a few of the actual observations I wrote down during my train ride).
Because here’s the thing…
We aren’t as creative as we think we are (Oops, sorry. Just kidding?).
Our details, beautiful images, and inspired settings are actually imitations and imaginative combinations of things that we have seen. Sure, some of us are better at putting those things into words – and that’s where the really great writers come from – but no matter where on the spectrum you think your wordsmithing lies, your ideas come from your experiences.
I introduced and described a periphery character over the course of my Metro ride, and (surprise!) she looks exactly like the woman sitting across from me on the train. I mean I literally just took down two dozen of that woman’s features, chose the most interesting and defining ones, and turned it into a character description – all the way down to the large freckle under her left eye and her slightly dimpled chin. She might be one of the best-described characters in my book.
Sorry, Random Train Lady, but you’re in my book now.
Fun side note: She actually caught me looking at her once, and I did that thing where you casually turn your head the other way and stare in that direction for a while, pretending you were surveying your entire field of view and not just staring directly at the person on your left.
All in all I really enjoyed writing on the Metro the other day. Not necessarily because I love the Metro (I do kinda like it actually – those new cars are shiny!) but because it forced me to take something I usually do at a desk and do it out in the world. And I think that my writing was the better for it.
So please, give me some more ideas of places to write! Where have you written, other than your desk? Is there a specific place the inspires your creativity more than others? Have you worked somewhere different/weird/awesome/dangerous/exciting/enjoyable recently?
P.S. Yes, those are all pictures that I took on my iPhone. Criticisms are welcome in the comments so long as they are witty and amusing.