Write In Weird Places II – The Metro


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.

image3But 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).

image4Because 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.

FullSizeRender-1Fun 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.

16 comments on “Write In Weird Places II – The Metro”

  1. I’ve never written extensively anywhere but at home because I really need a quiet atmosphere. Talk, radios, music, tv – all that is distracting. I know some people can work with it, but I can’t. That said, probably the most interesting place I ever wrote anything was at a car shop while getting new tires for my car. Mostly I just jot down ideas or a few sentences in such places, to follow up on later, but I actually wrote a little more than that one time. Rarely happens, though. Still, I always make sure I have something to write on wherever I am, “just in case”.

    1. I have a “just in case” journal too – I used ‘Evernotes’ on my phone and I’m jotting down stuff in it all the time. Have you ever tried noise-cancelling headphones while you’re away from home? I definitely understand where you’re coming from; sometimes it’s impossible to concentrate with all the noise and activity around.

  2. I love finding a busy park and going old school pen and paper. Gods know I wouldn’t risk my MacBook out there, but the visuals are wonderful.

    1. I like the park idea – I think the National Mall in D.C. might be my next spot. Old-school pen and paper always feels so awesome at first, but I get hand cramps! Plus I’m a lefty, so I get ink/graphite everywhereeeee

  3. Oh the Red Line! And, don’t get me started on the escalator that is 212′ at Bethesda station! I realized when it was too late that I had walked on and had to stay on. Much deep breathing and praying! Glad you were able to get 874 words written that is awesome!

    1. Bethesda station is crazy – I get off at Rosslyn every day and that escalator is huge. I sometimes take the elevator depending on how active I’m feeling. The DuPont escalator is intimidating too

  4. Trying to write in a moving vehicle would have me sick to my stomach. I can write / read on planes and cruise ships, but anything rolling on solid ground? Not a chance.

    Interesting places I’ve written…hmmm, I’ve written a couple of scenes while eating dinner in the forward lounge of a swinger’s club. That’s got to be THE most interesting place I’ve ever written. 🙂

    1. Reminds me on my sister – she can’t read/write/work in a car or it’s game over. And wow, I think you have me beat; that might be the most interesting place to be, let alone write

  5. I used to write on my commuter bus. About 45-75 minutes each way. Used to use my laptop. Now more convenient to use my tablet and transfer work back and forth. Real work gets done at home on laptop, although I’ve written some short stories and poetry on the tablet.

    By the way, noise-cancelling headphones are very nice. 🙂

  6. I always find my best ideas when I’m driving. It doesn’t even matter if the radio is on or (more likely) if I’m upping my book count by listening to an audio book; something about the muscle memory my body practices when driving my manual bubble on wheels just draws me into deep thought. So every once in awhile I grab my MacBook Pro from my desk, in my very dedicated “writing corner,” and leave the wall of books and literary atmosphere behind. I have to pick routes where I can stop often (dedicated shoulder pull-offs, rest areas, parks, parking lots, etc.), but when I can dedicate at least half a day to it, I get the most in word count out of the time and some very “high quality [writing] H2O.”

      1. One drawback – I tend to imprint certain ideas to scenery and find it necessary to deviate from well worn routes.

  7. Hey, I loved this post – and totally get where you are coming from. Yesterday I wrote a draft for a blog post in the middle of a forest where my son was trying his bike out on a downhill dirt track. I firmly believe that by changing our surroundings every now and then, we open ourselves up to more inspiration from the new environment we are in. Personally, I would have made the guy who dropped his book a character – I can imagine lots more scope to play with.

    As for where to write next, what about pushing the boundaries a bit – see if you can sit in a police precinct, or outside a fire station. But hey – go with what feels right. I look forward to reading it!

    1. I love it! Do some prep, and try to get into somewhere truly interesting. I was thinking about also doing one of the museums (I live right by the National Mall) soon also. Or maybe the steps by the Capitol.

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