Friday, December 12, 2008

Writing With Blinders On

One of best things that happened to me as a writer was having to commute an hour and half to a new job. At first it seemed more like a curse than a writing boon. How would I write now that I had to be on a train with all those distractions? The way I did it was that I learned to do it. Admittedly, the first week of commuting was more about survival than anything else, writing included. One evening in particular I recall coming home at seven-thirty after having been up since quarter of five and thinking that life as I had known it was over. In a way it was.

By the second and third week, there was a kind of rhythm in getting up early, getting coffee at the Whistle Stop café, downing it before the 6:20 arrived and getting settled in the cramped seat at the back of the row on the left so that only really cheeky individuals had the nerve to ask if they could sit down. I began writing every day I took the train, morning and evening. I learned to block out the noise, which isn't so much on a morning train whose destination is New York. It isn't all that much most evenings either, once you get used to it as white noise, something to be ignored so that you can write with better concentration and more intensity. I kept up the habit and found that the time flew by as fast as the scenery, and several times almost missed my stop. After ten months, I had the first draft of a novel. The time had flown, and I arrived at work in the mornings and home in the evenings feeling more energized than drained on most days, and when I was tired, it was more out of a sense of accomplishment than exhaustion.

It took a while to get into the rhythm and the habit of writing with blinders on, of blocking out whatever else was going on. That's not to say that the conductor with the plastic chicken and the other conductor whom we were all certain led a double life somewhere we didn't want to know about weren't distractions, but they were momentary, welcome distractions, good for a laugh or side observation, a small break before returning to the work. With the habit and discipline of the day (and the night), I learned to write a thousand words in a sitting, usually an hour, since the other half was getting to and from the stations. It wasn't easy, at first, to write with blinders on, but it was good discipline, helpful for writing around the house and its myriad distractions, or Starbucks on the rare times out for coffee.

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