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Ways to Write While Commuting

Ways to Write While Commuting

Social media and the mainstream news are full of author success stories. Some got lucky pursuing traditional publishing contracts, scoring a six-figure deal. Others are indies who built a six-figure business on ebook royalties and now live the dream. Depending on your mindset, these stories either make you sick with envy or motivate you to double down on your own writing career.

Either way, what you must remember is that earning a live-changing author income overnight is rare. If you’re constantly reading articles about the industry and a large chunk of your friends are full-time creatives, then you’re in a bubble. That’s good because it means you have a great network of role models, but it does skew your perspective. Most authors don’t live the privileged lifestyles you see every day. In some cases, it takes years to get there.

While they prepare, many work a day job and understand your pain. Writing around a full-time gig is a challenge most non-writers will never understand. Your job already takes up maybe eight hours a day, plus overtime and the commute itself. Take those hours out of the 16 you’re awake and it only leaves you with around four more hours of waking consciousness to fit in your writing, providing you don’t have a family, social life or a need to eat and wash.

Despite the difficulty, writing consistently around a day job is necessary if you want to break the cycle and become a full-time author. Thankfully, though, your day probably contains more potential writing time than you realise. Most authors never use their commute, for example, despite it being a rich source of writing time. Those who do, routinely rack up hundreds more words per day! There are lists of ways to write while commuting, regardless of whether you drive, walk or take public transport, as you will discover in today’s blog post.

See Opportunities

One of the first obstacles you need to hurdle if you want to boost your word count during your commute is your own mind. Many authors don’t write while travelling, not because they can’t but because they don’t think it’s possible. This is a situation in which Henry Ford’s wisdom rings true:

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.”

Mindset is essential for execution. What do you need to write? A laptop? Your home office? A particular snack? Absolute silence? A solid hour? Realistically, you probably don’t need everything you claim.

Without your ideal conditions, your progress might be slower, and the work not as fun, but you will still wrack up words without compromising on quality. Yes, studies suggest we work most efficiently on creative “deep work” tasks like writing if we focus for long blocks of time. But we don’t all have the luxury of a spare hour. If 15-minute blocks is all you have then use them. Once you realise it’s possible to work in short sprints, you will see more writing opportunities in your day. What’s more, you may even write more efficiently in those time pockets than you would if you had plenty of hours, knowing that you have to focus because your writing time is limited.

Use Mindset Tokens

If life were perfect, we would all have a dedicated writing space, set up to optimise our productivity and inspiration levels, where nobody could interrupt us mid-flow. This magical void would contain comfortable clothes, an ergonomic desk, snacks and knickknacks that fuel creativity, as well as music and smells that trigger a writing mindset. The reality, though, is that no such place exists for most authors. You can get close by manufacturing an office to focus your mind, but it’s not always possible to re-create that environment on the shifting sands of a daily commute.

That’s why mindset tokens are useful. They are tangible or digital tokens you can carry with you to manufacture your perfect writing space on the go. How you use them is simple: say, for instance, you have to catch a train full of rowdy passengers each morning. Using headphones as a mindset token, you can block them out with a familiar soundtrack you use when writing to get you in the mood. You could also carry a stress ball from your office to keep your hands busy and resist the call of the internet while you’re mulling over your next sentence. Or if you drive to work, you could fill your car with the same scent as your office to focus your brain. Mindset tokens don’t force you to write, but they can get you into a writing mindset even in unideal conditions, which is perfect for the commute.

Carry Portable Devices

Hand-writing a manuscript is a laborious task. For many authors, typing is faster. Plus, it makes re-drafting a much easier process. That’s why lots of us don’t write on the go; we don’t take our devices and won’t settle for a pad and pen. If you want to reduce as much friction from your writing as possible, however, you must take your preferred writing device on your commute. Obviously, that won’t be possible with a desktop computer but, if using a computer to write helps you, would it be worth investing in a laptop or tablet? The extra wordcount potential this switch could create would soon pay for itself.

The commute isn’t always a hands-free experience – between ticket machines, parking meters and coffee runs – but carrying a bag to store your device will greatly reduce any inconvenience on your journey. In many cases, a backpack will solve your problems, leaving you free to hand over tickets when necessary and get down a few sentences whenever you’re perched at a station or sitting in the company carpark, waiting for your boss to open the building. Just remember to set up an autosave in your settings and take a pen and paper with you in case your battery dies. That way, you’re prepared for any eventuality and never need to stop writing when you have spare time and feel inspired.

Dictate on the Go

You may be reading this article and think, “This is all well and good for commuters who use public transport but I can’t type for any of my commute!” If that’s your reality then you still have options to consider, the main one being dictation. Companies like Nuance, Google and Amazon have accelerated voice-to-text dictation technology in recent years, making it increasingly more accurate, and even trainable if you have a heavy accent or one these companies don’t cater to primarily.

If you walk to work, for example, you could use a handheld voice recorder like an Olympus model, which is popular among many dictating authors. Using Dragon Naturally Speaking by Nuance, you could then side-load the recordings from that device onto your computer later in the day for the software to transcribe them. Alternatively, if you drive and can’t hold an Olympus, you could wear a Sennheiser headset, which will do the same job, freeing up your hands for driving. Dictating your book when you’re used to typing or hand-writing is challenging to begin with because it requires a skill adjustment, but it could revolutionise your productivity if you normally don’t write any words on your commute.

Use the Cloud

Not everyone’s commute is consistent. While many authors in the community can take one train to work, you may have to switch from bus to train or car to ferry. Some parts of your journey may have a desk space for your computer but don’t allow you to speak, while others are standing affairs with more relaxed noise rules. If that’s the case, you may need to switch between multiple devices, causing you to believe you can’t work consistently on one document. However, every problem has a solution. In this case, it’s cloud technology.

These days, most devices can connect to the internet. If you have a smartphone and available data, you can create a WiFi hotspot to connect your laptop, tablet or other digital devices wherever your commute takes you. As a result, not only can you do research on any of them, but you can also share information between them, including files, via services like Dropbox and Google Drive. These services host folders you can access on any device and that sync in close to real time. Using them, you can start a chapter on your laptop, then continue working on it moments later on your tablet or phone. Or you could switch from typing completely and dictate the remaining scene.

Writing while commuting isn’t ideal. However, many authors do it successfully enough to crank out several novels a year without writing at home at all. In fact, those who go full-time sometimes say their productivity drops once they lack the structure and consistency of their commute. Try these tactics and, very soon, your commute could earn you more than your day job.

Daniel Parsons

Daniel Parsons

Dan Parsons is the bestselling author of multiple series. His Creative Business books for authors and other entrepreneurs contains several international bestsellers. Meanwhile, his fantasy and horror series, published under Daniel Parsons, have topped charts around the world and been used to promote a major Hollywood movie. For more information on writing, networking, and building your creative business, check out all of Dan’s non-fiction books here.