I write while riding the subway, waiting in lines, or after rocking my baby to sleep. In the cracks between events, my ideas simmer, and I record them while they’re warm.
I’m writing a novel, even though I never intended for that to happen.
My writing began, late last year, as equal parts fun and catharsis. Whenever I found myself with an offbeat idea – or when I was feeling stressed or frustrated – I would channel my creative energies into a narrative flow. There was no game plan, no story arc, no overarching ambition. But I kept writing and noticed that certain pieces began to fit together into a larger concept.
All of my writing happens on my iPhone, via the factory-standard Notes app. My thumbs know the geography of Apple’s clumsy-but-functional virtual keyboard and, even though auto-correct sometimes causes incomprehensible mischief with my sentences (“raccoon muffin is Durango”?), for the most part, I get my thoughts down easily.
I live in New York City and write while riding the subway, waiting in lines, or immediately after rocking my baby son to sleep. In the cracks between events, my ideas tend to simmer, and I try to record them while they’re warm.
This process seems to be working. I have roughly 20,000 words and have no intention of slowing down. Will I ever try to publish the resulting story – or even show it to another human being? I really don’t know right now. For the time being, I’m just enjoying the process.
Here are a few lessons I’ve learned from my efforts thus far that might help you in your own accidental, or intentional, book writing.
Don’t feel the need to write linearly
On one subway ride, I was inspired to flesh out a character’s backstory, even though I had no idea where in the overall narrative that backstory would end up. On another ride, I decided to write the story’s big final reveal; it might happen at the end of this book, or perhaps at the end of the third book, depending on how far this project goes. It doesn’t matter – for now, I focus on writing what I want to write, in the seconds or minutes I have to write it, with the plan of hashing out the exact timeline later on.
Get the key elements down
If I have thirty free seconds while waiting in line at the bank, I write what I can, and don’t worry about making my sentence structure Shakespearean or my adjectives transcendent. If the key nugget of inspiration I’m trying to record is an interesting plot twist, I write just enough to make sure I’ll remember it so I can flesh it out later. If the inspiration is an interesting turn of phrase, an odd bit of dialogue, or a compelling image, I digitally scribble that down, too, in bare-bones form. I can always take the time to weave this material into the tapestry of the larger narrative after the bank teller has handed me my receipt.
I rarely edit or censor myself when I’m writing on the fly. That’s part of the fun. I write down outlandish ideas and unrealistic plot developments, anything that inspires or interests me. More often than not, when I reread my notes, these ideas make more sense than they had at the moment of writing. In fact, many key developments in my story came about from random ideas that seemed ridiculous when first written.
Revise, revise, revise
If I’m not feeling particularly creative, I’ll reread previous chunks of text and check if they need tweaking (or if there are awkward auto-corrects that need to be un-mutated). Often, I’ll come up with more colorful or expressive language for a word or phrase, or smooth over a hiccup in storytelling that I may have missed during the initial writing. Even if I don’t change a word, it’s useful to remember what I’ve already written. Doing so helps generate a new scene, image, or plot point to explore.
Get a fresh perspective
Every now and then, I open up my work-in-progress on my laptop, or print it out, and scan through the entire thing. Seeing the writing in a different format, with a different typeface, helps me think in fresh ways and identify weak points, narrative holes, and unwieldy dialogue. Then, the next time I have two minutes on the bus and want to jot something down, my efforts will be focused on surgical strikes that can help move my story forward.
Back it up
Phones get stolen, dropped on subway tracks, busted on concrete. Rather than risk losing my novel-in-progress, I sync my phone regularly with my laptop and email myself the latest draft several times a week, just to be safe.
I never want my novel writing to feel like a burden or obligation, or to take up too much time. I am my most creative and productive, and I have the most fun, when I can use this process as an enjoyable creative outlet and an opportunity to build a unique world that is entirely my own. I create what I want to create, and feel good doing so. Other concerns are secondary.
Do you have your own tips for writing a novel on the go, or fitting writing into an already busy life? Tell us in the comments below.
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