On Trains As Writing Spaces

Train StationHere are some interesting insights on the writing process from author Panio Gianopoulos. I wholeheartedly agree with this:

The exaggerations of the arts notwithstanding, there can be something meditative about riding a train. It’s both soothing and inspiring to feel the steady rhythmic rush of its passage, the thundering momentum as you race past a sun-flecked pastoral landscape and, when you briefly intersect a city, the sudden appearance of buildings rising and falling like the perforated notes on a player piano roll.

One of the reasons I haven’t posted lately is because I’m immersed in my latest project, which has taken on a life of its own. Looks like it’s going to evolve into a novel. I started it back in June, when my wife and I took a meandering vacation from Charlotte to New Orleans to New York. We flew to New Orleans, but took Amtrak the rest of the way. Yes, that’s a lot of time on the rails, and what Gianopoulos says about the rhythm of the rails stimulating the creative process is true. The train rolled mile after mile, and I wrote page after page. And even though the trip is done, the experience generated momentum I’m still drawing from.

Gianopoulos makes another powerful point about the creative process, one that seems counter-intuitive but nevertheless true. Commenting on how productive he is on short train rides, he observes that constraints actually spur him on:

On weekends, once the children have been anesthetized with iPads and I’ve ducked up into our attic with my laptop, I find that somehow I get less writing done in two hours. I’ll get lured into answering emails or researching online, frittering away the brief time before my children demand actual live parenting from their father (the nerve!). Many days, I don’t even make it to the attic; I’ll get distracted by laundry or the mail or yard work, telling myself I can always write later. Having all day to do it, however, means I never end up doing any of it—not even 35 minutes. Perversely, I’m more creatively productive on my busiest workdays. There is something about the entrapment of the space and the temporal limitation of the train ride that animates me. I don’t think I’m alone in this. We are a weird species. Give us vastness and we wilt. Corner us and we thrive.

I’m guilty of this as well. On days when I’m relatively free to write, I often fritter away my time, while during brief writing opportunities, I’m far more productive. In fact, one of the lessons I’ve learned is that getting away from what I imagine to be my optimal working environment often energizes me.

As Gianopoulos says, humans are a weird species. And then there’s that sub-species called writers …

13 thoughts on “On Trains As Writing Spaces”

  1. Lovely to hear from you Mike. I do like what this guy – Gianoupolos – has to say. I am also soothed and inspired by train journeys and boat journeys. The steady rhythm and changing vista.
    I have even written a poem about it. 🙂

    I wish you all luck with your writing and hope you find more places that will inspire you.
    I laugh at all the obstacles and chores that present themselves when you are heading for your loft. It seems to be the same for us all. Do you think we are trying to get away from the harder work of writing? So chores become a good excuse. 🙂


    Liked by 2 people

    1. Miriam,

      I believe the intense concentration requires effort sometimes. Then there are those days when I’m so wrapped up in the story that concentration is as easy as breathing.

      The trick is to keep writing, no matter what it takes.

      Liked by 3 people

    1. Jacqui,

      You reminded me of Arlo Guthrie’s City of New Orleans:

      Mothers with their babes asleep,
      Are rockin’ to the gentle beat
      And the rhythm of the rails is all they feel.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I used to ride a commuter train into the city for work every day. For over ten years it was a part of my life. The work I accomplished on the half hour trip was astonishing. I miss the ride sometimes but not the job. Thanks for the reminder that I need to concentrate on writing and ignore the distractions.


  3. Something has to push us into writing when we are in our familiar spaces. But on a train we can relax because we are being pushed forward while writing. Somehow, we humans want movement, the feeling of getting ahead somehow… this month I’m pushed by the NaNoWriMo thing and it helps!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I read that the 19th century writer Anthony Trollope wrote all of his novels, including his masterpiece Barchester Towers, during his one hour during train commutes to and from London (he worked all his life as a bank clerk).

    Liked by 1 person

  5. “then there’s that sub-species called writers …” – that’s funny!

    So if I want the same productivity that you and Gianopoulos found on the move, I just have to “train” myself? – – Yes, I hear those big wheels screeching unpleasantly with that line! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.