10 ways you can use public transport to be a better writer
So, this is a bit of a strange one, I know, but I am sitting on a train on my way to a meeting trying to think of a blog post topic for this week, and I’m realising that public transport helps me so much as a writer.
When I first started using public transport, I thought I was going to hate it, especially because I was so used to having a car. But now, going on the bus or the train is one of my favourite things. I love it because it gives me some much-needed me time that I can use however I like—I can’t really work, usually because there’s not enough time or space, or I don’t have the internet; I don’t usually take phone calls on public transport; and I’m not usually with anyone else. It’s time that I love using to relax and cultivate my creativity.
Plus, completing menial tasks while you’re travelling means that you will have more time later for the more important (or enjoyable) tasks.
So, if you're interested in using the dead time that public transport represents to make yourself a better writer, I have some tips for how you can do that.
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All writers have to read—it’s like our homework (poor us!). However, if you’re busy like me—and especially if you’re busy writing for your job like me—then reading is probably going to get shelved until you have more time. And that’s just silly, really. (And I’m saying that to myself as much as to you, because I’m super guilty of not valuing my reading time enough.)
Now that we have such wonderful access to ebooks and audiobooks, reading on public transport has never been easier. I use OverDrive to borrow ebooks and audiobooks from my local libraries.
I absolutely love writing on the train. My family lives over an hour away, and going on the train to visit them has become a treat, because I use the time to write blog posts or edit. Those extended public transport trips are so magical—I can spread out in the air conditioning with my headphones in and my laptop out. Then I have over an hour of uninterrupted time.
Post & interact on social media
This is what I usually end up doing on shorter public transport trips, and while I don’t think it’s helped me to cut down on the time I spend on social media when I’m at home, I think that a more disciplined person could make it work.
Come up with ideas
I have some of my best ideas while I’m on the bus, probably because I’m allowing my brain to wander without sitting in front of my computer and pressuring myself to come up with anything.
Tip: If you like coming up with ideas while you’re out and about, make sure you have a good system for recording them! We all know there’s nothing worse than having a breakthrough and then forgetting it.
As I may have mentioned before, I use Trello for this, and I love it. I have a ‘dumping board’ where I stick all of my random ideas if I don’t have time to think about where to put them—then I go back later and categorise them.
A writer is constantly researching, and public transport has to be the best place for people-watching and people-listening—which is all excellent research for your writing. Some weird things happen on public transport. I’m sure you know what I mean. Write down anything interesting you see or hear—you’ll probably end up using it at some point. (Trello is pretty great for this, too.)
Time spent doing nothing is really, really important—especially for writers, who spend so much time using their brains and creative muscles. Public transport is the perfect time to zone out, because it’s a period of time that you can set aside, and when you get off the bus or the train, you can go back to work. Plus, staring out the window can be pretty relaxing.
Listen to a podcast
With so many amazing podcasts out there, you could fill up all of your public transport hours and learn while you’re at it. My favourite podcasts are Lorrie Hartshorn's One Hack Away From Wonderwoman, Jen Carrington’s Make It Happen, the She Did It Her Way podcast, and the Serial podcast. As a writer, you could find podcasts that help you to hone your craft or help with research.
Check your stats
Checking my website and social media stats is a task that I spend way too much time doing—it’s one of my go-to procrastination tasks. It’s terrible. If I can get that checking and procrastinating done while I’m on public transport, I’m less likely to do it later, and I’ll have more time to spend on writing and other important tasks. Here’s a list of things I check:
- website visitors and other stats (like referrers and popular content)—Squarespace’s Metrics app is pretty amazing for this, and so easy to access on the go
- email subscribers
- email campaign reports
- social media followers and unfollowers
- likes on recent Instagram posts.
Reply to emails
I always try to keep my unread and unreplied-to emails at a minimum, but lately I’ve been running around so much for meetings and other appointments that I haven’t had much time to sit down and respond to my emails all at once, which is how I prefer to tackle them. I’ve had to train myself to be able to respond to most emails while I’m on public transport so that I don’t have to spend all my time on them when I finally get home. Replying to emails is a necessary task, but if you can fit it into your public transport routine, you’ll have more time later for everything else.
Plan out the rest of your day
I know that if I don’t schedule in time to write and then guard it mercilessly, I end up prioritising other things and the writing doesn’t happen. Terrible, but true. Use your public transport time to make sure your day is scheduled and you have time for your writing.
Did any of these help you? Do you have other tips for writerly activities on public transport? Let me know in the comments.
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