How To Write A Novel On The Bus

That is right, a post on mastering the skill of using transit as your literary muse. Actually, this is a post that is better titled, “I have so much work to do when it comes to paying the bills in what is rapidly becoming one of the most financially unliveable cities in North America that I no longer have any time to follow my creative passions other than while I am commuting to and from work. So you better freaking believe I figured this baby out.”

I started a new run of work projects late this Summer that–after a relatively cushy seven months in which I had all kinds of time to write–had the potential to suck up every ounce of energy and creative juice I could muster.

It was up to me to make sure the new novel I had literally just finished my “pre-production” story frame building on didn’t die a death of the 9-5er.


I was sitting in the studio at one of my new jobs when my very new boss showed me an article from motivator James Clear about the British Cycling Team and their 1%-more-effort mentality that made them one of the most successful cycling teams.

We were talking about the difference that marginal gains in areas of one’s life can make, resulting in remarkable successes that arrive without even looking for them. That very day I was incredibly down about the lack of progress I was making on my novel and it dawned on me that if I wrote one percent more every day that I could potentially write an entire novel in the 1.5 hours I spend on the daily commute.

This may not sound like an entirely sensible way to complete a major writing project. But, I am two months down that road and I hit the 50,000-word mark on the first draft this afternoon. I came to the following revelations in the process:

  1.  Story frame building is–for me–the best way to write. I mapped out the entire structure and arc of this novel, each scene, and tension point, and it allowed me to fly in the creativity department. I didn’t have to write sequentially. I could find prompts and ideas that inspired me and write 500 words here or 250 words there, then go back to the structure and drop it in where I thought it fit best.
  2. Getting out of your head is an invaluable process. The distractions on transit are plentiful and in your face. Not needing every word to be perfect or even legible has meant I have had some fantastic passages pop off the page after a ride downtown without even trying.
  3. Drawing inspiration from unexpected sources means not getting bogged down in “research” that is also code for “procrastination.”
  4. You find other ways than sitting down at a computer to get yourself into that necessary storytelling place. I’ve handwritten everything that comes during the bus ride each morning and afternoon. The words you write are very different than what comes out via the keyboard.
  5. Finding time to be creative is a choice. I could ride the bus with my headphones in zoning out, watching the rain. This makes me feel purposeful.

And, yes, I know what you are thinking. “You may have written a novel on the bus, but that doesn’t mean it’s readable.”

Time and the next 50,000 words will tell.


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