Last year my brother told me about a select group of writers he’d heard of who write almost exclusively while riding trains. They are paid to do this, he said, and they of course receive free travel, all financed by some benefactor—a company I suppose. (I am obviously hazy on the details. But isn’t writing about the ideas? Don’tcha find? Isn’t it building around the ideas and filling in detail with whatever warms us in the moment? Whatever makes the ideas spin faster and clearer in our heads?)
With my brother’s information in mind, I resolved to write this blog (my first one, as it happens) on the train back home last night. But, being too tired and cramped on that goddamn Amtrak, I was downright physically and mentally unable. Nevertheless, just a quick look out the window at the fields of snow, the gentle arcs of the power lines, the silent houses on hills, the cars in the city rolling by stop signs—all zipping past—and my mind was buzzing. It seemed I couldn’t help thinking of some idea, some place where that person is going, or some story behind the graffiti, or some life inside of the distant house with the light shining in the kitchen window.
It’s the variation and the quickness, I suppose. While on a train you receive many examples of the world. You get life, you get tundra, you get lone country roads. And what makes this all so great is that you see everything for just a moment, just long enough to catch an essence and lock it somewhere in the brain. Then you must move on to the next thing. There’s no staring for ten minutes at the same object, trying to squeeze out some inspiration. There is constant movement and change (so no getting stuck!).
Something I think I should listen to makes me say that writing is moving. Most stories I write that really mean something to me come from a past part of my life. It’s as if I’m saying goodbye to that time or that self—letting it go, you might say. And more generally, I feel that most anyone with an artist in them has hated projects they’ve completed. Many writers have stories they absolutely despise and want to burn ceremonially. We may even have a current project that we know we’ll be fucking sick of when it’s over, that we’re fucking sick of now, but we HAVE TO FINISH IT. It will be done and it will be good, or I will be DAMNED to HELL! And isn’t that just the writing process—from stuttering line by line, to making stories (or poems), to books, volumes, encyclopedias, on up the steps into the same middle of nowhere? Examine closely. Don’t lose your focus. Catch the essence. Let it go. What’s here now?