Cartes postales du bagne

Writing in transit

Views of New Caledonia taken from the passenger seat

In 2011-12 I lived for a short time between Loughborough junction and Camberwell. I would take the bus from Camberwell to where I worked in New Cross. Sitting upstairs on the bus I found that drafting book reviews using the notes app on my phone the best use of bus-time. Better than reading which made me feel slightly nauseous. I cannot fully explain it but writing on the notes app seemed the easiest way to get my thoughts down and organise my ideas into a reasonably coherent narrative. 

The same does not apply to other types of writing. I’ve never been able to apply the same method to journal articles or book chapters. I think this mode of writing really only works for short pieces (500-1000 words) that involve a certain amount of reflection and are not constrained by the need to look up references incessantly, impose rigid structures or count words. With that in mind I have come to find that writing blog posts also comes easiest using the notes app while in transit. This was my experience last summer when Claire and I would visit various sites especially in French Guiana with Claire driving. We would often chat on our journeys but sometimes Claire liked to listen to podcasts and I would use the time to write up some thoughts about the sites we had just seen.

I hadn’t really thought about it much (except to lament not doing it more) until I recently read an article by Stacey Pigg about mobile writing habits. Pigg’s focus was on how students write and study using laptops in specific yet transitory places such as cafes or shared workspaces. What the article made me realise about my own writing practices was that writing in the car or in transit is perhaps less about being productive during otherwise dead time where use of a laptop or pen and paper is too fiddly and more about establishing certain of writing habits. Pigg refers to the rituals and habits that students she interviewed talked about such as the things they needed to do to settle down into work having arrived at a cafe or work space. This is perhaps why it takes me a while to pick this style of writing up again, especially if I am not in transit, despite knowing it is most effective for blogging. At the same time I am aware that blogging also comes easiest as relatively spontaneous reflection (it can always be tidied up before it goes live) immediately after a site visit. There is always the risk that I might later disagree with what I have written but this is not unique to blogging. I disagree with a lot of what I once thought and said and wrote. 

So the question I am left with is how do I/we adapt these writing rituals when not only in transit but when the ability to establish rituals and habits is rendered difficult as a result of different factors – modes of transport, travelling companions (especially family), irregular routines and the frequent sense of disorientation that comes with travel and which cannot always be channelled into literary or philosophical prose? SF

References

Pigg, Stacey, ‘Emplacing Mobile Composing Habits: A Study of Academic Writing in Networked Social Spaces,’ College Composition and Communication, Vol. 66, No. 2, SPECIAL ISSUE: Locations of Writing (December 2014), pp. 250-275.

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