Guest post: Commute writing by Paul Fraser Collard, author of The Last Legionnaire

Last week, the latest in Paul Fraser Collard’s wonderful Jack Lark historical adventure series was published – The Last Legionnaire. I’ve been a huge fan of this series since it began and was amazed to hear that they were all written on Paul’s commute to and from his job in London. It’s all I can do just to open a book on my bleary-eyed trek in to work, let alone focus enough to read it, and so I was impressed and surprised. I admire anyone who can write a novel, even more so when it’s fitted in around a full time ‘proper’ job, during a commute which you might have thought would be the least conducive time for creative endeavour. I’m delighted to feature below a guest post from Paul in which he looks at the mechanics of writing a novel on the move, including some tips that just might inspire you to put that commute to good use.

Review of The Last Legionnaire

The Last Legionnaire by Paul Fraser CollardCommute writing

Let’s face it; the daily commute is a grind. You can use it to read, listen to music, watch a film or simply zone out and stare into space. You can, if you are so inclined, use it to do all that work you can’t get done in the office. All are very valid things to do and I do not denigrate any who choose these or any other option. But you can, if you wanted, use it to do something amazing. You can use this dead, unloved time, to write a novel.

You may think that would be impossible. After all, isn’t novel writing done by scholarly men and women in beautifully appointed offices decorated to inspire a finely tuned mind? How can a commuter hope to do the same whilst incarcerated in a tiny space on a commuter train? Well, it can be done. I have now written eight novels and three short stories whilst enduring my own daily commute into London.

So how can it be done? Well, here is my handy guide to writing on a commute.

Let’s start with the numbers. An average novel is 100,000. Sounds a lot? Well, let’s break it down. Let’s say you write a very manageable 500 words in a day, 250 on the way to work and the same again on the way home. That means in the span of just one year, you can have a full length novel under your belt and still have 12 weeks free. Boost that 500 words a day to 1,000 and you can get a novel written in 20 short weeks. Now, to be fair, that is simplifying things a little. No writer (at least no writer that I have ever met) writes a novel in one single, glorious draft. But the numbers stack up. Write something every day and in a relatively short space of time you will have a finished draft. Most writers only produce one novel a year and that is perfectly possible for us to achieve on our commute.

The mechanics of writing are also quite simple. Lightweight laptops, tablets with keyboard and e-readers means there is a bewildering choice of tech for a wannabe writer. It may not be a leather-topped oak desk with a far-reaching view over a beautiful landscape, but it does mean that the handful of inches you can stake a claim to on a busy commuter train is sufficient for you to be able to write. Research books can be kept on a tablet and for some things there will be a suitable app to put whatever resource you need onto your phone. It may not be glamorous or even comfortable, but the well-prepared commute writer should be able to find enough space to be able to write. Most days anyway.

Writing that novel is less simple and can require a change of mindset. I imagine full-time writers may sometimes allow their attention to wander. For us commuter writers, speed is the key. Ruminating has to be left to other times. Try to know what you want to write before you sit down (or perch in a luggage rack). Plan ahead then use the commute as the time to throw the words down. Forgotten something or not sure of a fact? Well, don’t stop but leave a mark so you can go back to it. Once that precious first draft is done you can polish the hell out of it. If you have done it in 20 weeks then you have plenty of time to spread the magic and to work in those lovely nuggets of fascinating research you didn’t use first time around.

The Scarlet Thief by Paul Fraser CollardWrite often. Write fast. Then edit, change and add.

So now you know how many words to write on your daily commute, what to write it on and how to write it. But what to actually write? Well, you know, that’s the best bit. You can write what the hell you like!

Write something that you would love to read. Sure, you need to pour every part of your soul into creating characters that leap off the page and into weaving a plot that sears along at such a pace that it leaves your readers breathless. But there really are no rules as to who those characters should be and what that plot must contain. If you don’t believe me then just spend five minutes in a bookshop and look at the sheer scope of all those novels lined up in the fiction section. There are really are a million possibilities.

So there you have it. Use your commute for whatever you like. If, like me, you choose to use it to write novels then perhaps you will create something in that unloved bit of your day that sets your world, and the world of an army of readers, alight.

12 thoughts on “Guest post: Commute writing by Paul Fraser Collard, author of The Last Legionnaire

  1. Tom

    I already knew about Paul’s working method, but I remain utterly astonished and incredibly impressed. He must have such a disciplined mind. I read the books and they are more polished than most that are written in far more comfort.

  2. Matthew Harffy (@MatthewHarffy)

    Great post. I love Paul’s writing and when I learnt of his way of writing a while ago, I realised it was very similar to my own. I do not have a train commute, so I don’t have the “luxury” of an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening for writing, but much of my books has been written in small windows of opportunity in all manner of locations: trains, planes, hotel rooms, libraries, sports halls, parked cars, coffee shops, the list goes on. As Paul did, I chose to spend the dead hours of waiting for something to happen to actually do something creative and write. It does take concentration, and good headphones to drown out the noise, but it can be done.

    1. Kate (For Winter Nights) Post author

      That is so interesting, Matthew! I love hearing how and where people write. It’s admirable, it really is. Writing a book is such a challenge at the best of times and in the most comfortable of places. I have a total of about 75 minutes for my commute each day and I spend it with my head buried in a book. Sometimes I’m put out when my bus arrives early.

      1. Kate (For Winter Nights) Post author

        I can see that it would work in some ways – I’m so easily distracted and find it quite difficult to focus on something for longer periods of time. Except for reading – I can read for hours!!

  3. Pingback: Write often. Write fast. Then edit, change and add. | London Catholic Writers' Circle

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