Writing on the Subway

Writing on the Subway

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Everyone needs a room of their own to write, Virginia Woolf famously argued.

Today, the challenge is more about finding a place without distractions.

Which is hard when the main disruption comes from our phones.

And I cannot trust myself to not keep scrolling all day.

One solution I’ve discovered is to go where it’s not possible to surf the web. There are two such places that are easily accessible and both have become — ironically — where I get some of my best thinking and writing done.

The first is in the car. I cannot scroll when I drive. So, assuming I am alone, I spend my time behind the wheel dictating text after text to myself. Each missive is an idea for a story or essay and sometimes several paragraphs of a draft.

The second is the subway. There is, I have found, no better place to write than on the New York City underground, particularly when it is crowded. The reason is simple: hemmed in by humanity, there is really not much else to do.

The one caveat is you have to have a seat. It doesn’t work standing up.

But once seated, I find myself wanting to read or write.

The cellular signal under the streets isn’t strong enough to actively use the Internet. It’s just enough to text or — in my case — write sentences in a Google doc that has been created in advance.

Typing with my thumbs, I can bang out paragraph after paragraph, usually completing a draft in the 30 or so minutes it takes to go from Harlem to Tribeca.

On those days when I have a meeting in Brooklyn, I have almost an hour, enough time to finish the draft and start editing. I can usually finish it on the ride home.

An unexpected benefit of writing on the small screen is looking at the text in the same format it will likely be consumed, which makes it easier to assess length and paragraph breaks.

I’ve been surprised by how easy it is to cut and paste blocks of text and use spell check and bold and basically any other feature I previously assumed would require a laptop.

I started writing on the train out of necessity. I was forced to write on the train once when late to a meeting.

It turned out well, so I started to make it a practice.

I now look forward to long subway rides because they provide the ideal environment to write.

I’ve realized the most important “room” I need isn’t inside a building.

It’s a place free from the distractions.


SHOWTIME!: I ordered a Negroni at Red Rooster, the iconic Harlem restaurant owned by Marcus Samuelsson, and the bartender showed off his custom-made apron. They are for sale at the restaurant.

WHAT TO WATCH: Found this ranking on Twitter which purports to crunch the major ratings to rank the best streaming TV shows of all time. I’ve only seen four of the top ten, so I have my work cut out for me.

WHAT THE HELL?: I lived through the Microsoft 95 launch, and it seemed normal at the time. Looking back, not so much.

POLITICS: Saw these two headlines juxtaposed on social media. It’s making a not-so-subtle point about the current U.S. presidential race.

PLANTS: When you see townhouses in Harlem that are covered in green ivy and vines it makes you wonder why everyone doesn’t do this?

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