I was a commuter college student. I spent the dark hours of the morning on a bus headed into Atlanta, watching the sun rise right as my fellow passengers and I started to exit off the highway. And man did I love it. Naps, study time, reading time, and, yes, writing time. That hour was my favorite time of day, yes even if I had to study. It was the most productive time I ever spent.
Thus began my favorite writing exercise. I cleverly call it “Writing on a Bus Writing Exercise,” a name I just came up with, because I can do that.
My particular commute averaged to about an hour. Traffic could add fifteen to half an hour, which was awesome if I was busy working. It sucked if I had to really go to the bathroom. But it was a forced hour of focus — reading, studying, homework. I actually started writing on the bus when I started my first writing class. I spent all night trying to write something, and I ended up with a page of story about a little girl walking in grass. Seriously. I couldn’t get anything down. So the next morning I was on an hour deadline and had a word count to make, so I just wrote. I sat on the bus with my laptop and just wrote until I ended up in Atlanta and at my stop.
It was a terrifying, freeing experience, because sentence after sentence wasn’t worked over and over. I didn’t debate plot too much, but I felt myself let go to a scene. I started to just throw out sentences I wanted and built around it. I created new situations and just see what happened. I tied knots between scenes or sections of dialogue as best as I could. I had no idea where I wanted the plot to go, but I did keep in mind one question throughout: “why is this scene the one I’m showing them?”
Having never taken a writing class before and with hardly a full story under my belt ever, that question was imperative to learn, and the break-neck pace of the Writing on a Bus Writing Exercise was my best teacher for that.
If I’m honest, that’s how I wrote stories that entire Summer term, enjoying what I could do with the stress and the time limit. By the time I got to my campus, I had a complete story. I learned a lot about the process. And I felt like a very focused writer.
When I write now, I want to just sit and get everything out that I planned, even if I have the end scenes I want in my head first. I have to write everything out — as much as I can at least — and fill in the cracks later. My drafts usually look like a big synopsis on the front page, an attempt at a timeline — several as I will constantly question backstories — then I start writing out the most vivid bits with a bit of intro for my future self to place in it’s key place later.
The Writing on a Bus Writing Exercise is pretty interesting. I think of it as NanoWrimo to a shorter commitment level. I recommend it to all of you, because if you think about it, I had all week and an entire night to work on one short story for an introductory writing class. I got caught up on trying to do something grande, when I really just needed to focus, a time limit, and a question to keep me going.