Archive for the ‘trains’ Tag

Writing from Attleborough to Wymondham: #AcWriMo in train journeys

#AcWriMo is genius. Started by the wonderful PhD2Published as an academic variant of #NaNoWriMo, it’s a self-forming, mutually nurturing community of people desperate to write something and not quite getting pen to paper on their own. The key is accountability: you declare your writing goals for the month of November by signing up to a spreadsheet, tweet your progress (or lack thereof), and maybe occasionally blog about how you’re doing.

Others in the same writing boat share tips on getting started and keeping going (my favourite this morning: “Press the bridge of your nose to stay awake” [?!]), pass on useful websites and apps, and tweet encouragement and sympathy as needed. Like this:

In between the moments of anguish caused by trying to actually write instead of talking to students about how to write, one of the aspects of #AcWriMo that fascinates me is how people declare their goals. Looking at the spreadsheet, there’s a huge amount of Pomodoro going on, along with other variations of time-based measurement. Another popular option is setting a word count. I’ve suggested both of these approaches to students as part of my former class on Academic Reading and Writing, and used to love when students, initially sceptical, would come back with the light of the true convert in their eyes to tell me that one of these strategies worked, just really worked, and was now part of their writing habit. It’s such joy when you witness something crystallising for students like that: you can see their confidence in their ability to actually write this damn thesis take a huge bound forward, along with their word count. Because although both these strategies may sound like productivity gimmicks, what they do – as ThesisWhisperer points out – is give you room to explore who and how you are as a writer without being stifled by the anxiety of perfectionism.

However, obstinate “do it my way” mule that I am, I seem to have decided on a different way to set and measure my writing goals, one that’s neither time- nor length-based. It’s … erm … spatial. Because I have a long train journey every morning, I figured that would be the best time to work: an hour and a half of time already set aside for me by the grace of Greater Anglia, and a surprisingly comfortable workspace (because I start my journey at the terminal station for that route, I’m one of those annoying people who’s already occupying a table seat when you get on further down the line). But when I record what I’ve done, I don’t write the length of time spent. I write the station intervals. Like this:

03 Nov  CBG-THF [Cambridge to Thetford]. Slow and sticky.

05 Nov  ELY-WMD [Ely to Wymondham – almost the entire journey!]. 4 pages. Not great but something there.

06 Nov  ATL-NRW [Attleborough to Norwich]. 2 pp. Unpicking ‘right answers’ [a key theme in my book].

07 Nov  ELY-HRD [Ely to Harling Road]. INTRODUCTION!

I didn’t intend to measure my writing in railway stations; it just came out that way. A bit like how I went from ‘slow and sticky’ to ‘INTRODUCTION’ inside the first #AcWriMo week. I didn’t plan it, any of it: it just came out

And there again is the crystallisation moment: the point when you look back at the pattern formed by your writing record and think: Hello, Muse.


[1] Thank you to everyone involved in #AcWriMo – and keep writing!

[2] I’ve used a bit of poetic licence in the title of this post. While I could in theory ‘write from Attleborough to Wymondham’ it wouldn’t be much of an accomplishment, since that leg of the journey only takes about seven minutes : ) But it’s the closest I can get to ‘from A to Z’!

Happiness snapshot

I’m going to come out and say it: I love commuting. There, you weren’t expecting that, were you? And no more was I. Last November and December, when I knew that in the new year I’d be working in Norwich and living in Cambridge, trickles of apprehension would regularly visit my spine at the thought of spending three hours a day on a train.

And now I struggle to remember why I was afraid. The sense of public exposure? Fellow-commuters’ pinstriped elbows and noisy music? Eating my season ticket in a moment of stress? In fact I suspect it was chiefly timetable fear: the anxiety of being bound by public transport, of living under the rule of Greater Anglia. The soggy dread of missing the school bus.

Yet here I am: sitting with my feet up (shoes off, of course) in a moving picture of fenland greys and greens. I have a table and a double seat all to myself. I can read, doze, watch for wildlife. Some mornings there are attention-seeking, tiger-striped sunrises; on other days the black groundrow of the trees has a gentler, dove-coloured backcloth. Branches are ornamented with cutouts of sleeping birds. Occasionally I astonish myself and do some work, in my special train notebook – but that’s a bonus, not a base-line.

Working to a timetable, bowing to someone else’s routine, is surprisingly pleasant: it relieves you of having to make timekeeping decisions yourself. It reminds me of the time I got stuck in the Tower lift at the UL. Lifts have always scared me, and being caught in a broken-down one was a favourite nightmare – so the first few minutes were spent warding off a panic attack and wondering when the emergency system would stop talking at me in a repetitive metallic voice and finally connect me with a human. After that, though, I felt a totally unexpected sensation of peace. I sat cross-legged on the lift floor, trying to remember all the verses of The Lady of Shalott, and occasionally being cheered by colleagues shouting reassurance and updates down the lift shaft. I felt vacant, relieved of all responsibilities. Nobody could blame me for not doing something, because there was literally nothing I could do: I was outside time, poised between floors, all agency suspended. And it felt wonderful.

Commuting, for me, brings the same sensations: a feeling of being still while the world outside moves; the space regained in the joints that comes when you stand up after a yoga session. Nothing is expected; it’s the fallow season. Which is precisely what’s needed in order to be productive.


Things I have learned from my commute:

Getting up at 6 a.m. is nothing that espresso can’t fix.

Every Fen dawn is beautiful, even the misty ones. (Maybe especially the misty ones.).

And no-one ever gets on or off at Spooner Row.

Fen Sunrise by meg_nicol

Image: 'Fen sunrise' by meg_nicol,, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0