Jennifer Young

Available now from Cinnamon Press

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Writing and Commuting

During my PhD, my supervisor gave me Paul Silva's book How to Write a Lot. Silva argues that as an academic, you never say you're too busy to teach, but you often say you're too busy to write. Not long after I read it, my husband gave me a Mont Blanc fountain pen for Christmas. So I wrote. In long hand, in beautiful notebooks with my Mont Blanc fountain pen using coloured ink. Usually, I sat in a certain seat in our living room. I'd edit as I typed up my pages. I finished my PhD.

Then I had a child. My living room no longer served as an oasis, it was full of toys and nappies and the house brimmed with laundry that needed to be washed. I had to find a new way to write. 

I have a half hour train ride to work. Fortunately, I go out of London, so I always get a seat – usually a four bank of seats to myself. I didn't have a laptop at the time, and I found typing on an iPad awkward. So I wrote on my phone. The bulk of Cold Crash was written in half hour chunks on an iPhone in Pages. 

The speed of this allowed me to capture dialogue and the skeleton of a scene, but the longer I used it the more I started to write fully developed scenes. Having the material on my phone allowed me to edit in whatever small windows of time I found – as my child slept beside me, as I waited on a platform, or in a cafe. I also edited on a computer, of course, as well as on paper. But the speed and mobility of writing on my phone allowed me to complete the work when otherwise the challenge of finding free time to sit down, boot up a computer and properly ‘write’ would have been impossible. 

It did present some formatting challenges (I had quite a few straight speech marks to convert to curved in my proofs), but I rather enjoyed being able to have my work with me all the time. I miss the luxury of writing by hand (and curiously, the work I wrote by fountain pen was a futuristic novel) but I couldn’t have completed Cold Crash without my commute.