Written on BART

Last July, I was inspired by Buster Benson’s “Written on BART” posts to try a more spontaneous style of writing.

The rules are simple: during a set amount of time (such as one train ride on the BART in the San Francisco Bay Area), write about a topic. When that amount of time has ended, stop writing and publish the post in its current state.

Compare these rules to the alternative: spend a week thinking about what topic you might want to write about, spend another week making an “outline” and writing various drafts, and finally publish it.

Anyway, I’m visiting San Francisco and I’m on the BART right now! And in honor of Buster’s posts that originally inspired me to write this way I felt that I should write on BART about writing on BART.

Okay, here we go, a few interesting things I’ve learned from writing this way.

When I write this way, I go into a strange mental state that I can only describe as close to meditation. Part of my brain shuts off, and my focus turns entirely to the act of observing the details of the present moment. The color of the San Francisco houses outside the window, the way a woman on the train almost lost her balance, the way light comes in through a window. Everything is focused on observing and noticing the external world, and noticing my emotional and mental responses to that input.

I think I focus on these details because I’m not sure what else to focus on when I have such a short amount of time to write. This kind of focus is also a deterrent for the kind of thinking that causes writer’s block – fear of saying the wrong thing, wondering whether the writing is good or not, wondering whether you’re a good writer or not. These thoughts block the input that is needed in order to write because they take up your whole brain space.

Just like meditation, there is an object of focus that turns my thoughts away from “self.”

It also helps that I have to publish it without editing (very much anyway). I can let go of thinking about if it’s good or not because I won’t have a chance to go back and change things. In fact, when I do it usually ends up way worse than the original improvised writing. This is very similar to the experience of improvising a solo in a jazz band.

Buster has also written about how daily writing is better than meditation in some ways for clearing the mind.

Anyway, as per the rules, I’m almost to the airport and my BART ride is almost over so I’ll sign off!

Thanks Buster for the inspiration!

Here are some of my favorite posts from the past six months that I’ve written this way:

About Kevin McGillivray

Kevin McGillivray is a web developer, writer, and teacher from Wisconsin. He writes about creativity, mindfulness, code, and tea.

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