That’s what deadlines do; they loom.
I’ve mentioned the novella I wrote in the latter part of last year in this space a few times. That was written under a deadline, too; one I just managed to hit, after some adjustment.
Deadlines are useful for two reasons. First, they drive the writer’s sense of urgency to accomplish. Second, they, hopefully, force the writer to manage time in such a way as to achieve the writer’s goals.
That’s looking at deadlines in the best light, I’d say. Mostly, deadlines just make writers hate their lives and themselves for ever thinking writing in any sort of professional capacity was a good, or even feasible, idea in the first place.
But what if all we had was time to write?
There’s a great “Twilight Zone” episode, I think in the first season, called “Time Enough at Last.” In it, Burgess Meredith plays a man who wants only to read, but never has enough time to do it. When the apocalypse comes, as it often did in the Zone, Meredith survives, locked in a bank vault, and ventures out into the ruined city to find most of the books in the public library still intact. Before he can read a single page, though, his glasses slip from his face and break on the rock-strewn ground.
“That’s not fair at all,” he said. “There was time now. There was all the time I
He then bursts into tears, the only life he could have had, the only one he would have wanted, ruined.
Ah, The “Twilight Zone.”
Anyway, as writers, we yearn for the sort of life Burgess Meredith wanted in that story. What if there was time enough at last to write, and do nothing but write? What could we accomplish in that world?
Well, that world doesn’t exist. But there is a way, it seems, to create a wormhole through the one we’ve got.
In a recent interview with Pen.org, writer, poet and journalist Alexander Chee said his favorite place to write is on a train.
“I wish Amtrak had residences for writers,” he said.
That got the social media wheels turning.
Before long, New York-based writer Jessica Gross, inspired by Chee’s interview, and Amtrak collaborated to test pilot the first Amtrak Residency, which has become the hashtag du jour among writers in recent days.
Gross traveled to Chicago and back, with no appreciable layover, on Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited. Thirty-nine hours in which she had nothing to do, nothing to worry about, but write, watch the scenery roll by, write, let the train rock her to sleep, write, meet her fellow travelers over a meal…
In the early stages of our relationship, fall of 1996 maybe, my wife and I took Amtrak to Atlanta to visit her family. It was about an 18-hour journey each way, as I recall. We were in coach on the way back, which was nice, but we were able to afford a sleeper car on the way down there and that was probably the best travel experience of my life.
I wasn’t doing much writing in those days; we were still sort of discovering each other then, but, looking back on it now, I can easily see how hypnotically otherworldly the opportunity to write on an extended train journey, in my own little private rectangle of space, would be.
Indeed, an Amtrak Residency would be amazing.
We talked about different forms of time travel in this space several weeks ago and I think this would be one of the best ones. The nature of a journey creates a natural deadline—the train must arrive at the station eventually—but, until then, there is only the journey, the inexorable rocking, lulling forward movement. The writer along on a journey like that, one in which mind, body and train travel together at the same pace, has the movement and the progress overland as a sort of enveloping metronome the writer can feel as well as see and hear. The words and the train progress together.
Most non-writers fail to realize much of writing takes place while the writer is doing other things. The view from an Amtrak sleeper car fosters the kind of writing that requires no moving parts as much as I’m sure it inspired Chee’s and Gross’ fingers to create words.
I have other novellas in me; I can feel them. It would be quite something, I think, to get well acquainted with one of them as the rails led me through a wormhole in this world. There would be time enough at last to write.
At least for a little while.
Reach Jason at firstname.lastname@example.org and
follow him on Twitter @jasonchirevas