I drive fifty-five miles to work each day (Uphill both ways! In the snow! Get off my lawn!). In seriousness, I’ve always had long commutes. This commute is actually somewhere in the middle, and there are good reasons for why I chose it, but it does lead to a lot of lost time five days a week. When you trying to kick-start a writing career by night, that lost time adds up. You’ve got to find a way to make that time productive.
I started on audiobooks years ago. What was an interesting novelty the first time I tried it in college (hey, Leonard Nimoy is reading this Star Trek novel! Awesome!) became a matter of preserving my sanity after my long commutes began. It’s a lot easier to cope with a five-mile backup when you’ve got an engrossing story keeping your mind occupied.
At first, audiobooks were a nice supplement to my reading, a way to keep from going crazy on the road as well as to feel like all those hours weren’t going to waste. As my time spent writing increased and my free time correspondingly dipped, audiobooks have all but replaced reading physical books or ebooks for me. I would estimate that 95% of my reading is done via audiobooks now. I generally only read with my eyes if I can’t get a book I want on audio (or if I can’t stand the narrator) and even then, I have to REALLY want to read that book.
Sad as it is, after spending many hours a week listening to audiobooks (and the occasional podcast) and working on my own writing for still more hours, I rarely want to pick up a book or e-reader in the meantime. I’d rather do something that doesn’t have anything to do with words.
But audiobooks are not the only option for making use of time in the car. Some writers turn that time into productive writing time by dictating their stories into digital recorders. You can transcribe the words yourself later or use software like Dragon Naturally Speaking. There are even services where you pay people by the word for transcription of digital audio files. I’ve tried dictation, and have never been able to make it work for myself for any length of time. Any sense of accomplishment I get by putting words down in the car via dictation is lost when I have to spend an equal or greater amount of time transcribing the words later. I’ve heard great things about Dragon, but I’ve never had the patience to teach it to recognize my particular vocal patterns.
But that’s just my view. Many writers swear by dictation. Kevin J. Anderson writes all his books this way, dictating his first drafts on long hikes in Colorado. Now that’s multitasking! For myself, if I find that I’m in need of help to break up a writing logjam, I use a different method. I’ll forego my audiobooks for a commute or two, opting for music instead. The monotony of the road and the creativity-unlocking aspects of the music usually helps me figure out where my story is going wrong, and I’ll often have whole chapters outlined in my head by the time I arrive at my destination.
Whichever method works best for you, remember that a long commute doesn’t have to mean the death of productivity.
Rocket scientist by day, fantasy and science fiction author by night, Gregory D. Little began his writing career in high school when he and his friend wrote Star Wars fanfic before it was cool, passing a notebook around between (sometimes during) classes. His first novel, Unwilling Souls, is available now from ebook retailers and trade paperback through Amazon.com. The sequel, Ungrateful God, will be released Summer 2016. His short fiction can be found in The Colored Lens and A Game of Horns: A Red Unicorn Anthology. He lives in Virginia with his wife and their yellow lab.