4 Simple Steps That Will Transform Your Train Commute Into a Creative Session

If your commute is anything like mine (and for your own sake, I hope it’s not) you may feel like a slave to the unavoidable daily journey. But fear not! The vehicular brackets to your workday belong to you and you alone. Today is the day we reclaim our commute in the name of our own creativity. 

1. Ogle & eavesdrop.

Manners have little place in the arsenal of a committed creative mind. Some of the best sources of mindblowing work are your observations of and reactions to real-live people. What better place to meet them than on the train, where people from all backgrounds share the same slightly-too-small seats?

Put aside your iPod and close your book. Instead, sketch the guy wearing the purple suit or listen carefully to the linguistic choices of the teenagers at the other end of the car. If you’re above ground, look outside and see what grabs your eye. Use what you notice as seeds for something bigger.

2. Open your mouth.

Staring at people is a great start, but the ideal way to inject an outside perspective into your own experience (and thus your work) is to directly interact with someone else.

The best way to get started is with a compliment or a shared experience. Think: delayed train, oppressive heat, nice shoes, Camusian theory of absurdism, cute dog. Then mention it to someone else. We both know that there’s someone on your route that you know by sight, if not by name. Talk to that person. Be yourself or take on a persona–hell, it’s a stranger after all–but strike up a conversation!

Make a game out of it. Try to talk to one person this week, then two the following week, then four and on until you’re chatting all the way to the office.

3. Carry a notebook always.

I know you think you’re going to remember, but probably you won’t.

This is why you’ll need your handy-dandy notebook to keep you going when you’re in between computers. Feel free to substitute “notebook” for your sketchbook, the back of a receipt, a bare bit of skin & a pen, a voice recorder, or an app on your phone. If you’re a photographer, by all means bring your camera, or at least write down scenes or lighting that you want to recreate later.

For writers, Anne Lamott swears by carrying an index card with you at all times in her excellent writing guide Bird by Bird. You might also like to try the ubiquitous Moleskine notebooks, which have pages to cover all the artistic bases, including music composition.

Don’t forget a pen, either, or you’ll be forced to repeat your ideas over and over to yourself until you finally get to your desk. Trust me: you’ll always forget your best ideas first. This is a universal constant.

4. Use the quiet time.

Put aside time to chip away at your project. Whether your commute is 15 minutes or two hours, it’s a solid chunk of time to focus on a goal or project. A train ride can only be so long, right? (Right??)

Commutes are a great time to take 10-20 minutes and sketch out an idea that you don’t have to be too committed to. Use the proven creative impact of ambient noise to make a little something without fearing failure, then dig in deeper later.

How do you use everyday activities to inspire creation? Reply in the comments!


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