On Writers and Trains

There is no such thing as silence. The quiet buzzes with electrical pulses and insect wings and the inhalations and exhalations of breath and distant conversations and car engines and tyres against tar and the rustle of mice in the skirting boards and birds in the trees and the neighbour’s vacuum cleaner. Sounds, too small for your eardrum to separate, mesh together to create white noise. Silence is white noise with the volume turned down.

Most people don’t notice the noise. Writers do, along with spiderwebs suspended in the diamond-shaped holes of chain link fences, dead flies on window sills and the hairline creases in the dust covers of that favourite book you borrowed. Writers are unable to filter the insignificant details from life. We upload them and use them as character signifiers for fictional people. We have a voice in our heads that turns these details into prose. A voice that constantly streams plot lines, characters and bits of dialogue into our waking minds. The heads of writers are filled with imagined people and places and perfect sentences that become skittish when we try to pin them down.  There is no space for shopping lists or school timetables or time.

Writers are the sane(r), cleaner, less smelly cousins of the twitching nut jobs who spend their days riding the train from one end of the line to the other. Nut jobs whose muttering rises to a shout every so often – Why did you kill her, Steven? Why? –  causing you to spill your latte all over your lap. All that separates us from Steven’s stinky vessel is the physical manifestation of those thoughts: the act of putting pen to paper or keystrokes to Word Docx.

Writers who don’t write are fucked. We descend slowly into a pit of despair from which the only escape is another novel or short story or even a blog post. But the longer you leave it, the further you sink. The further you sink, the harder it becomes to sort through the mess in your head and pair character with plot, fill their mouths with dialogue and scatter dead flies on their windowsills. At some point the voice becomes two, then three, then four. All that stuff you’re constantly uploading swirls around like a tornado, battering against the inside of your skull until the noise becomes silence. And the silence is deafening.

So if you love a writer, be they your child, your lover, your mother or your client, love their writing in spite of the burnt dinners and forgotten dry cleaning and missed car services. Remind them to write. Give them time and space and encouragement. Or one of these days, you might find them riding the train.


What do you think?

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *