Why I Write Science Fiction During My Commute

Cross posted from LinkedIn (where I work).


I have an overactive imagination. It has only gotten worse as I close out my 30s. You’d think at some point that thoughts about interstellar travel, aliens, and the secret lives of Others would have started to slow down by now. Instead, my imagination is more vivid than it has ever been — and it shows no signs of waning. So I write everything down, no matter what the idea or imagined fiction is. I stopped editing myself and decided this year to put it out there.

Let me give you some context before I continue. I’ve always been a guy with hobbies. About 10 years ago, while I was running a small consulting business out of my apartment, I learned to play guitar. About four  or five years ago, I started cycling. Two years ago, I studied the orbital mechanics of celestial bodies so I could make a video game, not surprisingly, based on gravitational pull and the orbital mechanics of a solar system. The initial build is pictured above.

There’s a reason I’ve always been a guy with hobbies. I don’t meditate. It is nearly impossible for me to sit still for longer than a few minutes. The times I’ve tried have been more frustrating than not meditating, so hobbies are my meditation.  I need to think, to move. But until very recently, there was one problem with all of my hobbies: They take a gloriously long amount of time to actually do. More time than I can feasibly give. I love to spend time with my family, and I’ve got a day job to do, so hobbies that require a lot of time are hard to meaningfully keep up with.

Getting good at guitar is both noisy and time-consuming. It requires hours of practice that I don’t have. I still play, but two kids under 5 means practicing is relegated to an hour or two on the weekend, and I’m fairly certain people on the train wouldn’t appreciate my 32nd attempt at Fake Plastic Trees.

And even though I love to get on my bike and ride for miles and miles, it takes a crazy amount of time away from the house and that’s a hobby relegated to a few months every year. Feasibly, I can cycle in the summer months around 5 a.m. on the weekends. Anyone with kids knows that’s a tough sell. And game programming. Take guitar playing, add on cycling, and then multiply it by 2.

For a time, I just gave up on the endless list of time sinks and sunk into the comforting embrace of my daily life. But I got antsy. So one day, on the train ride into work, I took out my iPad and started writing a story that had been stuck in my head, and I found a hobby that I can do anywhere, anytime. If I’ve got 10 minutes or two hours (I never have two hours), I can write. It has become something of an obsession for me. In the last seven months, I’ve written over 30,000 words. Twenty thousand of those words are for a serial I’ve been dreaming about for the last five years. It took an idle train ride and an iPad as a Hanukkah present from my wife to get started.

You might be asking yourself how this pertains to my work life and why it matters. It matters to my work for a few reasons:

First, I am more than work. I personally can’t live without something other than work. Without something that is wholly mine. This book and the other stories I write soothe me. It is my meditation. If I don’t write on at least one leg of my daily commute, I get grumpy. It is something else to give myself to. It calms me the way I believe meditation works for others. Even right now, as I write this, I am in the flow.

Second, I am more empathetic. In December, I started writing a series of posts for my website called On the Train. Once every few weeks, I try to put myself in my fellow commuter’s shoes and imagine their lives. Sometimes, the story takes a strange or tragic turn, but the act of empathizing with someone I can only glance at has affected me. When I talk to the people in my life, I find it easier to shed my own preconceptions about how they should or could be and listen to their story.

I have stopped editing myself. I do all of this very publicly. In my 20s, I would have held back. I wouldn’t have shared a blessed thing. I would have been afraid of rejection. Now, as I approach the start of my 39th year, I find that I’m excited to put myself out there. To finally stop editing myself before I can even start. In a recent interview, Alexander Chee said “that you write to describe something you learn from your life but that is not described by describing your life.” In that way, the people at work who read what I write know me that much better. I am more than an employee, a manager or a peer. To me, that’s priceless.

So I write outlandish, silly, or incredibly macabre tales, everyday, with my iPad and tiny little keyboard 47 minutes at a time — and I have become a better person for it.


I am a Father, Husband, Senior Engineering Manager at LinkedIn NYC, and fiction writer at robotissmiling.com writing stories one word at a time.