Life is too short; don’t waste your commute

I’m always amazed at the amount of people who are doing absolutely nothing on the train.

Occasionally you’ll see an ipod or a laptop playing movies – maybe even a book – but an astounding number of people spend an hour or two on a train every day staring into space.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s healthy to sit and do nothing occasionally. Just not for an hour or two every day.

I recently ran into a person who actually reads MX (a catalogue of ads with second-hand gossip about reality TV, mostly copy-pasted from Twitter, that pretends to be a newspaper, and is handed out for free in the afternoon at some major train stations here in Sydney). I’ve seen these creatures of course, there are lots of them, but I’ve never tried to actually talk to one. When I asked them why on earth they did it, they said “it helps pass the time” as if there was nothing else to do.

How can so many people never once consider what to do with the hours they spend on the train each week?

There are loads of worthwhile things you can do on a train. Here are a couple of suggestions, if you or anyone you know needs them:


Don’t have any good books? Rubbish. Your local library (yes they’re still around!) is full of them. Don’t know which ones to read? Google “top ten” “all time” and the name of your favourite genre. Here are a couple of my own suggestions:

Non-fiction: A Short History of Nearly Everything – Bill Bryson

Fantasy: The Name of the Wind – Patrick Rothfuss

Modern “literature”: Life of Pi – Yann Martel

Don’t want to buy/borrow/carry a real book? Your phone can display ebooks. Even if you don’t have a smartphone, your phone has (or can have, if you install it) a usable e-reader (as long as it’s less than 5 years old):

iPhone: eReader

Android: Aldiko

Any phone that can view text or html files or run Java games/apps: ManyBooks

Many of the best novels ever written in (or translated into) the English language are old enough that copyright has expired, and you can legitimately read them for free. I’d recommed the following authors (I tried reading them years ago in school, but find I understand and enjoy them much more as an adult):

Charles Dickens (Great Expectations, David Copperfield, etc)

H. G. Wells (The War of the Worlds, etc)

Alexandre Dumas (The Count of Monte Christo, The Three Musketeers, etc)

calling old friends

… you never see these days (or otherwise only see on facebook!). They might be sitting on a train doing nothing too!

studying something

Find something you like. It’s healthy for your brain, and the knowledge is usually useful. I’m currently studying for a technical certification for work. (In fact, my boss has agreed to pay for my study time for this qualification, as he needs certified staff for licensing purposes – maybe your boss would be interested in something like this?).


I write original fiction on the train, on my laptop (when I’m not being paid to study). Good fun, and the distractions an amateur writer faces at home don’t interrupt me on  the train.


… and that’s just the most useful stuff – if you have the right gadgets (mostly just a phone less than 5 years old), you could also: watch movies and/or TV; listen to music (with headphones of course!); play video games; surf the web; the list goes on.

All can be done on the train.

All are much better than doing nothing.

(And honestly, even doing nothing is probably better than reading MX).


Booktopia free shipping code

As before, I have another free shipping code:


It expires this Monday 7th Feb 2011.

With Aussie prices and the US dollar as they are, though, don’t forget to check prices on Booko too.

Merry Christmas

… everyone.

Writing Excuses

Writing Excuses is a short podcast (tagline: “15 minutes long, because you’re in a hurry, and we’re not that smart!”) about writing fiction, with a focus on spec fiction (sci-fi and fantasy, though much of it applies to other kinds of fiction and other kinds of writing). The 3 hosts are Brandon Sanderson, Howard Taylor, and Dan Wells.

I started listening because it had Brandon on it, but the fun, brief episodes were so interesting and encouraging that I’ve continued. In fact partly because of the podcast, I’ve actually become a writer now. I’ve started working on my own fiction for the first time since childhood.

Recommended episodes to try:

Exposition (with Patrick Rothfuss)

Magic systems and their rules

Lessons from puppetry (with Mary Robinette Kowal)