Writing About Writing

In the little “about me” section on various web sites and services, I used to write “I like to tell stories”. These days, I usually have something like “I like trains” or “I am a photographer who specializes in trains and grain elevators”, but I still like to tell stories.

I’ve been thinking about writing and my own storytelling style. I’ve been writing about trains on the web since 2005 and, although I think my writing style has evolved somewhat, I don’t think it’s changed a great deal.

Is that a good thing? I don’t know, but I’m thinking about it.

Measuring the narrow gauge at Avondale, NL

I don’t believe that learning ends when you graduate from school or university. We should continue to learn new things our entire life, through formal classes or by learning from others. Everyone has something they can teach you.

So far I’ve been reading articles online. I may end up investing in a course but I have to decide if I want to invest the time and money into that… especially the time.

Getting back to writing style… I generally write my railfan posts in the “first person” perspective. I did this, I saw that, I decided this… me me me!

I want the story to be more about the trains and the people running them.

Read this photo caption from Signatures in Steel by Greg McDonnell.

For a brief moment at sunset, the sun peers from behind heavy black clouds to illuminate CP RS18 8790 and two M636’s working #904 across the Grand River bridge at Galt, Ontario, on October 16, 1973.

Greg McDonnell

Can’t you visualize that – feel that – without even seeing the photo? That’s good writing.


You may have read a few of my more experimental posts – like Two Red Trains Meeting, where I wrote in haikus, or Crazy Railfans, where I wrote from the train crew’s point of view.

Expect some more experimentation as I try things out. Some of them might be bad, but that’s the nature of learning and growth.

Further Learning

I’ve been looking at a number of story telling resources and I’d like to share a few of the best of them.

16 thoughts on “Writing About Writing”

  1. Looking forward to the results of this endeavour. I really enjoyed the Crazy Railfans post, so I can only imagine what comes next. I do agree with you that writing in a similar vein to McDonnell does add something more tangible to the story. It reminds me of visualization techniques used in coaching before a big race – if done right the heart rates even rise in step with the story.

    Also love the shot form Avondale. Such a beautiful little museum, with such dedicated volunteers and donors. Kids love the little train ride, and grown-ups love the artifacts.

    Great job Steve! Keep it up.


      • Hi Steve, My wife and I spent a month in Newfoundland in the summer of 2019.
        It was my third visit to the Rock. My wife’s first. My first two trips were 1980 and 1982 to shoot the narrow gauge. My take on this latest trip: I loved and hated it at the same time! I love Newfoundland. It’s very scenic and the people are fantastic. But at the same time looking over what is left of the NFLD Rwy was like a constant punch in the gut. My 2 trips in the 80’s were just in time to see the last of the railway as it used to be. That was probably my favourite Railfan experience of all time. To see the track gone just plain hurt.

        • Hi Ian, I never visited Newfoundland when the railway was operating, so I don’t have the same experience of missing what was there. I miss it in a “dang, wish I could’ve seen that” kind of way. I have been to other places that used to have rail service and now have nothing, and I know that punch in the gut feeling, a great sense of loss, a “wrongness”.

  2. I love the challenge of writing or storytelling. Maybe it’s part because it challenges me to think about why I’m writing this at all. If I stay in the realm of purely reporting on facts I find I’m insecure that I know enough to write with any kind of confidence. Yet, those facts are so much more accessible to me when they’re of me. Why am I here? What turned me on about this? And it reminds me to think about those I share my space with by asking how I can include them too?

    As our respective blogs age do you find your relationship with yours evolves? Each of these posts becomes a part of our stories–do you see change there?

    Certainly we’re changing as we age and what we’re seeing trackside isn’t what we used to see. Our work as reporters or storytellers must be changing too. Do you ever wonder if what we’re writing down is a kind of collaboration between where we are as individuals and what we’re looking at?


    • Hi Chris, great points on the “why” of blogging. I find I can’t help but write about trains. I’ve been doing it for so long now that I would miss it if I stopped. There have been times when I’ve backed off from it but I never stopped.

      My relationship with my blog has definitely changed over the years. At times I’ve tried to be a “news” blog but that has never worked out. The best I can do is offer my own interpretation or feelings about a railway occurrence, like Lac Megantic or the CP-CN-KCS merger battle.

      As writers we have to offer something unique, something different from others, or there’s no reason for readers to come by. What we write isn’t going to be enjoyed by everyone, and that’s OK. I’m really grateful for the people who stop by and comment, like you, or the people who email me to comment on a post or just introduce themselves. It’s a way of making connections, and in a sense it is a collaboration between us and what we observe and our readers.

  3. It’s interesting sometimes to de-construct a post we’ve published. Strip away the text. Or, remove all the photos.

    I’ve realized that the text of my posts don’t stand alone without photos. I have too short an attention span for a ‘just text’ post on any blog. Just like a Flickr feed without captioning is just uninteresting and uninspired. A picture is worth a thousand words, after all.

    One thing I never do is call myself a ‘book writer’ or say I’ve ‘written a book’. Because the first question is always, ‘Oh, what’s it about?’ I co-opt the photos to help tell the story and impress upon the photographs their need to work together with the text to do the same. So I’m at best a creator, at worst a conductor, and in the middle, a compendiumer. (I’d say curator, but that’s too hipsterish for me).

    I think it’s the AstraZeneca talking!


    • Hi Eric, it would be interesting to strip out the photos from my posts and see if they still make sense. You and I have a different style, and I feel like most of my posts would still flow. It’s a neat idea, like the “Garfield Minus Garfield” comic for example. (https://garfieldminusgarfield.net/)

      I’d call you an author, but I like “creator” too. I like the sound of that. Too many people are consumers when we should all be creators in one way or another. Everyone has something to share.

      “Curator” definitely sounds hipsterish.

  4. Hi Steve –

    Your posts are very interesting and I enjoy your comments – There is a lot more train activity in the western provinces than here. No passenger trains in months – CN have
    freight to and fro to Halifax daily and St John with Potash trains – NB Southern (JD Irving) ex CP line are very busy with some long trains thru McAdam and Maine, Thanks for all you do – Much appreciated !

    • Hi Richard, thanks for your kind comments. I moved from a train desert to a train jungle 😉

      I remember having to drive a minimum of 45 minutes from Fredericton to McGivney for a chance at a CN train, or a similar time to Fredericton Junction or Welsford for a shot at an NB Southern train. Now I have a choice of CN, CP and a few short lines. Railfan life is good.

      I’m very happy that CP is running traffic to Saint John now, it’s a good sign.

  5. One of the fun things about railfanning to me is thinking about the history of the lines and the structures along them. When I see an old depot, I think about the people that caught the trains there and what their stories could have been. I’ve always thought about a story about the “last train” at some depot how that would have impacted the people who were used to going there to watch the passenger trains daily or take them when they wanted to leave town.

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