Riding the Rails With The #AmtrakResidency

A train! A train!

A train! A train!

Could you, would you

on a train?

Green Eggs and Ham, by Dr. Seuss

With apologies to Dr. Seuss, would you write on a train? Could you write on a train? You could if you applied for an #AmtrakResidency. Amtrak is now offering the opportunity for creative professionals to enjoy a long train ride to focus on their work.

'Amtrak, Train' photo (c) 2013, Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

It started with an off hand comment by Alexander Chee in an interview in a PEN Ten Interview. When asked where he likes to write, Chee said “I still like a train best for this kind of thing. I wish Amtrak had residencies for writers.” Writer Jessica Gross read that and loved the idea so much she took to Twitter and asked for what she wanted.

Behold the power of social media, @Amtrak was listening and created a test residency. Gross took a 44 hour trip from New York city to Chicago and back again via the Lake Shore Limited and wrote about the experience. Once the story of her adventure went live, Twitter lit up with the hashtag #AmtrakResidency. I even added my voice to the conversation. Again, Amtrak was still listening and the Amtrak Residency Program is now live.

#AmtrakResidency was designed to allow creative professionals who are passionate about train travel and writing to work on their craft in an inspiring environment. Round-trip train travel will be provided on an Amtrak long-distance route. Each resident will be given a private sleeper car, equipped with a desk, a bed and a window to watch the American countryside roll by for inspiration. Routes will be determined based on availability.

Of course in the age of the Internet nothing is without controversy. Some have complained about the rights Amtrak asks for in the application. My take is that they are asking to use the brief application statement in their marketing materials others agree, your mileage may vary. Either way, read the fine print and if necessary consult a lawyer.

Some have complained that the government funded program shouldn’t be giving away free rides until it is self sustaining. To that I say “wake up and smell the marketing coffee”. No, not everyone can afford to pay their way across the country, but really, even if a small percentage of the interested parties, decide to pony up the bucks for a train ride (even a few hours long), that equals increased ridership. Increased ridership means higher revenues. Higher revenues mean closer to solvency. Will creative types taking to the rails solve all of Amtrak’s money woes? Hell no, but every little bit helps. Right?

One of the articles reported that more than 7,000 applications have been received. According to that author’s calculations, the chances of landing one of these prized Amtrak Residencies is less than the chances of being admitted to Harvard. Still, the buzz got me thinking. Even 2-5 days would be a struggle for me but, I could take a day and ride the rails.

I love riding the train. I don’t think there is any more convenient way to get from Boston to New York City and points South. Last year, I took the train from Boston to Philadelphia and I was thrilled with my level of productivity I wrote, both on my iPad and in longhand. I even read a book from start to finish. Trains in the Northeast, are cool, but the stops are frequent so the speeds are lowered. I can only imagine what it would be like to be on a long distance train ride.

I’ve read about other writer’s residency programs and they sound like a dream come true, but I am not at a point in my life where I can just disappear into my writing for weeks at a time. Two to five days? It would be a stretch, but I’d probably be able to figure out a way to make it work.

The Downeaster looks like it has a decent run from Boston, MA to Brunswick, ME. I was thinking of taking a day and departing from Boston and riding up to Freeport. Maybe in November during NaNoWriMo? Combine it with a lunch and little Christmas shopping at L.L. Bean then hop on the train to get back to work? The scenery would be different but my guess is the line would be less crowded. That means more seats in the quiet car.

Who’s with me? Can you write on a train? Have you? Are you going to apply for an #AmtrakResidency?

Lee Laughlin is a writer, wife, and mom, frequently all of those things at once. She blogs at Livefearlesslee.com. She is currently a member of the Concord Monitor Board of Contributors.  Her words have also appeared in a broad range of publications from community newspapers to the Boston Globe. She is a member of the New Hampshire Chapter of Romance Writers of America and is currently at work on her first novel.

There is still room in the Deb Dixon “Book-In-A-Day Workshop”being held May 10th in Nashua, NH Sign up today!

11 thoughts on “Riding the Rails With The #AmtrakResidency

  1. I remember as a child riding the train form La to Grand Rapids. I loved it as a child. I wish it was affordable for me but between the cost and time it is a lot cheaper to fly from Kansas to California.The fast trains would be awesome in that respect.

  2. I write on the train everyday, on the 40-minute Sounder line that runs between Tacoma and Seattle. On the way to and from work, it gives me the uninterrupted time I need to write. It has great views, the buzz of hushed chatter, desks and power outets — it’s basically a coffee shop on wheels.

    I would love to give the Amtrak residency a try, but the odds don’t seem very good of getting in. I guess I’ll have to content myself with the train I have.

  3. I travel Amtrak all the time from So. Oregon to WA state, and some of my best writing happened in the site seeing lounge and sleeper car.

  4. I love this is idea. One of my favorite trips on amtrak was heading to Oregon from Michigan. The view was amazing. that was back when I wrote on paper and not using a computer. Great post!

  5. Love the idea!! Reminds me of that great Theroux book, The Old Patagonian Express, where he takes the train from Boston all the way down to Tierra del Fuego. Awesome book.

  6. long distance train rides are amazing. granted, i’ve only been on one, and that was almost 20 years ago. i went from sacramento, california, to maysville, kentucky. the trip took almost a week. i journaled, read, met people, slept, watched movies, enjoyed the scenery. it was an awesome experience and i’d love to be able to do that again! (round trip next time!)

  7. I had a marvelous experience combining train travel with writing. I was in Seattle attending a University of Washington training program. I needed solitude to write a paper and decided to take a train trip, stay a day or two and return to Seattle. I literally told the ticket agent how much money I had (very little) and he helped me identify a destination and recommended a lodging. I took the train which was wonderful and met some delightful people. I ended up renting a small log cabin for 2 days where I holed up and wrote my paper. It was a magical experience. I took the train back to Seattle and finished the class. I would recommend train travel to anyone interested in enjoying the journey as well as the destination.

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