Train Travel Residency

Train Travel Residency

Poet Julia Shipley enjoyed several Train Travel Residencies this past winter

The Amtrak Residency is currently suspended, but that hasn’t stopped poet Julia Shipley and two colleagues from creating a Train Travel Residency of their own.

Shipley is a non-fiction writer, journalist and poet who lives in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. This past winter she and two colleagues created their own Train Travel Residency.

They boarded Amtrak’s Southbound Vermonter in Waterbury at ten in the morning and wrote for the three-hour journey to Brattleboro. On their walk up Main Street to Brooks Memorial Library, the three poets stopped for lunch. Once at the library, they held a planned workshop, where they read and gave comments on one another’s work. Shortly before five, they retraced their steps to the station and wrote for the three-hour trip home.

Train Travel Residency

Amtrak residencies were last offered in 2016

The Amtrak Residency, designed to allow creative professionals the time and space to work while traveling by train, included a private room with a desk, a bed, and a window on a long-distance route, with meals in the dining car. Over one hundred residencies were offered in 2016, the last year they were awarded.

But as Shipley and her cohort have proven, for the price of a train ticket, it’s possible to create a shorter residency on rails that combines six intense hours of writing time, three hours of collegial workshop time, and the comfort of sleeping in your own bed. All it takes is a little planning, ingenuity and modest fees.

First, find a round-trip route that takes you to a desired location in the morning and can bring you back at the end of the day. Second, collect your writing buddies and prepare for the workshop by distributing your works-in-progress beforehand, so you and your colleagues can read and comment carefully. And third, save up a small stash to make it all happen.

The round-trip ticket from Waterbury to Brattleboro would have cost Shipley about $36 if she purchased it more than two weeks in advance. And great lunches are to be had in Brattleboro starting at $10. All told, about a week’s worth of fancy lattes near home.

While a DIY residency costs more than a day of writing at your local coffee shop, it also offers more concentrated time, the soothing motion of the train, the company of colleagues, and the stimulation of travel.

Deborah Lee Luskin writing studio

The desk in my writing studio.

I wrote about a DIY residency a few years ago, when I stayed in my brother’s San Francisco apartment while he was away. Now, he wants me to leave home so he can come write in my studio. With just a fraction of the creativity used to put words on a page, writers of all kinds can find inspiring places and uninterrupted time to work on their words.

What are your ideas for a DIY residency?

Deborah Lee Luskin is a writer, speaker and educator who tells stories to create change. Learn more and read her weekly blog at www.deborahleeluskin.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spell Against Self Doubt

This summer, I almost turned down a writing residency.

Before fully considering the offer, doubt crept in. A friend pointed out that I was more focused on my self-doubt than the opportunity in front of me. And so, I cast a spell against self-doubt.

The spell was quite simple; it was to complete four actions before starting work.

Those actions were:

  • An act of kindness
  • An act of strength
  • An act of creation
  • An act of bravery
FLATspellagainstselfdoubt

My Spell Against Self-Doubt

In the weeks leading up to the residency, and during the residency itself, my spell against self-doubt became a daily practice. Each action was an antidote to my most frequent doubts.

The manifestation of my casual witchcraft was to:

  • Make coffee for my partner  (Act of Kindness)
  • Bust out 30-50 Pushups (Act of Strength)
  • Sketch a quick cartoon (Act of Creation)
  • Scribble three pages of automatic writing (Act of Bravery)

The culmination of this practical magic was that when I started work on my play I was energized, centered, and eager to tap into the fictional world I was creating. Whenever doubt started to murmur, I refuted it, with my proof of kindness, strength, creation, and bravery

Centering my writing practice on acts of kindness towards others (and myself) let me shed my fear that writing is a selfish pursuit. The adrenaline rush from my act of strength let me draw with energy and abandon. I started sketching because it was a form that had no repercussions on my sense of self as a creative.

Satisfaction

Satisfaction: holding a grudge / letting it go

I gave up on “learning to draw” in seventh grade when I was unable to render a realistic bouquet of flowers. Last July, when I decided to start drawing, I was unencumbered from any pressure to be good. Unlike writing, it’s not something I’ve practiced.Surprisingly, I fell in love.

Armed with paints, I was full of stories. Freed from any understanding of technique, I was able to let go of my bias that realistic is good. Drawing in my own perspective, freed me to write in my own voice.

After the joy of splashing my thoughts into colorful cartoons, I was able to face myself on the page and write.

By the time the residency started, the spell had taken hold. Instead of bringing my toolbox of doubt, I brought my watercolors and a play I was excited to share.

ToolsFlat

Ready, Set, Draw!

Over the past six months, the spell has stuck. I continue to count acts of kindness, feats of strength, and drawing as an essential to my writing. What started as an act of desperation has become a source of inspiration.

Do you have your own version of the spell against self-doubt?

Have you ever tried drawing/dancing/singing as a way to warm-up before writing?


Small_headshot

Naomi is a writer, performer, and project manager.  She has dueling degrees in business and playwriting.

 

The D-I-Y Writing Residency

My brother, a videographer by day and a playwright by night.

My brother, a videographer by day and a playwright by night.

For creative types with demanding day jobs and hectic lives, a writing residency can offer much needed sustained quiet in which to work. My brother, a videographer by day and a playwright by night, is just such a creative who’s ceaselessly busy, if not with work or writing, then with some other demanding pursuit, like supporting his friends’ creative endeavors, cooking with intense focus, or sea-kayaking in San Francisco Bay.

My brother is also tremendously generous, and as soon as he learned he’d

Jonathan, writing.

Jonathan, writing.

been awarded a month-long writing residency at Djerassi, he called me up and said, “Hey, Deb, do you want to use my apartment for your own writer’s retreat?” And so the Do-It-Yourself Writing Residency was born.

When I had two jobs and three kids under four, I applied and attended formal writing residencies. Both RopeWalk and the Vermont Studio Center gave me weeklong escapes from the chaos at home, These residencies were terrific – until I returned home and had to play catch-up. It was after a second residency at the Vermont Studio Center, where I was given a ten-by-twelve studio with a window overlooking a river, that I wondered if I could recreate that kind of physical and psychic space at home.

Deborah Lee Luskin writing studio

The desk in my writing studio.

In 2011, my husband built me a ten-by-twelve cabin, where I’ve worked hard to maintain a retreat-like writing practice. But life happens. Writing assignments pile up. I don’t even have time to apply for residencies, even if I were interested in them.

But one of my children recently moved to California; I haven’t seen her since May. I started to imagine a retreat where I could write by day while she worked, then meet to talk, walk, sightsee and dine. The clincher is that I’ve been gathering steam on a new book for which I’ve done a lot of groundwork, but I’ve been too busy with my day-to-day writing to give it the concentrated, uninterrupted attention it requires at this point.

So, I’m going! I’m even writing and scheduling this post before I leave. It feels great to clear my desk ahead of my departure – something to keep in mind for when I return. I’m taking just the one project with me, to give it my full attention. [Check out Diane’s recent post about The Joy of Focusing on One Thing.]

This is my cousin's cabin in Maine where I wrote this summer, sidelined by my broken ankle.

This is my cousin’s cabin in Maine where I wrote this summer, sidelined by my broken ankle.

Meanwhile, why not try a Do-It-Yourself residency? Use a friend’s house or apartment on weekends they’re away, or during designated hours they’re at work. Check into a motel for a weekend – or a week. Locate a rustic cabin with a wood stove before it gets too cold, or use someone’s beach house before it’s closed for the winter.

These DIY residencies provide work time and solitude. Some artist colonies do the same, and some provide communal meals and social hours – which can be fun and/or distracting. If going off solo is too lonely, there’s always the possibility of finding a few writing buddies and renting a place together, with a plan for meals, solitude, and social time worked out in advance.

Writing residencies can be extremely helpful in providing the time and space for unfettered creativity. Established ones can be found online: Amazing Writing Residencies and Poets & Writers Conferences and Residencies are just two lists of the many established residencies available. But you can also Do-It-Yourself.

Have you ever borrowed a house, apartment, or private space in which to create your own writer’s retreat?

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!