I travel 12-15 times a year on business, so flying is second-nature to me. I can’t say I enjoy it, but I’m used to it. Recently, I had the opportunity to take two train trips on Amtrak from Hartford, Connecticut, to Trenton, New Jersey. I must confess, when it comes to traveling, I prefer trains. The seats are comfortable, there’s more leg room and there are electrical outlets and wi-fi for internet connectivity.
A colleague at work told me about an intriguing program. Though it’s not advertised, Amtrak has started a pilot writer-in-residence program. Here’s the deal: a writer can book a trip on long routes and travel for free, as long as she blogs about it on social media.
The idea came from an interview with Alexander Chee, which was linked from a tweet. Chee said he liked the train best for writing and wished Amtrak had a writer-in-residence program. Writer Jessica Gross read the interview and tweeted about it. Amtrak offered Gross a free round trip from New York to Chicago on the Lake Shore Limited. All Amtrak asked was for Gross to tweet about the trip and give an interview with their social media team.
What’s so great about writing on a train? In an interview with The Wire, Gross described the train ride as a “unique environment for creative thought,” one that “takes you out of normal life.”
Gross detailed her experience in depth in the Paris Review. She wrote:
“Writing requires a dip into the subconscious. The lockbox, at times kept tightly latched in our daily lives, is pried open, and things leak onto the page that we only half knew were there. Boundaries help to contain this fearful experience, thereby allowing it to occur. Looking around at my fellow passengers gives me an anchor to the world: my fantasies, my secret desires, aren’t going to get anyone killed. We’re all okay here; we’re all here, here.”
The train is an ideal environment for writing. It is a confined space, yet the writer has a sense of movement. There are stops in different cities to break up the routine. It’s great for people-watching. And it’s a comfortable place to write.
Amtrak officials say there is no application process set up and they are not sure whether they can offer a free ride to any writer, since there is a cost to the cash-strapped rail service. I am intrigued and I want to check it out.
What about you? Would you find the train an appealing writing environment?