Life Dream Status: Amtrak Is Offering Writers’ Residencies

No more trying to find a coffee shop with reliable WiFi and clean bathrooms. No more praying your roommate can refrain from talking for half a day while you peck away on the keyboard. It’s still in the “test-run” phase, but it’s OK to get your hopes up because Amtrak has confirmed that it will be implementing a writing residency program. It’s just what it sounds like: writers will be able to take long (hopefully free), roundtrip train rides with the sole purpose of writing. It’s genius because between the people watching, the change of scenery and the quiet, it’s hard to come up with excuses not to be productive (a writers’ favorite game). If you don’t suffer from motion sickness, it’s essentially the perfect environment to write your essay, novel or screenplay.

It all started with Alexander Chee’s interview in PEN Ten America where he said, “I still like a train best for [writing]. I wish Amtrak had residencies for writers.” Other writers voiced similar sentiments on Twitter and with some attention from Amtrak, and a few emails, Jessica Gross took the first, totally free test-run from NYC to Chicago and back, sharing the details of her journey in The Paris Review. She summed up the appeal of train writing quite poetically:

There is comfort in the certainty of these arrangements. The journey is bounded, too: I know when it will end. Train time is found time. My main job is to be transported; any reading or writing is extracurricular. The looming pressure of expectation dissolves. And the movement of a train conjures the ultimate sense of protection—being a baby, rocked in a bassinet.

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 details of the program are still being hashed out, but Amtrak stated that its goal is to “engage with writers several times a month” and “weigh [whether] it’s a good investment” on their end. Meaning, they hope to keep the cost free or low for people with “a variety of writing backgrounds.” The best news is that they don’t intend to make it a “pay for play” program, they prefer to keep it an “organic experience.” “We’re not sending people on three month sabbaticals to write a novel about train travel,” said Julia Quinn, social media director for Amtrak. There’s no official application yet, but I’m sure the writing community will be on the lookout.

Just tell me how to get my ticket. [The Wire]

[Photo from Shutterstock]