Want to Write? Take a Train

photo_004Yesterday I had a heated debate with a friend about Megabus vs. Amtrak. Megabus is a bus that offers super low fairs if you book your seat well in advance, and every day the price goes up a little bit. Amtrak is the system of trains in the US.

The debate itself is irrelevant (it mostly had to do with which mode of transportation smelled worse), but it reminded me of an article I read recently about Amtrak offering writer’s residencies to authors.

The idea is that a train is a great place to write. It removes you from normal, daily life, and makes you feel like you’re on an adventure, but sitting down and slow-moving scenery as your only distraction. I could totally see writers curling up with a moleskin notebook as the train chugs across America’s heartland.

Plus, a train offers something that every writer needs: A deadline.

In fact, when I was about 13 years old, my family took an Amtrak trip across America. Like most things, I don’t think I fully appreciated it at the time, but it was a great way to see the country. A train is a place where you really get to enjoy the journey (perhaps even more than the destination). Of course, I spent half of the trip trying to figure out how to talk to girls on the train. I’ll always love you, Seat 14B, even though we never spoke.

Perhaps the coolest part of this is that the idea was catalyzed and ignited on Twitter. Amtrak saw a tweet from an author who wished that the train system offered residencies for writers, and they ran with the idea. This is something they’re actually going to do. For real.

What do you think? Would a long train ride put you in the mood for writing?

You can apply to Amtrak’s first residency here.

5 thoughts on “Want to Write? Take a Train”

  1. I can’t believe this post didn’t spark a convo! I absolutely love this idea. But I have to admit that while I would like to see the US through a train window while I’m writing, it’s even more appealing to think of me going across a European countryside, pencil or Sharpie pen in hand. I’ve been writing stories since I was 6 (fascinating tales about a young girl who wanted a hamster), so I’m definitely all board (ba-dum ching!) with this idea. 🙂

    • Elaine: I definitely like the European train idea too, as long as there weren’t too many stops. I think long stretches gives you the opportunity to clear your mind, relax, daydream, and create.

  2. I think this is a brilliant idea, and not just for writing, but for thinking, planning, self-reflection…even reading if reading isn’t part of your normal routine. One of my most memorable introspective/reading experiences was a hop-on, hop-off 13-day bus tour of New Zealand (very similar to the train experience, in my opinion). I love the idea because the train/bus frees you from any option of putting things off to carry out errands or whatever tends to get in your way during the hustle & bustle of your daily routine.

    On a side note, it seems odd to me in retrospect, but I remember your train ride across the country like it was yesterday. (For other readers, it seems odd because I wasn’t there. How often do you vividly remember someone else’s vacations?) I’ve wanted to do something similar ever since then. I distinctly remember a picture/post card you had from Bryce Canyon and I remember being in awe/envy of the fact that you went to Seattle–the place where Magic the Gathering cards were made!

    • Trev: That bus tour across New Zealand sounds incredible. As I recall you talking about it, you got to know a lot of the passengers, right? Did it have a “party bus” feel, or were there times that you could just relax in your seat and read, watch the scenery, or journal?

      Bryce Canyon! Yes, I forgot that was part of the trip. That’s still one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. I wonder what it would be like to write there. Or play board games.

      • There were 3 bus companies: one for partiers, one for old people, and a mixed bus that was not all about partying but also wasn’t entirely old people. I chose the last option. I did meet quite a few people, but most of my time on the actual bus was spent looking at the passing scenery in silent reflection.


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