Tweet lands writer best workspace ever

Jessica GrossThanks to social media, we get direct access to our customers like never before—sometimes when they’re not even on our trains! A recent tweet particularly caught our attention. New York City-based writer Jessica Gross tweeted about wanting an Amtrak residency after reading an interview with author Alexander Chee, because it would allow for uninterrupted creativity and window gazing.

We loved the idea.

Within days Jessica was rolling through the snow-covered landscape of New York, Pennsylvania and the Midwest, making her way toward Chicago. When she returned home to the NYC, we caught up with her to see what she thought of the experiment to give her the best workspace ever. Here’s what the contributor to the New York Times Magazine, TED.com and The Paris Review had to say about her unique trip.

Amtrak: Why were you interested in taking an “Amtrak residency”?
Jessica: The credit goes to the writer Alexander Chee, who said in a recent interview that he writes best on the train, and added: “I wish Amtrak had residencies for writers.” That struck a chord with me and many other writers—there’s something about the train that offers unparalleled space for writing as well as reading and contemplation.

You tweeted about waking up on a train bed. What was sleeping on the train like for you?Jessica Gross' view on Amtrak
It was wonderful. I don't know what this says about the connection between writing and sleeping, but both seem to benefit from the steady movement of the train. There’s something comforting and meditative about it. I took the top bunk, which added an extra feeling of supra-earthliness. And there is nothing like falling asleep, and then waking up, with your face next to a window, watching snowscapes roll by.

It sounds like you met some interesting people on the train. Tell readers about the most memorable one.
I had a long conversation, over breakfast on the way back, with a professor of education who teaches way upstate in New York. I live in Manhattan, and though I adore my home, there are the inevitable fantasies about what life might be like in a small town. So I really enjoyed hearing about both the bonuses [like that] she doesn’t lock the door of her house and people ski all the time, and the drawbacks [like] farmer's markets, cultural life, not so much.

Why is the train good for writing?
I think it’s a combination of the set deadline—the end of the train ride—the calming movement, and the company of strangers.

What advice do you have for other writers who haven’t tried Amtrak before?
Try it! Don’t be too ambitious with what you plan to get done: Allow for time spent gazing out the window, letting ideas work themselves out in your mind. It’s that kind of deep thinking that the train is particularly good for, and that can be more difficult to achieve in the interstices of busy day-to-day life.

How productive are you on the train? Tell us in the comments below!

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