Tweet lands writer best workspace ever

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!

4 comments
Tiffndavis
Tiffndavis

I am looking to take a train from Omaha Ne to settle Washington this October and wanted to know #1 how long the ride is , #2 how comfortable the train is ( beds, chairs, etc...) #3 how much for a round trip for two, #4 I am wanting to see the coast line and the sanfrancisco bridge from the train is this possible?

Storymama01
Storymama01

I ride Amtrak several times a year for travel to cities and small towns in Pennsylvania; Williamsport, Elizabethtown, Latrobe. As a member of the Pennsylvania Humanities Council Commonwealth Speakers Bureau, I travel around the state giving presentations about the early history of African Americans. I use my time on the train to research the local area and prepare for my talk. The beautiful scenery and historic landmarks never fail to inspire a new story about Pennsylvania history!

MikeAntares
MikeAntares

In 2014, I took the Sunset Limited from San Antonio to L.A., then hopped aboard the Coast Starlight to Seattle. It was magnificent, and though I had some bursts of productivity, I was mostly scribbling notes, meeting my fellow train passengers, and taking in the open and ever-changing scenery. I'd do it all again in a second, twice as long, with a desk and a power outlet. 

Which brings me to: most residencies were granted to fairly established writers. Will future programs/years be more open to emerging writers? 

Unholdeva
Unholdeva

Hi! I would like to hear more about the Amtrak residency myself, as I am a writer, and a good one.