Monday, March 17, 2014

I'm The Train They Call The Writer's Retreat

You've heard of the writer residency, in which an author gets an office and lodging at some prestigious university. There are places like Ragdale in Chicago's northern suburb of Lake Forest, where a select few get to stay in an historic home and just spend their residency days writing.

Think of it as a writer's vacation from an everyday existence with its laundry to wash, dogs to walk and dinner to prepare. None of those mundane chores figure in to a writer's retreat. Just the words. Just the creation of new literary works.

"It was a dark and stormy night..."
In an effort to boost train travel, Amtrak is now offering a writer residency on a moving train. How that would boost travel is unclear, unless the agency plans to offer as many residencies as needed to fill a given train. They advertise 24 residencies that must be applied for, but who knows what they'll do after they get the program established. And is it 24 writers per train route, times 52 trains per year? We all know that writers looking to break into the industry will pay all kinds of money for the chance to hone their craft, and what better place than a sleeper car filled with like-minded individuals. Think of the beta readers you could snag between Chicago and Los Angeles. The program has potential.

Would you be more creative if you were looking out a large window at central Indiana flying by? Or would you find inspiration crossing Iowa on your way west? Would wifi access be as big a distraction as it is at home, or could you turn out the modern world while enclosed in an older form of transportation?

With meal service, a bed and outlets for your electronic gadgets, it would be like sitting in a mobile office where you could lose yourself inside your head for up to five days. Long enough to get the bones of a novel shaken out of your skull.

What Amtrak would like is a corps of writers who can boast of an army of Twitter followers. Said writers then tweet as they travel, extolling the glories of train travel, and their followers get the urge and the next thing you know we're all going by train. Why else does the application ask for your Twitter name, rather than a sample of your past work?

Of course, if the writer is busy tweeting then they aren't working on their manuscript, which is counterproductive when you're at a retreat, but there's nothing free. That sleeper compartment comes at a cost that isn't financial.

If you don't have the time for a full excursion, you can always land a job at some distance from your home and imitate Scott Turow. He wrote his first novel on the Metra train running from Glencoe to Chicago. And he had to pay for his ticket.

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