Confession: I don’t get the Amtrak writer’s residency thing. I know I’m supposed to be losing my mind over it, as I can clearly see the rest of the internet has. Numerous people have shared the link with me, excitedly pointing to this as possibly the best thing the internet has ever produced for me. And I’m just not interested.

Sorry! It’s totally cool that everyone else is, but here’s why I, a full-time, professional writer, won’t be applying:

  • It feeds the There’s No Time to Write myth. I’ve thoroughly explored my anti-#AmtrakResidency feelings, and I believe this is the nerve it most strikes with me: it feeds the myth that the only reason some writers don’t write is that there is just no time. No excuse. No break from reality to cultivate the magical environment in which the miracle of writing breaks forth from the writer’s intellectual womb.

Oh my gosh. Writing isn’t that romantic. It’s a thing you make time to do when you want to do it badly enough. Carlos Eire write Waiting for Snow in Havana in the middle of the night. Some writers wake up at 5am. Some writers use all of their sick days on writing days. Writers make time for writing, they don’t wait around for a free train ride to do it.

  • I really can't think of anything worse than spending days on a train only to reach a destination and immediately turn around. I'm not that hard up for a place to write.
    I really can’t think of anything worse than spending days on a train only to reach a destination and immediately turn around. I’m not that hard up for a place to write.

    It’s not really travel. Travel can be an inspiration for writing, yes. But to me, the inspiring part about travel is, you know, the place you’re traveling to. Being there. Not passing it by. As I understand it, the first person to pilot this program took a train to New York City, got off the train and immediately got back on another for the return trip. Is that travel? Or is that being locked in a tiny room with interesting windows for several days? As if writers don’t spend enough time forgetting to stretch our legs.

  • The cost/benefit analysis doesn’t work in my favor. If I wanted to take a train from Ann Arbor to New Orleans and back, it could cost me between $300 and $1,000 depending on the accommodations. Now, Amtrak appears to be offering writers the $1,000 option, but giving me something with a market value of $1,000 doesn’t make up for the week of lost work were I actually setting aside my day-to-day assignments to stare dreamily out the window and work on my creative pursuits. I could very easily ignore all paying work for a week at home where I have a shower and walking around outside is an option.
  • There are cooler ways it could work If Amtrak was taking applications for writers to hop on and make money writing engaging stories along the way, that would be cool. Maybe they could have partnered with publishers who need stories that would work well with that kind of travel. Without that kind of incentive, a working writer is likely too busy, you know, being paid to write things to take time off and write things for free.
  • Writing isn’t a romantic getaway. It’s a job. Okay, maybe I’m just laying bare one of my insecurities as a writer here. I know there are plenty of accountants and nurses and engineers who have a novel inside of them, and this would be the perfect thing for them to jumpstart it. That’s not the kind of writer that typically includes the term on their taxes. I wouldn’t be able to file 100% of my income under NAICS code 711510 if riding around on a train for free played any role in what I do for a living. Maybe we just don’t have enough words for “writer,” and this Amtrak residency is a better fit for the accountant/writer than the tax filing writer. I suppose some sort of writer person should make up some new words to better describe herself or something.

It took me a long time to cobble this post together, because while the Amtrak residency might no be my thing, being a killjoy isn’t either. I do, however, feel the writers of the world who make time every single day to write, in their own unromantic homes and offices, and manage to make a living doing so, deserve to have someone point out that we’re not truly so hard up that getting a free trip to nowhere makes us salivate.

There is nothing nefarious about what Amtrak is doing, and it’s making a lot of people very giddy, so good for them. It was a response to a suggestion from writers, so you can hardly blame the train people for making the most of a real time marketing opportunity.

If Amtrak wanted to give me a free ride somewhere, I’m not saying I wouldn’t take it. But I would definitely insist that I would get to go somewhere though, at least for a few days. That would be a real perk for a working writer with no vacation days. I’d even write on the train on the way there, just like I wrote in the car yesterday as my husband drove us back from a weekend in North Carolina. Because that’s what I do. Every day. From anywhere. No free ticket needed.

3 thoughts on “Why the #AmtrakResidency isn’t for me. (But thanks for sharing it with me, everyone on the whole internet.)

  1. I enjoyed reading this essay even though I applied for the residency. I’m in another category. The post-career writer. Loving the tour with my first book at age 65. I plan to take the Coast Starlight and the Empire Builder this summer. I hope to enjoy many destinations and four or five author events also.

    I admire your dedication and wish for you a long and happy writing career. And a good long train trip with an exciting destination someday soon!

    As for Michigan, I lived in Kalamazoo for six years and loved it. But I love the winters in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia even more.

  2. Umm, how about the fact that you have to sign away all rights (absolute, worldwide, irrevocable, transferable, etc.) to your work ust for APPLYING?

    I read the submission guidelines, as I do for any contest, and – whoa! – I would not apply to this at all, given what their terms and conditions are for applying! (Or at least WOULD NOT SUBMIT MY BEST WORK FOR CONSIDERATION!) Amtrak requires that you sign over all rights to anything you submit to them for perpetuity, even allow them to sell your work to third parties.

    You see this kind of wording all the time on contests these days (which is why you should beware, and read guidelines before you submit – many contests are really just scams for the organizers to acquire free content). But wow, I have never seen it on a residency application.

    Authors – always read the submission guidelines!!!!!!!

    Here is the link to the guidelines:
    and the relevant excerpt:

    6. Grant of Rights: In submitting an Application, Applicant hereby grants Sponsor the absolute, worldwide, and irrevocable right to use, modify, publish, publicly display, distribute, and copy Applicant’s Application, in whole or in part, for any purpose, including, but not limited to, advertising and marketing, and to sublicense such rights to any third parties. In addition, Applicant hereby represents that he/she has obtained the necessary rights from any persons identified in the Application (if any persons are minors, then the written consent of and grant from the minor’s parent or legal guardian); and, Applicant grants Sponsor the absolute, worldwide, and irrevocable right to use, modify, publish, publicly display, distribute, and copy the name, image, and/or likeness of Applicant and the names of any such persons identified in the Application for any purpose, including, but not limited to, advertising and marketing. For the avoidance of doubt, one’s Application will NOT be kept confidential (and, for this reason, it is recommended that the writing sample and answers to questions not contain any personally identifiable information – e.g., name or e-mail address – of Applicant.) Upon Sponsor’s request and without compensation, Applicant agrees to sign any additional documentation that Sponsor may require so as to effect, perfect or record the preceding grant of rights and/or to furnish Sponsor with written proof that he/she has secured any and all necessary third party consents relative to the Application.

    1. Whaaaat? That is crazy. I wasn’t even aware of that. That is completely ridiculous. I think it’s safe to say very few applicants likely read those details. Good find!

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