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Trains, planes, reading and writing

I love long train trips almost as much as I hate flying.   To me, there is something both soothing and exciting about zipping across a changing landscape in a powerful machine that hasn’t lost contact with the ground.  Whereas planes are claustrophobic, uncomfortable (unless you don’t need to put your kid through college and  you fly first class), and occasionally panic inducing, trains are throwbacks to a slower, more genteel age when no one expected you to get to where you needed to be so fast that you had to fight jet lag for days once you got there.

I also love reading on trains.  One of my fondest travel memories is of racing through Look Homeward, Angel in a mostly empty compartment on a trip from Zurich to Bruges.  Not that I’m such a seasoned world traveler, but I really enjoy the vaguely surreal dislocation of reading about America while traveling abroad.  And this feeling, I find, is heightened by the foreign and sometimes oddly familiar scenery you glimpse when you’ve snagged a good window seat.

I’m not a writer, but I can only imagine that the sensations and emotional states I’ve experienced while riding railroads in the U.S. and around the world are fairly common and that they might serve to rev up the creative process.  That’s why I dig the idea of Amtrak offering a writing residency for writers.   If I were writing a novel, I’d book my ticket to California, pack up my laptop, a copy of Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book, and hit the rails.

What about you guys?  Do you think you could write on a train?  Would you want to?

7 Responses to Trains, planes, reading and writing

  1. D. C. DaCosta says:

    You’ll forgive me if my response to your last sentence was, “Would you, could you in a train? Would you, could you in the rain?”

    Any conveyance I am not personally controlling tends to induce motion sickness, so, no, I would definitely NOT write on a train. Besides, there’s so much to look at as you pass over, through, or by the cities, villages, deserts, plains, forests, and mountains of this great continent — why would you put your eyes on paper (or the laptop screen?

    Not to say that I am not inspired when I travel, but that’s what the voice recorder and pocket-sized notebook are for. I dictate or scribble constantly when I travel, and come home with dozens of scenes or plot ideas, or even new characters!

    As for the “residency” — it simply sounds to me like standard travel article writing, except that you KNOW someone is waiting to read it when you’re done.

  2. Katie Newingham says:

    Heck yeah! It’s my dream to ride on a train cross-country. Do they have childcare 😉

  3. Miriam says:

    Yeah, D.C., motion sickness would not be conducive to good writing. Katie, you should contact them about providing childcare. That’s a great idea for all the moms who can’t get five minutes of peace to focus on their writing.

  4. Joelle says:

    I’m not sure if I could write on a train, but I can definitely think on a train, which is a large part of writing for me. I take the train from Vancouver BC to Portland OR a few times a year and it’s great!

    And if you like trains, you should definitely come out to BC and take our ferries. They’re expensive, but a truly magnificent way to travel. In fact, why don’t you take the trans-Canada train all the way across and then ferry on over to me (two ferries, one big, one small) and I’ll show you around my tiny island (the same size as Manhattan with 4500 people and almost as many deer)?

  5. Kevin A. Lewis says:

    I could LIVE on a train; (for awhile, anyway) for one thing, the food’s a helluva lot better. I don’t think I could write so well, although when my wife and I used to take Amtrak cross-country to visit relatives, I used to buy these cheesy little paperback collections of horror stories to keep me company, most of which don’t hold up at all compared to Stephen King that was out in the same time period. But they were great fun at the time… If I’m ever fortunate/unfortunate enough to have to tour the country to do promo appearances for my shoddy wares, I’m definitely going by train, as airlines are falling over backwards to make their services as user-hostile as possible. I’ll probably have to adopt some sort of Lemony Snicket-ish eccentric persona and wear a bowler hat or something in order to get the publishers to agree with it, of course.

  6. My writing partner and I took a train to Chicago for the 2012 AWP conference and we wrote the entire ride there and back. There was no wi-fi and, part of the time, no cell phone service, so all we had were our words. We broke for dinner and made conversation with strangers, wrote some more and when I finally crawled into my bunk, the gentle rocking lulled me to one of the deepest, most peaceful slumbers I’ve ever been in. I would do it again in a heartbeat.

  7. Lynn says:

    I’m like D.C., I’ll take notes, jot down ideas, but otherwise I’m too busy looking at the scenery, meeting new people, etc. Years ago, I spent six months hopping on and off trains throughout Europe and Scandinavia. It was a marvelous experience, but not that great for writing.

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