All Aboard! A Tweet Brings Free Train Trips to Writers


As I write this post, I am getting ready to board a train. In typical fashion, we raced to the station, only to discover that our train was running an hour behind schedule.

What might have been an inconvenience was suddenly a relief. While I was tempted to pull out my laptop in the train station and get to work, I pulled out a notebook instead and started working on my to-do list for the trip so that I wouldn’t waste any valuable time.

I love traveling by train and I especially love writing while on a train. I’m not sure if the addition of free wireless on Amtrak trains is a help (research) or a hindrance (distractions), but I know that a laptop, a tray table, and unscheduled time conspire to create a perfect writing environment. This is more likely to happen when I am traveling alone — the ideas flow more freely when I am left to my own, um, devices — but I can usually squeeze out at least a blog or two when I travel with my family.

As it turns out, I’m not the only one who has connected trains and writing. A couple of weeks ago, The Wire ran a piece on Amtrak’s (Absolutely Awesome) Plan to Give Free Rides to Writers. While the behind-schedule and temporarily overcrowded train I took to New York would not have been a candidate for a free trip, I managed to get a little work done anyway — but I paid for both my ticket and the two days I spent in New York.

Much as I love train travel and using a train as my temporary office, I don’t know how I’d feel about arriving at my destination only to turn around and get back on board the train without stretching my legs and checking out the local scenery. The inaugural writer’s residency — a sort of beta test, if you will — involved a trip from New York to Chicago and back.

I’ve never been to Chicago, so I’d hate to forego the opportunity to see a few sights upon arrival, and I’ve been to New York often enough to know what I’d be missing  there. Would a free trip there and back persuade me to simply ride the rails without seeing what the cities on either end of the trip had to offer?

Perhaps. And while I’m not even sure Amtrak would require that, it might be a restriction that reduces the number of applicants. Given that the program is barely out of the conception stage at this point, and yet they expect to be deluged with requests, keeping the number of applicants to a more manageable number sounds like a valid concern.

So what does all of this have to do with technology? Love trains or hate them, they aren’t the first thing that comes to mind when you see the heading “Tech Talk.”

In this case, what ties trains to technology is Twitter. This Writing Residency idea began with a tweet.

A writer read an article, then tweeted an idea. A business saw the potential for a win-win situation and replied, and an idea was hatched.

By now, which business is clear, but as far as the author and the article go, that scoop belongs to The Wire. I’m just here to provide the hyperlink — and to join the long, winding line of writers ready to join Amtrak when they offer a test drive.

Read more of our Tech Talk columns.

Copyright 2014 Lisa Hess


About Author

Lisa Lawmaster Hess has contributed articles to local, national and online publications, and blogs at The Porch Swing Chronicles, The Susquehanna Writers and here at She is the author of two non-fiction books (Acting Assertively and Diverse Divorce) and two novels, Casting the First Stone and Chasing a Second Chance. A retired elementary school counselor, Lisa is a lecturer in psychology at York College and enjoys singing with the contemporary choir at her church.

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