Tips from Amtrak’s first writer in residence

Amtrak's first writer in residence has tips for the authors to follow.
(John T. Greilick / Associated Press)

Bill Willingham, Amtrak’s first writer in residence, has taken his train tour and has advice for the authors who will follow in his tracks.

Amtrak put together its writer-in-residence program in early 2014 after a casual wish by Alexander Chee turned into an enthusiastic ad-hoc campaign on Twitter. More than 16,000 people applied; 24 were chosen.

Willingham is a longtime comic book writer and a forthcoming novelist. He planned to work on a variety of projects during his residency: the final issues of Fables, his DC Vertigo comic, his current novel, a screenplay and a new comic series.


Amtrak provides writers with food and accommodations: a “Roomette.” He traveled west on Amtrak from Red Wing, Minn., to Seattle and back again.

The most delightful thing he learned was that all his fellow travelers were intrigued by the program. “If you reveal to other passengers that you’re one of the Amtrak Writers they will be fascinated enough by the program to grill you on it for the entire meal in the dining car (for instance),” he wrote while blogging the journey.

His other tips for writers:

- Bring pajamas (there being a shared corridor between your bed and the bathroom)

- Bring a power strip or charging outlet; there’s only one outlet in the Roomette

- Stock up on small bills (tipping is on you)

- Bring shampoo and conditioner (soap and towels are supplied, hair stuff is not)

- Don’t put anything on the shelf above the bed that might spill on you while you’re sleeping (like, say, a glass of water)

His last word of warning was that while he got used to the motion of the train, his typing speed was decreased. Other writers’ experiences may be different. Or maybe other forms of writing -- like, say, the old-fashioned pen and paper -- are better suited to train travel.

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