How to “Train” as a Writer

After a pilot program (or perhaps that should be “engineer program”?) in which one writer was gifted with a round-trip train ride, Amtrak recently announced that they will begin a larger-scale residency program which “will allow for up to 24 writers to take long-distance trains to work on their projects.”

The Poetry Foundation’s blog, Harriet, was all over this, but they soon posted about how problematic the official terms of the application are. This was originally pointed out at The Outlet.

For instance:

>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.

There is also a note that applications will not (actually, “NOT”) be kept confidential. This seems like pretty standard fare for a corporate contest, actually, which doesn’t mean that it’s right, that all writers should agree to it, or that any should agree to it without understanding the terms.

Since applications aren’t going to be kept confidential anyway, here’s mine, or at least my at-most-1000-character answers to the two main questions. They mention some other issues that I have with the “Official Terms,” although these do not keep me from being interested in the residency:

Why do you want an #AmtrakResidency?

My work is computational, has many layers of meaning, and is often collaborative, and so much of it is prohibited by the #AmtrakResidency Official Terms, which disallow submissions that “Contain executable programming of any kind,” “Contain … encoded messages,” and “Contain content not created by and original to Applicant.” If awarded a residency, I’ll continue to defy official concepts of writing. Since this opportunity exists to promote Amtrak on social media, I’m also interested in showing how social media isn’t limited to this moment’s corporate systems. I can do this well, as I have been a blogger for more than 10 years, have served as president of the Electronic Literature Organization, and am a professor of digital media at MIT. Finally, the sequential, systematic qualities of trains relate to aspects of my writing process. Although I am not personally inclined to record their arrival and departure times, trains do appeal to me in ways that aren’t just nostalgic or romantic.

How would this residency benefit your writing?

I would have the opportunity to focus on writing work and to do one or more trip-specific digital poetry projects which would be made available for free on the Web. Network access is not important to me for work of this sort, and there is even some advantage to not being online. I’ve already written a great deal on Northeast Corridor trains, did some of the editorial work for The New Media Reader on a train to Chicago, and generally find train travel conducive to many types of writing, including creative digital work. I’ve done one collaboration in which we used Amtrak trains as a meeting place and point of departure: Three Rails Live, a computational video installation documented (in English and in French translation) at . I mention this here rather than submit it as a writing sample because it is one of my many collaborative projects. More digital poems of mine are at the “Supporting Link.”

2 Replies to “How to “Train” as a Writer”

  1. (Just recieved:)

    Dear Amtrak Residency Applicant,

    On behalf of Amtrak, I’d like to thank you for submitting your
    application. The response from the literary community has been absolutely
    tremendous and we are very grateful to have had the opportunity to read so
    many heartfelt applications. We had over 16,100 applications and had the
    difficult challenge to select only 115 semi-finalists. The quality of
    applications was high, which made our decisions even tougher. We evaluated
    each applicant based on the quality and completeness of their application
    package, as well as the extensiveness of their social community and ability
    to reach online audiences with content.

    After carefully reviewing all the applicant packages, I regret to inform you
    that your package was not selected to move forward in this year’s
    residency selection process.

    While we cannot offer you an official residency at this time, we would like
    to offer you the opportunity to travel aboard our long distance service
    using an exclusive Amtrak Residency discount code. You may use code [REDACTED]
    when booking tickets online only from June 17, 2014 through August 31, 2014.
    The 15% discount is available on all long distance trains for coach and
    sleeping car accomodations for travel from August 19, 2014 through April 30,
    2015.  You must book at least 14 days prior to travel.

    We hope that this exclusive discount affords you the opportunity to
    experience an Amtrak long distance route and find inspiration for your
    writing.

    We encourage you to re-apply for our residency program next year and we hope
    to see you onboard soon!

    You may find answers to frequently asked questions about the residency
    program on the Amtrak blog.

    Sincerely,
    Julia Quinn
    Director, Social Media

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