"All aboard!" for writers seeking inspiration

Amtrak recently launched a residency program that gives two dozen writers a chance to use America's landscape as their creative backdrop.

One writer in particular has already begun taking advantage of the opportunity, rolling through the country on Amtrak's Empire Builder, reports CBS News correspondent Dean Reynolds.

Novelist Bill Willingham's trip took the better part of six days from Minnesota to Washington and back.

"Out here, the best thing about it is no editor can get in touch with me and we're in the midst of all this and everything just kind of mentally slows down," he said.

The train, with a maximum speed of 80 mph, is slow too. But it's not about the speed, it's about the pace.

"I think riding trains, particularly our long-distance trains, is really a part of the American experience," Amtrak vice president Joe McHugh said. "It really provides an experience that everyone should try at least once in their lifetime."

Sixteen-thousand people applied for the Amtrak residency for writers program and only 24 were selected.

Willingham was the first to take the trip which included a free ticket, free meals, a small roomette and chance to be transported in many different ways.

"You know, nothing like being out in the middle of nowhere to make you realize that you actually have a little time," he said.

And on Amtrak time is what you have -- in abundance.

Few people rhapsodize about long-distance airplane flights or appreciate the view from their middle seat.

But on a train, one can move from car to car, eat a real meal and go to sleep on a bed. Their minds are free to roam and wonder about the lives looking back at them from the horizon.

"I think we're not meant to cross distances instantly," he said. "You travel this way and you get a sense that you're actually going to far places."

In addition to the blog he posted on Amtrak's website, Willingham rode the train while working on a screenplay, a novel, a comic book script and a short story -- a mystery that takes place on a train.

"Much easier to describe what it's like being in a train car when you're sitting in a train car," he said. "I mean don't have to be imaginative, you just have to look up."

Willingham has been writing nearly every moment since he boarded.

"On this trip, the moment I'm awake I got to work and it went wonderfully," he said.

Riding the rails he said, is like a trip going forward and backward at the same time -- a kind of run-on sentence through the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries.

"I think I'm more comfortable in the 19th century part," he said "I can understand writing on a train. Trains have been with us for a while."