Getting Selected for the 2016 Amtrak Writers in Residency Program

Maxwell at his laptop writing

Earlier this year I was frustrated with the way my business was going. I didn’t have any ride sales pending. I wasn’t getting hired for coaching or being booked for speaking. Heck, I wasn’t even sure I could get from here to there if someone did invite me to come share my story with their group.

I live in a suburb of Houston where there is very little in the way of public transportation. We don’t have a para-transit company. We only recently got a city bus company in Conroe. I also don’t have a wife, girl friend, or reliable income to hire a driver even part time.

But I’m not the kind of person to get depressed and throw myself a pity party. I’m the kind of person who likes to put his mind to it and come up with unusual solutions. I also believe in asking my friends and online community to help me wherever possible.

The Decision to Apply for Competitions

So, a few months ago I decided to apply to contests where they would provide the funds for me to do the traveling that my heart desired. But I didn’t want to enter sweepstakes. I wanted to enter skills based competitions that I might actually win.

This lead to me submitting applications to many competitions including The Amazing Race, America’s Got Talent, and the one we are here to talk about today the Amtrak Writers In Residency Program.

I entered the Amazing Race because they were taking single applicants with the intention of pairing them with other single contestants to make up brand new teams to compete against people who already knew each other. I thought I might also get a new friend or maybe even a girlfriend out of the deal!

I entered America’s Got Talent because I sing a bit and people have told me I sound really good. When I post videos to Youtube or Facebook the stats programs from these sites say people listen to more of my singing than they do of my talking!

And I applied to the Writers In Residency because I love to write. It was a competition based on a combination of your writing sample and your social media networks. I had already written and self published my first book “Leading You Out of the Darkness Into The Light”, and I was already working on my next one.

So applying to them was a natural for me. And they required a long writing sample something that is unusual for these kinds of contests. I used the first few chapters from my book and sent it off.

The way I found out about this contest is kind of ironic. I had written to an agent pitching an idea for a book. They sent me one of those “It’s a good idea but not right for us emails”. Somehow, I got signed up for their mailing list. I don’t remember asking to be, but I enjoyed their posts; so I never unsubscribed. They often repost links to writing contests like this. Now that I think of it, I should really send them an email and thank them for turning me down.

Why I Decided to Apply to the Amtrak Writers in Residency Progra

I honestly believe that everything happens for a reason and that we can find good in every event, situation, or person we encounter if we just keep our hearts and minds open to them. I should also mention there was one other thing that lead me to filling out the application.

When I went to the Amtrak blog and read about the previous year’s recipients, I read a comment from a lady that saddened me and motivated me. She wrote something like, “I wish you didn’t just take people who are already successful or I would apply too.” I thought why didn’t she apply anyway. This is how I think.

My Dad instilled in me the belief that if you don’t ask they can’t say yes. And how many of us blind people have been told endlessly to never be afraid to ask for help. I honestly think being blind gives you an advantage in this area because you don’t have the usual fear about looking foolish when you ask for help or ask for things that may be a bit out of your reach.

Did I really think I would win? Honestly, I didn’t. Was I intimidated by the qualifications of the past winners? Yes I was. Did I let it stop me from sending in the form? Obviously I didn’t because here I am one of only 24 people out of thousands to receive the free trip and the prestige that goes along with it!

Inspired by the Movie “Star Wars”

I love finding inspiration from movies. Star Wars has a lot of great lessons in it, but there are two lines I constantly remind myself of. One was when Han solo was navigating the astroids and C3PO started to tell Solo the odds of successfully navigating his way through. Han said, “I’ve told you before never tell me the odds. I have friends who tell me that I don’t know enough to be scared.” I’m not sure about that, but I know I’m not afraid to press “send”.

The other is when Luke Skywalker arrives on Dagobah and his ship is stuck in the swamp. Yoda wants him to lift the ship out using the power of the force. Luke complains that the ship is too big. Yoda has one of the best lines ever here. He says,”there is no big or small there only is.”

To me sending a pitch email to a radio show is the same whether they have 20 listeners or millions. And sending this form off to Amtrak would have been the same whether I knew the past winners or not. I did look at the list of previous recipients. Normally, I never look at the bios or the stats of the people I am contacting. If I did, I might talk myself out of it.

Before I finish I want to make sure that you don’t get the impression that I am taking this honor for granted. I may have given you the idea that its no big deal. It is a very prestigious honor, and I’ve spent two days telling everyone I know about it. Some of my friends are already getting tired of hearing me talk about it.

Finding Out I Was the Winner

To make the point I’ll share what happened when I got the call. The lady from Amtrak called late on Monday night. The caller ID on my Iphone said unknown, but I answered it because I often get calls from amusement equipment owners whose numbers are unknown. She told me who she was and why she was calling. And at first I had to think to remember that I had applied. It had been so long, and there weren’t any other contacts since I filled out the form.

When I realized what she was telling me, I got really excited. I was talking a mile a minute and was really loud. I used several curse words. I don’t usually, but sometimes even I get carried away. I woke the dog.

And then the hardest part of this thing happened. She told me I couldn’t tell anyone. I had to promise not to call, email, text, or post on social media until the press release came out the following Thursday. I was about to bust when I got the email telling me their post was live.

Help Me Celebrate

I’m not the kind to throw big wild crazy parties. I do believe in celebrating all your accomplishments no matter how big or small. For me this means a rare cup of hazelnut cappuccino, long talks with my family, sharing on social media, and of course writing this post. I hope you will help me celebrate this big step forward in my journey as a writer and an entrepreneur who happens to be blind.

Why I am Writing This Post

I was asked to write a short post about this. For those who know my work, you will know that by my blog’s standards this is relatively short. I hope it has inspired you to take risks and ask for the things you want in life. Whether that means asking for an internship or help solving a problem or it means praying or meditating on a subject; be sure to ask.

If you have any questions for me, just drop them in the comments field or use the contact form on my website, The Blind Blogger. I personally believe that its better for me to answer an awkward question than it is for you to guess at the answer. I look forward to meeting you and getting to know you. And I hope you will be following along with me on this journey I’ll be taking aboard an Amtrak Train.

More About Max

Writers Selected for 2016 Amtrak Residency Program

The Blind Blogger, Max’s website.

Article about Max’s Business