Amtrak Plans to Offer Free Train Rides to Writers
Picture your perfect place to write your screenplays -- somewhere comfortable, inspiring, a place that gets your creativity moving? Of course, 100% of all writers everywhere are picturing a train right now, right? Okay, it might not have been your first thought, but writing on trains is a wonderful experience -- something that Amtrak has recently come to find out on social media, and now they're doing something about it. After an overwhelming reaction from Twitter users, Amtrak is planning to establish a long-term writers' residency program, which will allow writers, perhaps including screenwriters, to hop on any one of their trains for free for the sole purpose of writing. Find out how you can potentially get in on the ground floor.
I know, this sounds like something from out of a dream, (though certain airlines have been known to offer similar programs) but it's real. The Wire does an excellent write-up of how the idea came to be after digging through tweets and interviewing Amtrak social media director Julia Quinn, but this is essentially how it all went down.
Amtrak set this thing in motion after a couple of writers on Twitter, Zach Seward and Jessica Gross, expressed a desire for the railroad service to offer residencies for writers, offering them a free round-trip ride from NYC to Chicago as a test run (Gross details her trip in her article for the Paris Review.) And the writer residency offer didn't stop with just them. It was also extended to writer Alexander Chee, who plans to take a trip from NYC to Portland later this year. (And I thought my 2-hour train trips to Portland were long -- that's true dedication.) Now that the word has spread that Amtrak has offered residencies, other writers have taken to Twitter about it. (Check out #AmtrakResidency to see all the hubbub.)
Once this program moves from the testing phase, what will it look like? Will any writer be able to just -- choose the "writer's residency" option at the ticket counter? How much will it cost? According to Amtrak, it's kind of hard to say at this point, since this is all still in the early stages of planning. The Wire explains that "there may be a 'tiered approach,' though the specifics aren't fully worked out, with the focus on individuals with a strong social media presence." As of right now, it looks like Amtrak is looking to build "mutually beneficial relationships" with writers, offering rides for free or as low-cost as possible. But, if you're thinking that these "criteria" (there's no framework yet, so therefore there's no strict criteria) excludes you, it may not. Amtrak also told The Wire that their definition of a "writer" doesn't just mean published (read: well-known) writers. You could be a journalist, novelist, or even a blogger (ahem) -- or a screenwriter (ahem, ahem).
So, if you're in the midst of writing your screenplay, but wanting a continuous change of scenery, how can you find out if you're eligible to take one of these amazing trips? There isn't really a form you can fill out, so you'll have to do what Seward and Gross did in the beginning -- reach out to Amtrak on social media and see where it goes from there. It's all very loosey goosey at this point, which is kind of a nice break from the bureaucracy we encounter every day. So, take a chance -- contact Amtrak on Twitter, find out if they'll hook you up with an unforgettable departure from the doldrums of everyday life -- see where the rails take you.
For more information about Amtrak's plans for writers' residencies, be sure to check out The Wire's full article. We'll be sure to keep you updated as more develops.
Do you enjoy writing on trains? If Amtrak offered residencies for writers, would you be interested in participating? (If you are, let them know! They're obviously listening to their customers on social media.)