Where should writers live?

New Geography has an article about how writers and their like are being priced out of the places where they used to live by gentrification and other trends:

newgeography.com/content/004 … you-expect

Yeah, the last part is silly. “The authorities” in middle-America aren’t after people who write or paint, forcing them to live in a rundown “Brooklyn brownstone” to avoid the American Gestapo.

The rest of the article is about cheap places to live and shows a long series of dilapidated buildings, many unsuited for fixing up or to live in. Note at the end what the author does for a living.

To my mind, the article majors too much of finding cheap places to live and too little on finding some that are also interesting. Only an idiot would turn to “semi-abandoned muffler shops” for living accommodations when a less-expensive and already appropriate home is a block away. There are also places that, although cheap, a too depressing to live in if you’re not writing novels about depressed people and need illustrations of that.

In short, he seems to have swallowed a myth about where creative types lived in the past and is trying to impose that myth on today. What never worked isn’t going to work today.

That said, does anyone have ideas about where writers should live today, assuming they are free to move but constrained by the cost of living?

In Seattle, I coped for a time with the rising cost of living by taking advantage of a good part-time job market, especially ones that fit well with writing. I hated having to work after midnight doing inside security at events at a popular Seattle venue, but the job had a major advantage. Work typically started about 6 pm, when I was too tired to write anyway. The time it took cost me nothing.

I’m now living in a mid-sized college town where the cost of living is much less and discovering what things to do exist here. With a 27,000 student university a ten-minute walk away, there is intellectual stimulation. I now own a home, so I’m less troubled that the town is growing fast enough, the costs of renting or buying are likely to go up.

I’ve also toyed with the idea of living in an interesting big city far away, perhaps someplace still inexpensive in Eastern Europe or perhaps I could find a microscopic apartment, hardly bigger than the bed, up four flights of stairs in otherwise pricey London. There’s a lot in London I’d like to see.

What are your best places to live as a writer ideas?

If I were willing to live still further from my children and grandchildren — even now, none of them closer than four hours away — I’d choose Nova Scotia, half an hour east of Halifax. Abandon the whole lot, and I’d choose Ireland, an hour south of Dublin, or perhaps the west coast.

I’m strongly attracted to — fascinated by — moving water: the surge of tides, the flow of streams. And I miss the small town or rural living which was, for many years, an essential part of who I was, what I did.

City life? As a motivator, as a source of inspiration, it no longer works for me.

But… leave the US? Yes. Our capitalist imperialism is beyond my poor power to influence or, more to the point, much longer to abide.

Are Canada and Ireland really better? Maybe not, but I feel more socially comfortable there, which is to say, more at ease among people I encounter during the day, more liable to sleep peacefully at night.

(Attachment to progeny is only part of the reason to stay where I am. The other part is old-fashioned money.)


Part of the reason writers and other creative types are being priced out of the housing market in interesting places to live is, writers earn much less money than they did not that long ago. The magazine I work(ed) for (until I retired last year), paid the same for a feature in 1975 as it pays today. But in 2014 dollars, it pays less than a quarter what it paid back then. Most magazines are in the same boat, and book royalties continue to go south, based as they increasingly are on the book’s net price, the net price being determined mostly by Amazon; even with list-price contracts there’s (usually) a deep-discount clause these days, which are very difficult to get rid of if you lack the horsepower of a Rowling or a King.

I live on the Coast of Maine, but I moved here in 1972, when interesting houses with acreage could be had for less than what a four-year-old Camry costs today.

I prefer to write in a room of my own. I’m loath to write in cafes or libraries, unlike some writers.

I think novelists have good opportunities to make money these days, especially if their writing is (1) original, and (2) takes advantage of online publishing and distribution channels.

(1) briarkitesme.com/2014/11/03/writ … ing-minds/

(2) briarkitesme.com/2014/11/12/for- … arkitesme/

I think writers and editors can also make a reasonable living if they stand firm on the rates they charge, and target clients who will pay those rates. I know qualified writers/editors working for a fifth of what I charge, but they are struggling to find even a handful of hours of work per week. The cheaper the rate, the more competition you face.

I currently work from a thatched farmhouse (typical Dorset longhouse) on the edge of a small village in a designated area of outstanding natural beauty. I can usually see cows, sheep, or horses from my window. I’m toying with the idea of a move to southern France and opening a retreat for writers…bit of a pipe dream at the moment, but dreams do sometimes come true.

The answer is going to be different for all of us. The main factors seem to be affordability (=time and energy to write what we want vs. what pays), solitude, and creative stimulation, all of which are in creative tension with each other. Some writers will need that constant rush of stimulation at the heart of an urban vortex filled with interesting people and events. Some will need the creative space of a sea coast or country retreat. Some will need both, in different proportions , at different times in their careers or even creative cycles.
This has been on my mind as I recently moved from the heart of of downtown of a creatively stimulating urban area in the midst of significant cultural flux to a farmhouse some miles west of town. Since I cover the fascinating arts scene as a journalist, living in the center of it provided enormous stimulation , material for my journalism, and lots of fun – but combined with lack of self discipline, not enough to time for book writing. The move to the country provided a beautiful , affordable setting, a quiet writing space a few feet from fields and forests, walks and hikes in forests and parks, and the focus to finish my book after years of trying to do it in short snatches of time.
I still teach downtown so am hoping to miantain that magic balance between urban stimulation and rural contemplation. The commuter train makes it much easier.
I guess the real answer is: writers should live where they are able to do their best work and still pay the bills, and that answer will differ by writer or even by circumstances for the same writer. It’s fascinating to hear different writers’ answers to this question. Thanks for raising it!

In their heads.

Very few authors can pay the rent from their writing they have to have other jobs. Some the question of where authors live is a nonsense because they live wherever and anywhere.

I completely agreewithy reepicheep. How many authors can actually afford to live even in a cardboard box from their writing? Not that many, I’d venture. So the gentrification thing is ridiculous.

My guess is that a (not-yet-so-successful) writer should live in a nice, inexpensive place, together with the beloved one(s). The place should be reasonably safe, with the type of life the writer wants to write about. So, it might either be open countryside, or the suburbs of a big town, or the residential quarters of a smaller town - depending on the subject. Unfortunately, the cheapest places in the world are also nearly-always the less safe of all (even if they might be among the most interesting for a writer).

Living is a balance between earning enough and not spending too much. Writing can allow us to earn enough (but not much) by writing tales for magazines (in countries where this works - unfortunately not in mine); books for children; serial literature; content for web; technical literature for magazines or the industry. Or you can live in a university town, and collaborate with some publishers as a proofreader, editor or translator. We sell words, and these are still needed (even if they go cheaper and cheaper).

As for me, I’m in phase of my life where I can work wherever I want, provided I have a power plug, an internet connection and a comfortable desk. I have to go to the companies I work for very seldom. I earn enough to pay my house, my food, and the little rent the owner of my retreat on the mountains asks me. And there is enough to go eating out at times. I live on a hilly countryside bordered by small, ancient towns, and a magnificent seaside is twenty minutes away from my desk. Crime rate is still reasonably low (but rapidly increasing), healthcare still decent (but quickly falling down).

I could say mine is a good situation for a writer. I only need less work, less anxiety, and more will to go on writing.


Weird question.
I you’re a writer you live in the writer’s block. :slight_smile:

I hear that’s a dead end street.

True. For some reason city planners often put the writer’s block at a cul de sac. :frowning:

That’s certainly true of C. S. Lewis. His Oxford home for most of his life is near the end of a dead-end street now called Lewis Close.

If you find such a home, take it. It’s typically more valuable since there’s no through traffic.

I could see the home of Voltaire, in Paris, and it was also in a closed street. Balzac’s house was in a very small street, where cars could not go. So, it seems the above statement is true.


And Billy Shakespeare’s house in Stratford is in a pedestrianised precinct. No cars to worry about at all. :smiley:

So that was his secret! :wink:

Nope. Real secret was that he wrote on a MacBook using Scrivener. But shhhhhhhhhhhhhh, mum beeth thæt worde. :stuck_out_tongue:

If only Roland Barthes had decided to remain at his family home in the countryside, without cars passing in front of his door, instead of returning at his office next to the crowded streets next to the Collège de France, we would now have his novel. So, living in a cul-de-sac is very important for a writer!


I hear that’s why he picked it… :mrgreen:

Some local wag dubbed the area around McBurney Park “The Writer’s Block” because of the number of prominent local writers who live near there.

The park itself is fodder for stories and inspiration: