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The Seven Best Cities in the World for Writers

April 12, 2009

(Note: The original list was for five cities, but the list has grown thanks to alert readers. If you have a city to add and the data to back it up, let me know.)

If you wanted to forgo your regular income for a few months and move somewhere in the world just to write, where should you go?

Not that I’m going to do that, but it’s a question I’ve been playing around with for a while. Today I decided to find the answer.

I did a fair amount of online research to find these cities and then rank them, but I’m sure I’ve missed someplace important. I didn’t even consider places like New York or London; even though they’re hotbeds for writers and artists, it’s not cost effective to live there. Plus, there are so many distractions, and way too many novels written about living in New York and London.

I found the cities on this list by looking at places that had established writing communities (even though writing is mostly a solitary task, commiserating with other writers can be motivating), reading/writing festivals and conferences, great settings/environments for writing, and low costs of living (key if you’re surviving off savings for a while).

The list, ascending order:

7. South Queensferry, Scotland

Recommended by alert reader Jennifer G-T, South Queensferry is the ideal place to settle down and write not because the weather is good, but rather because it’s quite bad. This makes the city ” a perfect place to sit in pubs and talk about writing, or sit in your room and write.” I’m sold.

Cost to Get There and Live There for Four Months: $4,000

Population: 12,000

Annual Festival or Conference: no

Established Writing Community: http://www.burryman.com

Famous Authors: Robert Louis Stephenson

6. Hay-on-Wye, Wales

Hay-on-Wye is a tiny town tucked away in the foothills of Wales that just happens to have the largest number of book stores per capita in the world. I spent a few days in Hay a couple years ago, and the setting couldn’t be better for reading and writing. The only downside is the cost to get there and live there–even though it’s a tiny town, the rent ain’t cheap thanks to the attention it’s gotten from the annual literary Hay Festival.

Cost to Get There and Live There for Four Months: $4,570

Population: 1,900

Annual Festival or Conference: Hay Festival

Established Writing Community: no

Famous Authors: no

5. Cartagena, Colombia

Cartagena caught my eye because it hosts the South American version of the Hay Festival every year. As it turns out, it’s extremely cheap to live in Cartagena–food and rent are half what they are over here. And according to what I read, it’s not unsafe to live there. The only big downside is that it’s a big city with no established writing community (or many English speakers), so you’ll have to live the solitary writer’s life down there.

Cost to Get There and Live There for Four Months: $2,230

Population: 1,090,000

Annual Festival or Conference: Hay Festival in Cartagena

Established Writing Community: no

Famous Authors: Gabriel Garcia Marquez based the city in Love in the Time of Cholera on Cartagena

northampton4. Northampton, Massachusetts

It’s a little chilly up north, but the spirit of writing keeps people warm. Writers seem to gravitate to this small, liberal town (one I overlooked in the original ranking). With Smith College in town and several other colleges in the area, the excitement of academia rubs off on those trying to create works of genius.

Cost to Get There and Live There for Four Months: $3,000

Population: 29,000

Annual Festival or Conference: no

Established Writing Community: Western Massachusetts Writing Project

Famous Authors: Augusten Burroughs, Elinor Lipman, Kurt Vonnegut

3. St. Louis, Missouri

You wouldn’t think St. Louis would be a hotbed for writers, but with the support of the St. Louis Writers Guild, there’s actually a strong network of writers in the Gateway City. Rent is cheap, the weather’s relatively mild, and the various scenery–ranging from the people watching you can do from Coffee Cartel to the beautiful Forest Park–is perfect for writing or journaling.

Cost to Get There and Live There for Four Months: $2,600

Population: 350,000

Annual Festival or Conference: Missouri Writer’s Guild Conference

Established Writing Community: St. Louis Writer’s Guild

Famous Authors: T.S. Eliot, Jamey Stegmaier

2. Oxford, Mississippi

There’s something about southern architecture that makes you want to write. Oxford–no, not that Oxford, which would be way too expensive to live in–is an inexpensive town that has branded itself in recent years as a place for all things literary.

Cost to Get There and Live There for Four Months: $2,700

Population: 12,000

Annual Festival or Conference: Oxford Conference for the Book

Established Writing Community: no

Famous Authors: William Faulkner, John Grisham

1. Asheville, North Carolina

Asheville beat out the competition by its reputation as an artist town, the beautiful setting, and the low cost of living. For such a small place, it seems to pump out and attract major authors. This is the number one place to settle down for a few months and spend 8 hours a day putting pen to paper.

Cost to Get There and Live There for Four Months: $2,900

Population: 74,000

Annual Festival or Conference: Asheville Wordfest

Established Writing Community: Writer’s Workshop

Famous Authors: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Charles Frazier, Thomas Wolfe

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. Nancy permalink
    April 13, 2009 6:37 am

    A few years ago, Asheville was ranked in the top 10 cities in the entire country to live and raise a family as well! And it’s only an hour from Greenville!! Winters can be tough though. It’s absolutely beautiful there.

  2. Big Papi permalink
    April 13, 2009 11:09 am

    I really enjoyed this post, even though I will likely never be a writer. Why are winters tough in Asheville? And how can you get to and live in St. Louis for four months for $2,600? That’s around $650 a month!!! My rent is more than that. I guess you could do that in North St. Louis, but it wouldn’t be so “solitary” with gunshots being fired every other night.

    • April 13, 2009 11:52 am

      Thanks guys. The costs were based off a bare minimum of food, lodging, health care, and cell phone. You can get cheap rent in St. Louis–get a three-bedroom apartment in Dogtown and you’d be fine (if you split the cost with other people). I think we’re used to a certain lifestyle, but we could probably live a lot cheaper than we do, at least temporarily.

  3. Trevor permalink
    April 13, 2009 11:32 am

    I agree with Big Papi–this is quite an enjoyable post. I feel relaxed just reading about these places. I’m inclined to visit these cities to reflect and journal!

  4. Joe S permalink
    April 13, 2009 2:13 pm

    Surprised that nothing in western Massachusetts made the list. This is probably the highest concentration of famous writers in the world. The cost of living isn’t as high as the rest of the northeast, populations are small, NYC is just a few hours drive so publishing companies are close. And lots of “the good stuff” (weed) from Canada. Read author’s bio’s, you’ll find that tons of them live in North Adams, Amherst, Northampton, etc.

    For example, Northampton’s wikipedia page of Notable residents – note the most common career
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northampton,_Massachusetts#Notable_residents

  5. Krista permalink
    June 20, 2009 7:46 pm

    I suppose that’s good news about St. Louis, but I live pretty close and I just gotta get out of the midwest.

    Nice list!

  6. Dionne permalink
    November 11, 2009 11:51 am

    I’m upset that a Texas site didn’t make the list. For sure Austin, with their dichotomy of die-hard hippies and staunch yuppies would be a hot bed of writing activity. Jamey, at least visit Austin and judge for yourself!

    • November 11, 2009 12:07 pm

      That’s a fair point–are there any writer communities there? Have any great writers come out of Austin?

      I went to Austin about two years ago for a development conference and had a great time–I LOVE the weather there. Hot and dry. Just not quite sure if it’s ideal for a writer. How’s the cost of living?

  7. Dionne permalink
    November 11, 2009 11:23 pm

    Depending where you live Austin is pretty reasonable. As for writers….I’m not sure. I know this sounds terrible, but I really don’t follow the “writer scene” too closely. I’m sure that if you google the topic you will find plenty of writers in Austin considering it is a) a college town b) full of culture and arts c) the most liberal city in TExas d) and is a city where the majority of the population is under 40 (moslty because of the university).

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