The Seven Best Cities in the World for Writers

(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. Also, I’m connected to an independent publishing company called Blank Slate Press, so if you’re a novelist or a reader of novels, check out the site.)

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: 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


58 Responses to “The Seven Best Cities in the World for Writers”

  1. Nancy says:

    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.

    • peter says:

      I think Dublin should have made it on to this list considering there are 3 Nobel prize winners for literature from there as well as many other fantastic writers who may not be quite as well known as Joyce,wilde or beckett but are still truly great writers none the less also.

      • Jamey Stegmaier says:

        I can get behind the Dublin idea–I was just there this past fall. Is the cost of living low enough for a person who just wants to focus on writing?

        • peter says:

          Its not a cheap city to live in but thankfully not as expensive as it used to be due to the recession but then naturally unemployment is currently at 14 per cent in Ireland because of that so if you were looking for a part time job also to fund your time there, it could take a while to find one. Typically you could expect rent to cost about 500-600 euro for a large room in a house or apartment sharing but in a nice part of town. There are plenty of small pubs and places where a little community of artists, writers and people with just a keen interest in literature meet regularly to chat and express opinions (were a very opinionated nation!) so its probably a good environment to be in if you were trying to write.Anyway i hope that helps and i enjoyed the article.

  2. Big Papi says:

    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.

    • 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.

      • S. Johnson says:

        I have several friends who pay $300 a month in U-City, with only double occupancy. Another group of friends share an apartment in the West End and pay around $130 each.

  3. Trevor says:

    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 says:

    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

    • lisa says:

      Does not look like you read the list very carefully. Northhampton is posted as #4. I lived in wesern Ma myself during the late 80s and am not sure I would have chosen NorthHampton perse.

  5. […] For more of the most interesting bookstores in the world, go here. And be sure to check out my growing list of the best cities in the world for writers. […]

  6. Krista says:

    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!

  7. Dionne says:

    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!

    • 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?

      • DanMish says:

        As far as famous writers to come out of Austin, Texas, William S. Porter (O. Henry) lived a few years there. He even owned a house there, which has since been converted into a museum in his honor. Just thought you’d want to know.

        -Daniel Lee Mishkin
        South Portland, ME

        • Jamey Stegmaier says:

          Austin–that’s awesome. A friend of mine is moving there tomorrow. I’ll let him know. Thanks!

          • DanMish says:

            Also thought you might want to know that the poet Marianne Moore (an associate of T.S. Eliot) although considered primarily a New York poet, was originally from St. Louis.

  8. Dionne says:

    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).

    • I’m a born-and-raised Austinite and run a literary project called Slagdrop. To pay the bills I edit at a small publisher here in town. Let me tell you, Austin is no longer cheap, unless you live way out in the suburbs. East Austin, which was traditionally the African American and Hispanic part of town, has now become inundated by “hipsters” who have driven the rent prices through the roof. Want to find a studio apartment? $700 minimum, and that’s for something pretty nasty. For some people living on the East or West Coast, $700 seems like a steal! The problem is that you won’t make much money in Austin, unless you are in tech. So if people want to move here, they have to compete with the 30,000 20 to 35-year-olds who moved here…last year. Everyone is flocking to Austin because it’s cheap in comparison to other places, but it’s not cheap if you want to support yourself. Sure, if you have money somehow and don’t have to work, this is an amazing place. But most of us have college degrees, and we make $10-$12/hr, If we’re lucky. If you can support yourself, there is a lot of great writing going on here. The Michener program attracts a lot of talent, and this is a very creative town in general. Just be ready to pay at least half of that $1600 you make a month on rent alone, then the food, the gas (you can’t really make it here without a car) and all of those Lonestars and American Spirits you need to sustain the creativity. Then there’s nothing left over. C’est la vie. Cheers!

  9. Hi,

    I just found this list and as the director of Asheville Wordfest I just have to say Thank You.

    It’s a young small festival but we bring incredibly influential and skilled poets (in both writing and reading their work). Thanks for spreading the word!

    Sincerely,
    Laura

  10. […] Hmmm, Phoenix is a nice place to live (and cheap as well) but not known as a good place for people who want to pursue creative careers like writers,artists-etc. job quality in Phoenix tends to be poor (due to a lack of skilled/well-educated people) unless you want to work in the real estate, medical or education fields. I would probably go to a place better known for you line of work where there will be a lot more opportunities. Best Cities for Media Jobs: Where You Can Work in Media The Seven Best Cities in the World for Writers – jameystegmaier.com […]

  11. MARI says:

    St. Louis really?

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      I was just as surprised as you! 🙂

      • MARI says:

        yeah, cause i’ve lived in St. Louis my whole life….and I don’t think I recommend it to anyone.
        just my opinion and many others..

        • Jamey Stegmaier says:

          Really? I totally respect your opinion, but I’ve lived in St. Louis for 11 years and could see it being a good city for this purpose. The cost of living is low and there are a decent number of artist communities and organizations. That being said, it doesn’t have the romanticized appeal of a souther city, moss hanging from the trees, or a place like Asheville where you can wake up and smell the woodsmoke as you look out over the mountains.

  12. MARGARET says:

    i like this site. i just alerted my friend dan about this because he likes this sort of stuff too!

  13. lrm says:

    Definitely Missoula, MT, as well.
    Cost of living has increased in recent years (as it has everywhere that has been semi-discovered), but it’s not outrageous. Univ of MT is a beautiful campus, and their MFA program attracts would be writers as well as writer faculty. And MT state as a whole is home to numerous writers of all calibers and genres. Livingston MT, Bozeman, Whitefish, etc are all home to writing communities. As for festivals, you’d have to google it-but I wouldn’t be surprised to find one or several.

    I would also pick boulder, colorado. The rocky mountains are a great backdrop, and there are dozens of small towns around boulder that are affordable and inspirational/scenic, with access to the amenities of a large college town (though boulder seems more like a large city with it’s range of amenities-and denver is less than an hour away for more offerings.)

    You have to include portland, oregon as well. Powell’s bookstore-a city block long and wide…largest in the country…and countless writers.

    Lastly, Bali, Indonesia now has one of the top 10 annual writing festivals-and it’s a beautiful, artist friendly island-cheap! easily spend more on airfare than staying on island for a month. GREAT place to hang out and write, if exotic beauty and culture is your desired backdrop for inspiration.

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      These are GREAT suggestions. Thanks for the lengthy comment. All of the locations you describe fit the requirements for great cities for writers (except Portland…I think it can be a little pricey to live there now, although it would still be really cool). Bali is a really intriguing option too.

    • Catherine says:

      I remember driving through Missoula a while back and thinking it was just beautiful and had a very artistic feel to it. Good to know!

  14. Bea says:

    Hi,

    Great list! I’m actually thinking about travelling for a few years to write (hence I came across this list!). Does anyone have any other ideas of good places to go that aren’t in the USA or the UK? Particularly placesyou can easily get a working visa?!

    I’m thinking of living somewhere for at least a year, getting a part-time job and getting some serious writing done.

    Thanks!

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      Bea–That sounds like awesome way to get some good writing done. I can’t say I’m not jealous! I don’t know much about the working VISAs, unfortunately. Let me know if you end up pulling this off–I’d love to hear about it!

  15. Sarah says:

    What an interesting site. It is great to see Oxford included. Mississippi’s literary heritage is extraordinary. A state with fewer than three million people has produced William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Eudora Welty, Richard Wright, Shelby Foote, John Grisham, Willie Morris, and countless others.

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      Thanks, Sarah. I love the Southern charm of Oxford (well, it’s perceived charm–I’ve never been there). I can imagine it’s a great setting for writers.

  16. Alice says:

    Minneapolis should be #1. The Loft Literary Center, the enormous children’s writing community, the University of Minnesota MFA, the Hamline University MFA, and the number of grants available are just a few of the reasons.

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      Alice–Those are great reasons for Minneapolis to be added to the list. Plus, it’s cold in the winter, and there’s nothing better than curling up by the fireplace to write!

  17. Chris Lunda says:

    Ah but William Faulkner, Lillian Hellman, Anne Rice, Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams, Ernest Hemingway and John Kennedy Toole would certainly recommend New Orleans…

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      Good point, Chris!

    • Catherine says:

      Yes, I was just about to comment on that! I live here, and I think for a bigger city the cost is relatively cheap. There are a lot of people here trying to write (lots of workshops, writers groups, poetry readings, open mic nights). It’s a city with a small town feel, and plenty of inspiration! Take a walk ANYWHERE in the city, not just the FQ, and you will have something to write about.

  18. Renee says:

    Anyone know anything about Tucson? I’m going to spend the winter somewhere and my top priorities are a warm climate and a strong women’s writing group.

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      Renee–I don’t know anything about Tucson, but I love the idea of going south for the winter to write. Good luck!

  19. Renee says:

    Thanks Jamey. I’ll post about it if I go.

  20. Linda says:

    I’m always on the hunt to find my place and “my home.” Any thoughts on Portland Oregon? I understand it’s affordable and all that foliage will inspire pen to paper. I am uncertain about the rain, although I like it, too much of a good thing can be a drag.

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      Linda–I’ve heard good things about Portland too. I think they have many, many coffee shops there, so if you like to write in public, it could be a great place to do so.

  21. I’m a single 50+ African American female with much love for my God and Chihuahua, considering moving within the next 6 months to a place[inside or outside of the states]to concentrate on writing the first of what I hope will be many inspirational and thought provoking books.

    I discovered your site through Google and found it to be most interesting. It appears from your writings that most writers have the tendency to share residence for expense purposes. While I love to entertain from time to time, I’m a loner at heart and enjoy my time and space to my thoughts and puppy.

    My mother recently died and for the first time in my entire life, I find myself free to pursue whatever interest my little heart desire, and my heart desires to write.

    Thank you very much for all the well researched and insightful material as well as your reader’s informational comments.

  22. spatzshops says:

    Don’t come to Asheville if you expect to live here for $700 a month! Try $2,000 a month at least for one person. Housing, gas and grocers are as expensive here as in many big cities

  23. […] While researching the best cities in the world for writers I came across his entry titled: The Seven Best Cities in the World for Writers.  From there I started to look over other areas of his blog.  He basically covers the whole […]

  24. JT says:

    So if you would like, you could actually buy your own village in Spain and live rustically, away from it all.

    http://www.newser.com/story/183510/one-country-so-broke-its-giving-away-villages.html?utm_source=part&utm_medium=united&utm_campaign=rss_topnews

  25. Grace says:

    To live in Scotland-would you happen to know the entire payment plan for that?
    You say it’s $4,000.Im actually really interested in this,thanxx for putting this up.Grace

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      Grace: A fellow reader recommended that location, so I don’t have the data on it. It sounds like a lovely location, though!

  26. There is an annual festival in South Queensferry. Ferry Fair, and the world famous Burryman. Google it for details and history.

  27. […] you have a dream of being a writer who is published, on the bestsellers lists, and maybe working a movie deal, then you might want to […]

  28. Marie says:

    I lived in Northampton, MA for two years when I went to Smith College, my alma mater, and I hated the place. The weather was awful, there wasn’t much for a city girl like me to do and I’m not a fan of academia. I couldn’t wait to leave. Fortunately, I spent my junior year in Paris. Different strokes for different folks.

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