How Can I Write AND Pay The Rent?
July 18, 2010 4:58 PM   Subscribe

What parts of the US are good places for freelance writers to live? I'd like somewhere that is affordable, but not too far from culture and like-minded creative types. Another "special snowflake relocation" question.

I've spent the last ten years in New York City. I love it here, but I'm facing a career change: I'd like to support myself as a writer, or at least have a better shot at it. I feel like finding a cheaper city to live in would help that - I might have to have a day job, but at least it wouldn't have to be an all-consuming career that took away any shred of time to work towards the above goal.

However, I love the cultural resources New York has to offer, as well as the camaraderie of being one of a large network of creative types slogging away at a dream. Also, as a sometimes travel writer, I like the fact that it's a major air hub and overseas flights are generally cheap. I do not particularly like the cold winters, though I'm relatively flexible on that count.

My ideal town would be: affordable for basic living expenses, somewhat cultured (or at least having some kind of underground "scene" of intellectual/creative folks), bikeable, and not terribly far from a major international airport.

I am not married to life in a big city, though I do enjoy yoga, Thai food, bookstores, and the like. I am prepared to work a menial service job in order to fund my writing pursuits - I don't need a city with jobs in any particular industry. I am open to any region of the US. I am not looking to buy real estate in the immediate future.

I would also love it if said town had good (AKA warm/sunny) weather and were somewhat accessible for me to visit family in the South.

Places I am considering:

Portland (slightly concerned about the rainy/cloudy winters)

New Orleans (which is where I'm originally from; I have several reservations about moving back)

Austin

Asheville or Nashville (bikeable, or too mountainous?)

The Hudson Valley

Philadelphia

Baltimore

Seattle or the Bay Area (not sure about affordability)

Chicago (winters are a concern)

Minneapolis (ditto)

Any feedback on the above cities or suggestions of new cities/towns would be invaluable.
posted by Sara C. to Work & Money (32 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
Philadelphia! (And of course you can easily come down to check it out.) I do hesitate to suggest that New Yorkers should colonize my hometown, but you're not actually a New Yorker originally.
posted by madcaptenor at 5:07 PM on July 18, 2010


BTW, I have tried various relocation surveys/quizzes online. They tend to recommend sprawly and provincial southern cities like Baton Rouge, Shreveport, Birmingham, etc. I'd consider somewhere like that, but again, bikeability and like-minded creative folks are relatively important (cultural institutions, not so much).
posted by Sara C. at 5:09 PM on July 18, 2010


If you move to Philly you will be greeted by thousands of other interesting people who were priced out of NYC just like you.
posted by The Straightener at 5:25 PM on July 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


Asheville's got a great scene, but it's getting less affordable by the minute and a lot of other people have the same idea. Plenty of people bike all over the place, despite the hills. You'd be about 4 hours from ATL and 3 hours from CLT.
posted by carmicha at 5:36 PM on July 18, 2010


I'm totally fine with "other people having the same idea". I don't by any means want to be the only creative type in a poky little town in the middle of nowhere.

Of course, if rents are at Manhattan/Brownstone Brooklyn levels and there are 200 people applying for every rinkydink food service job, that could be a problem - which is one of my concerns about most of the Pacific Northwest and northern California. But I don't need the pride of being the "first" artsy person to "discover" whatever town. I need a place I can write, work, live, and not go thoroughly stir crazy.

Is it possible to reach the Atlanta airport from Asheville via some sort of public transit? Shittyness or slowness not important. I just don't want to have to rent a car to get there.
posted by Sara C. at 5:43 PM on July 18, 2010


Eugene, OR (two hours south of Portland) very much fits what you want ... perhaps even more than Portland, as far as creative minds, bikeability, culture. Further from major airport (Portland) but has a regional one, and Amtrak Commuter train to Portland. Weather is somewhat less grey than Seattle, and slightly less than Portland, but you would still have to deal with not seeing the sun for weeks at a time in winter, and that can be a major problem for many people. It is also cheaper than Seattle or Portland. Just a place to look in to.
posted by batikrose at 5:50 PM on July 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


You said you had reservations about New Orleans but upon reading your post that's just what I was going to suggest. There's a long history of creative-types like yourself who, love or hate it, found their muse here. FWIW. Good luck!
posted by ista at 6:07 PM on July 18, 2010


Interesting you mention Austin - I was thinking of there being that it's reputedly a very artsy sorta place.

I live not too far from Birmingham and think it's got a decent cultural scene, but you mentioned biking - don't know what you're used to on a bicycle, but while it has an active recreational bike club, it's pretty non-bike-friendly in the city itself and in the inner suburbs.

Have you looked at Mobile AL, especially the eastern shore area, Daphne, Fairhope, etc.? It's a smaller city, but Fairhope in particular is kinda trippy.

Memail if you want more info on Alabama.
posted by randomkeystrike at 6:08 PM on July 18, 2010


I'm a former New Yorker who's pretty permanently moved to Chicago. Yes, the winters are serious, but nothing I couldn't get used to. The big think I love about Chicago is that it's the only city I've lived in besides NYC that's completely navigable without a car.
posted by Oktober at 6:12 PM on July 18, 2010


Minneapolis is always my go-to answer on such questions. Affordable, friendly, very cultured. For your purposes, it's got a great writing scene, with the Loft literary center and the most literate population of any city in the country. The winters do suck, but hey, you'll get a lot of writing done! And alll the other seasons are delightful.
posted by lunasol at 6:26 PM on July 18, 2010


Oh, and to give you a sense of the cost of living in Minneapolis: when I last lived there in 2008, I had a large (albeit unrenovated) 1br in a charming old building in a central neighborhood for $675, and I definitely paid too much. Before that, I rented a large room in a house in an upscale, super-walkable neighborhood for $450.

A good friend just bought a foreclosed house in a great neighborhood for $100k. Granted, it needed quite a bit of work, but still, $100k for a house!
posted by lunasol at 6:31 PM on July 18, 2010


Denver? (I've never been there. But apparently they get a surprising number of sunny days.)

The Hudson Valley is cheap but cold. But cheap.
posted by DMelanogaster at 6:34 PM on July 18, 2010


Is it possible to reach the Atlanta airport from Asheville via some sort of public transit?

Greyhound is probably your only option, and that's 8-10 hours depending upon whether you're travelling during the day or overnight. Asheville does have its own regional airport fifteen minutes from downtown with regular shuttle flights to big international hubs including ATL.

Of course, if rents are at Manhattan/Brownstone Brooklyn levels and there are 200 people applying for every rinkydink food service job, that could be a problem

The comfortably bikeable / suitably cultured area is somewhat limited, and rents reflect it, though it's not NYC yet. You might find it somewhat parochial, with lots of people thinking they're big fish in a small pond, when they're really just small fish in a puddle. The relocated New Yorkers will either be artsy types or (mostly) retired halfbacks who can't deal with Florida summers. You would certainly not lack for yoga studios.
posted by holgate at 6:42 PM on July 18, 2010


Denver? (I've never been there. But apparently they get a surprising number of sunny days.

Denver definitely has the sunny days. It might be five degrees below zero, but the sun will be shining. It's very sprawling, though, and not really set up for car-less living. Parts of it are bikeable, certainly, and it's better than it used to be, but getting around in the winter without a car might be tough.
posted by ambrosia at 6:53 PM on July 18, 2010


Why not Portland? Pacific Northwest cloudy skies are dreamy...
posted by KokuRyu at 9:16 PM on July 18, 2010


We've a new mayor in New Orleans and the HBO series Treme is filming at least one more year. Both of those things are very good for us so far. The creative community is still attracting newcomers every day. I moved here a long time ago with a lot of the same criteria you have and have never been sorry, Katrina and BP notwithstanding. It's the most affordable of the great places for creative types. I hear good things about Austin, but my personal list is New Orleans, New York, Boston, Santa Fe, and San Francisco. New Orleans is the only one I can afford. I live about two miles from work and biked it every day for twelve years until I retired. Much of the city is still broken and August here requires endurance, but you know that.
posted by Anitanola at 9:34 PM on July 18, 2010


Instead of Denver, Fort Collins. Beautiful, very bikeable, culture (college town), cheap rent, many breweries! And close to the Rockies.

It gets very cold in the winter but like Denver there's a lot of sun. And Denver is only about an hour away if you need city time.

My brother lives there and it's really a great town.
posted by exceptinsects at 10:37 PM on July 18, 2010


The Straightener, I'll see your Philly and raise you Baltimore. I haven't lived in either, but I've heard only wonderful things about the Baltimore creative scene. It's commutable to DC, which has an excellent job market. And it's affordable, like grad-students-buying-houses-in-funky-neighborhoods affordable. Or so I've heard.

Baltimore is also just that much farther South.
posted by the_blizz at 12:16 AM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Dallas' northern suburbs can be quite cheap and put you close to lots of industry and DFW airport (plus Love Field for shorter flights). Some areas are quite bikeable for errands, but you'd need a car to get into Dallas proper (although the DART is available), which is where the culture can be found.
posted by neushoorn at 6:23 AM on July 19, 2010


I lived in New York for 9 years (also I'm originally from New Orleans just like you!). I moved to Philly last year for grad school. It has been a mostly positive experience. It is also close enough to go back all the time if you leave people in New York.
posted by millipede at 6:28 AM on July 19, 2010


Thanks, everybody!

I have to admit, I was kind of hoping that you guys would all chime in "no, no, that would never work in Philly/Baltimore/Chicago/Minneapolis!" or "Yeah, you'd freeze/go nuts here," enabling me to narrow it down a little bit. Instead, I now have an even longer list of cities to look at!

After asking my question, my list of cities looks about like this:

Portland
Eugene
Philadelphia
Baltimore
Chicago
Minneapolis
New Orleans
Mobile, AL
Fort Collins/Denver/Boulder

With only Asheville being thoroughly knocked off the list due to its unsuitable location in terms of access to travel (even flights home to New Orleans, which would be mandatory for me, are expensive compared to other cities).

However, these places mesh nicely into three categories. Cities that aren't far from where I am now, cities that are or are fairly close to New Orleans, and Western cities. Which will make it easier to break down in terms of what I want to accomplish with this move - stay in the same basic region, move closer to home, or explore new territory. Thinking of it this way will hopefully enable me to knock a few more cities off the list. I'll keep you guys posted on how this develops. Thanks again for your advice.
posted by Sara C. at 8:33 AM on July 19, 2010


The winters are.....well, winter. But I think Portland, Maine fits the bill!

http://www.liveworkportland.org

The website above was created for people JUST like you!
posted by elisenavidad at 8:39 AM on July 19, 2010


Since you're looking to narrow down your list, I'd suggest crossing Chicago from it.

I love it -- have been here almost 25 years -- but the winters and cost of living make it a less-than-perfect match for your needs.

It's more expensive than it seems at first glance, and to my eye not full of bargains rent-wise. Real estate prices never really dropped here like they did in the rest of the country, and rents didn't either.

Commutes can be long -- mine is about an hour each way on public transportation. If you're working in food service or its equivalent just-get-by job there's a good chance you'll find yourself downtown, and probably not able to live really close to work due to low-ish wages for those positions.

Yes, we're bikable and cultured and close to major transportation hubs. Many have come for a look and fallen in love with the city and moved here despite our problems. Check it out -- you might be one of them. And I might be suffering from familiarity-breeds-contempt syndrome, FWIW.

However, I have a friend who is a freelance writer living in Savannah, and I believe he and the Mrs. love it.
posted by Work to Live at 9:26 AM on July 19, 2010


I live in Minneapolis, and if you live on the Saint Paul side the rents are a little bit cheaper/more doable. Mass transit is OK - not perfect - and winter IS harsh, but not as long as people would have you believe. I moved here about 15 years ago, and I'm still doing well enough - and there's also a decent literary scene/high literacy rate that makes the area writer friendly, especially if you write science fiction.
posted by medea42 at 10:24 AM on July 19, 2010


Here's my main question about Minnesota winters and getting by in Minneapolis.

Is it possible to live car free there, considering the winter weather? I'm cool with being a bike commuter, even for relatively long distances, if it's above freezing and there's no snow on the streets. But I gather that leaves out half the year for Minnesota.

I've read some bike commuter blogs, so I know people can and do continue to commute beyond that, even get special studs put on their tires to deal with icy roads. But I don't know if I'm really up for that - it's never been something I needed to do. And while I'm used to working around public transit, if most of the city simply has none, I can't be stranded in the house for 6 months at a stretch. I will at least need groceries at some point. This might be something I could adapt to with time, but it's not something I could do if I moved there next fall.
posted by Sara C. at 10:43 AM on July 19, 2010


I would propose Santa Cruz. I know it has a hippie-dippie reputation, but if you're ok with Eugene, then Santa Cruz would have a similar feel with better weather. Very bikeable, creative people, and close to the Bay Area but less expensive. Plus the resources of the university. Three airports reasonably close by (although you'd probably end up using San Jose most often).

I would also suggest Oakland (my current home; although I've also lived in Seattle, Chicago, and San Francisco). In particular, check out the area around Lake Merritt. No car necessary, apartment buildings with frequent vacancies, and sunny weather (unlike many areas of SF). Oakland has its own "scene" but you're always 15 minutes away by BART from SF as well.

No doubt, rents in the Bay Area are not going to be as cheap as other places like Denver. However, you can make it work; the prices are not as insane as they used to be and there are plenty of creative types living here that get by.

The Pacific Northwest is fantastic in so many ways, but if you care at all about sun, don't underestimate the impact of the weather up there on your mental state. It can be really gloomy.
posted by chummie26 at 12:02 PM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Portland fits, and is fucking fantastic, but even finding a 'day job' here is a trick.
posted by Lutoslawski at 1:13 PM on July 19, 2010


Here's my main question about Minnesota winters and getting by in Minneapolis.

Is it possible to live car free there, considering the winter weather? I'm cool with being a bike commuter, even for relatively long distances, if it's above freezing and there's no snow on the streets. But I gather that leaves out half the year for Minnesota.

I've read some bike commuter blogs, so I know people can and do continue to commute beyond that, even get special studs put on their tires to deal with icy roads. But I don't know if I'm really up for that - it's never been something I needed to do. And while I'm used to working around public transit, if most of the city simply has none, I can't be stranded in the house for 6 months at a stretch. I will at least need groceries at some point. This might be something I could adapt to with time, but it's not something I could do if I moved there next fall.


This would depend on which neighborhood you choose to live in, and the mix of nearby businesses and mass transit options. There are some parts of Minneapolis and Saint Paul that work well for this, and some of the inner suburbs. I have a friend that makes it work for herself, though I'm not sure how much winter biking she did.

I lived in Chicagoland for a few years, and while the mass transit system has issues, it's more fully fleshed out than Minneapolis. Light rail is slow to develop in Mpls, which leaves buses for the most part.
posted by ZeusHumms at 6:12 PM on July 19, 2010


I currently live in New York, where I tolerate the winters. I spent four years in Chicago where I...didn't. What you need to keep in mind about Chicago and/or Minneapolis is that the winters aren't so much colder as longer. Winter weather starts in mid-November, and will most likely last through the end of March. For me, mid-February, having endured three months of winter, I would usually start going slightly crazy, and spend the rest of February and all of March in a deep winter funk. (And, as a college student, I had a three week break to spend in California with my parents.)

I would also agree that Oakland or Sacramento could be doable as well. Rents won't be as cheap as some of the other cities on the list, but one thing that offsets the cost of living in California is that unless you eat mostly pre-packaged food or at chain restaurants, food will be significantly cheaper. Year-round access to local fresh fruits and vegetables can seriously cut the cost of eating healthy and well if that's a priority for you. Also, you can definitely bike year-round.

Finally, I have friends and relatives in Austin, Boulder, Nashville, and Minneapolis, and one thing that is true about all of them is that while they are bike-friendly, they are not so easy to be fully carfree in. Center-city is frequently the only place you'll find basic stuff like drugstores and grocery stores within walking distance (which once again increases your cost of living), and public transit is designed to get people into and out of downtown, not between neighborhoods. As a result, while you can probably manage a situation with a bike or public transit commute, you may find it tough to visit friends, explore neighborhoods, get to the Ikea, and otherwise generally be mobile without at least some access to a car.
posted by psycheslamp at 7:12 PM on July 19, 2010


Center-city is frequently the only place you'll find basic stuff like drugstores and grocery stores within walking distance (which once again increases your cost of living)

FWIW, this was not my experience with Minneapolis-St Paul. I lived in 4 different neighborhoods, none of them in a downtown area, and in only one of those did I feel like I needed a car - in fact, I kinda feel like the Twin Cities spoiled me for other cities, neighborhood-walkability-wise. But I did eventually buy a car for easier getting around to other parts of the cities.
posted by lunasol at 7:52 PM on July 19, 2010


Hey Guys!

Being stuck in the office without much to do on this gloomy Sunday afternoon, I figured I'd update folks on what's been going on with my relocation plans.

After thinking about it for the past month, I have pretty much narrowed it down to Philadelphia, Portland, or back home to New Orleans. There are various things to think about with each of these three cities, but as the move itself is not happening until next spring/summer I feel like I have plenty of time to figure out what I really want to do. I have plans to spend some time in Philadelphia and an extended visit in New Orleans in the near future - I'm also trying to fit in a trip to Portland.

Thank you, everyone, for you advice.
posted by Sara C. at 11:31 AM on August 22, 2010


Let me know if you need any advice on Philly.
posted by madcaptenor at 5:51 PM on August 22, 2010


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