Kay: Quiz for Y’all—Would You Go Here?

7 bedrooms, 3 full baths, 3 half baths, 5,000 sq ft, small city environment

Motivated by the arts community Yaddo, I cooked up an idea some time ago that I’ve begun pursuing with some interest.

For those who don’t click on the link, Yaddo is an artists’ retreat located on a 400-acre estate in Saratoga Springs, New York, where artists of all stripes can apply to work for up to two months. They get a studio and room and board for free if they’re accepted. Collectively, Yaddo artists have won 74 Pulitzer Prizes, 29 MacArthur Fellowships, 68 National Book Awards, and a Nobel Prize (Saul Bellow, who won the Nobel for Literature in 1976). Notable Yaddo artists include James Baldwin, Leonard Bernstein, Truman Capote, Patricia Highsmith, Langston Hughes, Jacob Lawrence, Sylvia Plath, Alice Walker, and David Foster Wallace, among many others.

6 bedrooms, 7 bathrooms, 3,500 sq ft, small town environment

I can’t recreate Yaddo, which was originally the summer retreat of an nineteenth-century financier, and which can house 220 artists. I wish I could! But I’d like to find a smaller house where writers can come and work comfortably, possibly for a long time, at a reasonable cost.

Geographically, if I go ahead with this idea, the house would be located in Wisconsin, where I have family and friends, and where big houses are a lot less expensive than they are in California, where I now live. Over the holiday break, I’ll be looking at a few possible spots.

9 bedrooms, 6 full baths, 1 half bath, 4,800 sq feet, large town environment

Here are my questions for you:
1. Do you take time off (for a weekend or longer) to write or retreat with fellow writers? Where do you go? (out of town, out of state, out of country? Out of mind?)
2. What’s the most you’d be willing to spend per day for a writer’s space?
3. Assuming a wi-fi connection, TV, and a summer occupancy, what would you need to be comfortable?
–Your own room with a bed, desk, and chair
–Your own bathroom
–Generous public spaces with room to spread out
–Meals (and/or laundry) provided
–Town, urban, or rural experience
–Spacious yard

4 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, 3,200 sq ft, small town environment

The photos in the post are places I’m looking at in the next couple of weeks. So tell me, would you be interested in working or retreating in a place like this?






20 thoughts on “Kay: Quiz for Y’all—Would You Go Here?

  1. I’ve only ever been on one writing retreat, with the other Ladies, hoping to go to another next year with Jeanne. I would definitely reserve a place at your house!

    I would like my own room with a comfortable bed, a desk, a chair and my own bathroom with plenty of hot water. Good wi-fi in the bedrooms as well as the communal areas. Good sound insulation, so that I’m not kept awake if the writer next door keeps nocturnal hours. Plenty of space in the public areas and/or the yard so that I could write quietly or brainstorm with friends. Self-service laundry facilities if I decided to make a long visit. If possible, convenient transport connections.

    Hope you find the perfect place. Is there a waiting list? Where do I sign up?

    • Hi, Jilly! Thank you for your input! So far, two out of two people I’ve asked have mentioned their own bathroom. That omits two houses from these four, and that’s good to know, as well as time-saving in terms of looking and estimating costs and renovations.

      One good thing about looking for houses in the Midwest: there are a lot of big places going for not that much money. I guess people don’t want to heat those big houses anymore, and families are getting smaller, as well. So that works in my favor. We’ll see if I find the perfect place.

      Do you and Jeanne have your retreat place lined up yet, and if so, where is that? I’d like to do a compare and contrast.

  2. As the co-founder of What Cheer Writers Club, a nonprofit community and coworking space for writers in downtown Providence RI, I’ve thought a lot about creating spaces creatives work better in and whether these spaces should include sleeping/apartments or not. The main things we’ve learned so far is that writers require more quiet than we’d expected. We’ve invested in soundproofing walls, special ceiling tiles, white noise machines and separate telephone rooms.

    Writers all want to meet each other and talk intensively more than we expected as well. On one hand they tend to be introverts, strongly preferring ‘nooks’ to open work spaces. On the other hand, when we do have get togethers, they adore talking to each other and get huge value from it.

    Most writers don’t seem to write all day. They have a handful of hours per day (or night) when their writing peaks. Then they use the rest of their time to attend to life/work, etc.

    Lastly, we’ve found that writers tend to do best when they can move through a series of different seating every few hours during the day. Changing up their space seems to help creativity. They’ll move from window seats to bar-height desks, to easy chairs, to vintage wooden desks. Their preferred desk height overall is 31″ which is a bit higher than traditional desks. However there’s no preferred chair – you have to include chairs for several sizes (height and weight) of people in each area.

    Our biggest goal is to create offerings for all writers, not just ones privileged enough to be free from family and/or work obligations that prohibit travel or time off. In this day and age, that privilege is increasingly rare – so offering a residency may not be in the cards, much as the idea appeals. We’re also looking for ways – and eager for discussion about – to help creative writing itself be a sustainable profession, and to aid writers who need business tools and advice. It’s one thing to write great novels, it’s another not to starve while doing it.

  3. I’ve been to several writing retreats. Because I’m a big chunk writer (I write best at home with adequate time to mentally prepare) I’m seldom productive in terms of word count at retreats. However, I’m typically hyper-productive when I get back,so it all works out.

    That said, I just need one more thing besides what you listed–a place to walk. Walking seems to be my most efficient form of preparation for writing.

    Oh, and not just any food, but gluten-free food.

    I can’t wait to see what happens with this!

    • The green house that looks super-spooky in these photos is two blocks from a long, skinny park on Lake Michigan that has many walking trails, and the top photo of the yellow house is about three blocks from a municipal beach and park that I think stretches for quite a bit. Not saying that any of these will make the cut in the long run, but I guess those old sea-faring folk liked to be by the water. 🙂

      Gluten-free food. I guess that’s yogurt and fruit for breakfast?

      And here’s the thing: nothing may come of this. I’m giving myself two years to find the right place. Five years to run it. If I’m lucky, there will be a big enough appeal that I can hand it off to a board or group or someone else to operate after I run out of steam. So we’ll see!

  4. Kay – I love this idea and I think Jilly’s comment has hit the majority of the things I would consider necessary. I’d be flexible on the “my own bathroom” though. Outdoor amenities, like some nice areas to walk round and/or a nice garden area would be a plus, as would someplace easily accessible for those times when a writing-break is needed, whether it’s a nearby town or park or something.

    For a retreat, I’d be looking for spaces where I could write in peace, as well as spaces / the opportunity for interaction with others, whether at meals or for brainstorming or whatnot.

    The two houses you’ve shown with the “small town environment” both appeal to me.

  5. Kind of piggy-backing on what Jilly and Anne said, I’d need
    –My own room (my own bathroom is optional)
    –My own food. I don’t need communal meals (although communal eating time is fine). I already cook for a family, so the idea of not cooking for a bunch of people is incredibly appealing. I’m happy to GFYO (Go For Your Own). Plus, I am big into snacking and I don’t want anyone pillaging my chips. 😉
    –Plenty of spaces to move around and work. I need the variety, as Anne said her writers do.
    –A Keurig (not necessarily my own). I go back and forth between tea and coffee and I’m addicted to Wild Mountain Blueberry, no thanks to Nancy. 😉
    –Lots of pillows. I have a bad back and need them for support.
    –Quiet Hours. Or a Loud Room. Or both. The idea being that between normal sleeping hours (say 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.), everyone will try to be quiet, unless you’re in the Loud Room. This includes being outside. (I know, I’m getting really picky here. I don’t work well at Starbucks LOL)
    –A DND sign on my bedroom door. Just in case I’m napping or working and don’t want to be disturbed.

    So…can you have this ready by May? I’m in. Sign me up.

    BTW, you asked about pricing. I’d pay up to $200/night for something like this. Obviously, less is better, but it’s also what I’d pay for a bungalow in San Diego through AirBnB (I’ve looked).

    I’m excited to hear how this progresses! Something I’m curious about is how you handle everything from a legal/inspection perspective. If you have people coming to stay at the house, then do you need to get clearance from the Health Department to serve food? If everyone brings their own food, then does that absolve you from that? Would you run it like an Airbnb, but for writers? How would you handle changing out sheets, cleaning bathrooms, etc? I assume you don’t want to be a landlady or bnb hostess, so I’m just thinking through the logistics of this. What about additional insurance? ….anyhow, the myriad of questions running through my brain.

    Good luck and do let us know how it goes!

  6. Health department-wise, when I first looked into this idea a few years ago, I was told by the county that for seven bedrooms or fewer, I can serve meals that are cooked in the regular (that is, non-commercial) kitchen without a permit. That would be consistent with a regular B&B , Which two of the houses pictured here already are. I was thinking about offering simple meal plans for those who don’t want to go out or can’t afford to go out for every meal, I plan to have a cleaning lady come once a week or as often as guests turn over for everything, including changing the sheets. I think daily bed make-up will be up to the guest. I don’t think I can make this affordable with daily maid service.

    When I started looking at property in earnest last summer, I talked to some lawyers about licensing and insurance. They told me that when I get closer to a decision that they would advise me further, but they didn’t foresee any potential problems. When I talk to the B&B people next week, I’ll see what they have in place, and I would expect to more or less duplicate that.

    You’re right that there are a lot of questions to answer, and I’m sure I won’t have all the answers or even know all the questions even when I get started. But assuming that I do get a place and get everything going, I plan to invite/create some focus groups from the local RWA chapters. There are two within an hour of my general location, and I think for a free weekend I could get some people up to stay and check it out, and offer suggestions. And of course if I get that far, I’ll ask you to come too, and you can kick the tires and help me figure out improvements.

  7. What a very, very cool idea! I hope you can make it work! I’ve often thought about arts colonies, too — not in the “I want to be the head of one” sense, but the “I’d like to go someday.”
    Answers first.
    1. I haven’t, yet, but my kids are just about out of the house, and I may have time to pursue this dream in the next few years. I’ve enjoyed house parties for three or four days at a time.
    2. I really don’t think I’d mind communal toilets (as long as there were several) and a communal shower — but they’d have to be new and sparkling, and remind me of a college dorm (a room of four showers, next to a room of four toilets in stalls and sinks that were communal). I could be persuaded to take turns cleaning the bathroom over the course of a week or two, but I’ve been living in a Japanese system for a long time, so I don’t know how that would go down for other guests.
    2b. As for rooms . . . I could also go hostel style, possibly, although I’d prefer my own room/bathroom/shower. I would want my own writing booth/carrel/room. Yes, desk, yes, good chair, yes to several electric outlets and also wi-fi. I wouldn’t need a TV, and a radio would be OK for emergencies, but a radio/TV in the common room would be fine. Maybe a fridge in-room for breakfasts and lunches.

    2c. YES to a common room! With comfy chairs and a sofa or two, and carpet that one can lounge on (maybe with blankets?). YES to a common dining room for dinner. A nearby grocery with a deli could provide breakfast and dinner (and a bunch of delivery meal menus), but I think it’s important to dine together with others, and talk over dinner. The dinner could be delivery, I think. If we are doing our own breakfast and lunch, we’re going to need a sink somewhere to do the dishes. Towels, soap. Dishes.

    2d. I would definitely want to have some shopping handy. A supermarket/deli/drugstore would be absolutely necessary. A bus to the mall would also be very nice to have. Quiet and residential sounds nice. If you have a buddy with a van who would make a daily stop at your Retreat with bread, juice, bottled water, sandwiches, snacks and ice cream, it would be fine to do it in the country. (I think.) I would really like some greenery.

    3. I put the money here instead. The more hippy and hostel-y you get, the less you can charge, I think. (Although, service fees can add up — $50 for bunk and use of common areas, no cleaning, $10/day for locked locker? Free TV in commons area, free wi-fi. $25 per night if you are making us clean and take care of the common areas. Otherwise, I think you are competing with the hotels in town. I’d pay a 20 percent premium for the chance to mingle with other creatives, but I’m also going to have to pay extra money to get into your town — planes, buses, taxis.)

    4. You may have to think about parking. Also, non-car alternatives to getting to your Retreat. Will you charter a weekly bus?

    5. You might have a day-program for locals, and a stay-program for out-of-town guests.

    6. Is there any advantage to doing this seasonally? Eight to ten weekly “programs” for spring, same for summer, same for autumn, and then taking the winter off (because transportation and heating are going to be insane).

    7. What support can your Chamber of Commerce offer you? Would local restaurants give your customers food discounts? Movie discounts? Could you provide a venue for live entertainment (where the bands pay you for performing?)? Could the commons room double as a party room for the community on slow weeks?

    8. Ideally, I think I’d like to stay for a week. Anything shorter than two days feels like I wouldn’t get anything done. And, practically speaking, at this point in my life I can only spare a week or two at the outside — I have other relatives I need to visit in the States.

    Have you checked into the Algonquin’s writing program? I think they just offer a discount on their pricey, high-class rooms for writers. No mingling opportunities per se, except with the ghosts of the great writers and wits who used to lunch there.

    • Good thoughts, Michaeline! I’m also focused on not competing with the hotels. So one way to do that is not provide a hotel experience—no concierge, for example, or providing the meal plan. Some others of these thoughts will be addressed once I zero in on the building. Then the location and the building’s strengths and weaknesses will help to decide some of these questions. For example, the rooms might be too small for mini refrigerators. So then that would be out no better how could an idea it is.

      • Yeah, I can see how this is a different thing entirely from a hotel. But still, as a poor writer, I would be looking at something that’s maybe 20 percent more expensive than a decent hotel (not a fleabag hotel, and not the kind that has a dedicated concierge, either).

        You kind of will be a de facto concierge, though — helping your writers find ways to feed themselves, park, find entertainment in town . . . but a lot of this stuff can be written down, especially since your writers should be more literate than the average hotel guest, LOL.

        In fact, this could be a kind of project — give the writers a chance to add to a computer Wiki about ways to get the most of the experience. It’ll be a great service for future writers, AND it’ll be a way to write one’s name in stone. “MICHAELINE DUSKOVA SLEPT HERE. AND ATE CHINESE AT THE CHINESE HUT ON FIFTH AND MAPLE.” (Michaeline Duskova is the award-winning writer of seven collection of short stories, and wrote “The Unicorn in the Attic” while in residence at Kay’s Incredible Writing Retreat.)

        Well, at any rate, I just think it’s important that your writers will need to fulfill at least the base of Maslow’s Pyramid if they hope to attain access to the higher levels of creative thought. Food, evacuation, shelter from the elements and showering.

        Best wishes!

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