• tarahthornburg

Should You Move to Your Dream City to Write?

The Fearless Creative Small

The Fearless Creative podcastIf you’d rather read instead of listen, I’ve included the abridged transcript below. 

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Welcome, welcome, welcome to the show everybody. Today is Sunday as I record this episode. I hope you had a beautiful and safe Fourth of July weekend. I certainly had a nice relaxing four-day weekend, and I got to do all of the traditional things. We barbecued Wednesday evening, drank beer, watched fireworks…It was really nice.

I had a friend visiting from Chicago for the weekend, so that gave me an excuse to play tourist for a few days and try out a fun new brewery. And this friend of mine has lived in Chicago for about six or seven years. She’s wanted to live there since I’ve known her. She moved out there right after college and has lived there ever since. And both times she’s visited me, I have realized what a difference geography makes — what a difference your city makes.

Whether you realize it or not, where you live has a huge impact on everything: what you like to do, how you spend your money, what you wear, the type of food that you eat, how you drive…My Chicago friend Nicole and her boyfriend, for instance, like to brewery hop. That is what they like to do. It’s a hobby. 

Personally, whenever I’m visiting a new city or out and about where I live, all I ever think about is what’s next to eat. And to me, beer is usually just like an add-on or a precursor to a meal. Or if I’m on vacation somewhere, it’s just a good way to punctuate a long day of hiking or exploring. So I had to kind of remember that people actually just seek out new breweries for fun. But it makes sense if you live in a city where there’s nowhere to hike but there is a new brewery that opens up every week.

So if the place you live has such an influence on everything you do — from your relationship with beer to the types of food that you eat — what impact does the place you live have on your art?

I’m presenting today’s topic as a question…a question that I will answer on today’s show: Should you move to another city to make your art? In other words, should you take the risk of uprooting yourself (and possibly your family) to move to another place that you believe will inspire you and help you be a better creator?

This question goes for any creative, whether you are a writer, a visual artist, a musician, an actor, or someone who runs an online business centered around your creativity. And of course, there are many different factors that are going to influence this decision — everything from your day job to the type of art you do… whether you have kids…your individual risk tolerance…and even the specific city that you are thinking of moving to.

I’m going to touch on a few of these factors, and then I’m going to give you my professional opinion. I moved to Colorado back in 2016 — not for my writing specifically — but because living somewhere amazing has always been a priority for me.

I knew from the first time I came to Colorado that I had to live here, and that was almost 10 years ago now. I was going to live here whether I was a writer or whether I worked in advertising. I was delayed by jobs and relationships, but we finally got out here in 2016.

Now I said that I didn’t move here for my writing, and that’s true. But that doesn’t mean that my writing hasn’t been inspired and influenced by the Southwest. In fact, a lot of my work is set in the Southwest.

Setting is really important to me. But when I lived in Missouri, that book series I was working on was set in Missouri. I used the woods and trails where I ran when I lived there to create the setting for that series. When I lived in the middle of Illinois where there is absolutely nothing interesting about the setting, I wrote things that were much more character-driven.

So throughout this episode, there’s one thing I want you to keep in mind: You can make art in any city, no matter where you live. You can also get distracted by life and AVOID making your art no matter where you live. But you might make more art (and possibly better art) if you can fall in LOVE with where you live.

Where you live is going to have an impact on your art, whether you are a writer, a painter, a chef, or a musician. Your surroundings are going to seep into whatever you are doing.

You see it a lot out here with fine art. The galleries in the Southwest are filled with beautiful nature scenes. You see aspens and mountains and red-rock formations…In New Mexico, you can’t walk into a gallery without seeing a painting of an old turquoise pickup truck. The art out here is steeped in the natural aesthetic of our surroundings and things that are distinct to the Southwest.

Musicians will be able to relate to this to…The place you live is going to influence your music because you’re going to be surrounded by a city’s own special mix of different genres and musicians and styles. So a good example of this is the best local band we have out here — Tejon Street Corner Thieves. Here’s how they describe themselves…I’m reading from their website:

The outlaw blues and trash-grass pioneers forged their own brand of whisky roots from the ground up.

Even the language they use to describe their particular branch of bluegrass “outlaw blues” is very evocative of the early days of Colorado with our outlaw history and pioneers. That’s how they describe themselves. It’s part of their identity.

So where you live matters if you are a writer or an artist. You can’t say that it doesn’t. You would make vastly different art if you lived in Southern California for 30 years versus if you lived in Brooklyn for 30 years. There are different cultures, different people, different surroundings, different attitudes, and different artistic influences.

But should you move to make your art?

And the very first question I would ask is whether your dream city is going to in some way facilitate your art in a way that would be impossible in your current situation. So this is a question that is the most obvious for actors and musicians, right? If you want to be in the movie business, you should probably get yourself to LA. This is kind of where my brother is at right now…He’s booked jobs in St Louis, but more than likely he needs to move out to California if he wants to advance his career. Obviously, going where the jobs are is going to facilitate his art.

But the answer to this question gets a little more complicated if you are, say, a visual artist or a chef.

Would you be able to paint more stunning pieces if you lived in a place with great natural beauty? Probably.

Would you get more eyes on your art if it were displayed in a gallery in a major art destination like Taos or Santa Fe? Yes.

But the competition is also going to be fiercer in a place like that where everyone paints. 

Same goes for someone who wants to open their own restaurant. You may have a bigger customer base for your restaurant in a larger city, but your overhead is also going to be more, your labor costs are going to be more, and again the competition will be fierce.

So I think you really have to sit with this question to decide whether moving would truly help you create more art or create better art.

The second consideration is your personal finances. I know — nobody likes to talk about money in relation to living their dream, but it’s important. Are you going to have the time and space to make your art if you are living in the most expensive city in the world? Would moving to New York mean that you have to work two jobs? How is that going to interfere with your ability to make your art?

Let me give you an example: I have a cousin who has just the most tremendous singing voice. I know everyone knows someone who’s a wonderful singer, but I’m telling you, this is a person who is truly, truly talented. He went to school to become a stage actor — on Broadway — and after college, he moved to New York to pursue acting.

Now I saw him a few years ago at a funeral, where he sang. He still has the most tremendous singing voice, but I was disappointed to hear that he wasn’t acting or singing. He had a very successful career in advertising. He was a real-life Mad Man. I don’t know all the details, so I won’t pretend to be intimately familiar with his situation, but it appeared to me that living where he lived had not facilitated his art in the way that he’d hoped.

If this story is bumming you out, that was not my intention. There is a workaround for this, or there can be if you are willing to compromise. It’s possible that you CAN move to a place that is very similar to your dream city that is more affordable.

This is actually how we ended up in Colorado Springs. My husband and I wanted to buy a house — Ben was actually my boyfriend at the time — and we were looking to move to Colorado. We wanted the city experience, so we were looking at Denver and Boulder when we started. But we couldn’t afford a house in Denver or Boulder, and I wanted to get away from renting. So we decided to move to Colorado Springs instead.

And this turned out to be a great decision. Denver is so crowded, and it’s growing at a ridiculous and unsustainable pace. I don’t even like going to Denver, and it’s like 70 miles away. 

So if there’s a city that you really want to move to but is really expensive, ask yourself why you want to go to that particular city and if there’s another city that would serve those needs that are less expensive.

I also think it really helps to know people who live in the area, because they will be able to advise you on where you could live within or just outside your dream city that is safe, more affordable, and a nice place to live.

Another thing you need to consider is how this move could impact your family. Obviously, it’s much more challenging to uproot your life if you have a spouse and children. You likely have to consider the other person’s job, how relocating would impact your kids’ schools…

But I’d encourage you not just to think of these changes in terms of the negative impact it could have on your family. Think about how moving somewhere new could actually have a positive impact by bringing your family closer and give your family members new opportunities and amazing new experiences. 

Moving can give your family new opportunities with work and school, but don’t underestimate how great some of those lifestyle opportunities can be.

When we were thinking of moving out to Colorado, a big part of our joint decision to move was that Ben loves the outdoors. He lived in Arizona for years, he loves the mountains, and he was eager to get back out to the Southwest. We were also both self-employed, so it was a pretty obvious choice for us. There was no reason he couldn’t earn his livelihood out here just as easily as he could back in Missouri.

And I think this is true of a lot of people — not just self-employed people. It gets harder the longer you stay in a single job, but most people have skills and experience that are highly transferable to other markets. And usually changing jobs is how people level up in terms of their responsibilities and income. Switching jobs is a hassle — and it’s scary — but it’s doable. 

Think of what other lifestyle benefits might offset some of the hassle and stress to make moving worth it in the long run. Think of how your family might be healthier if they lived somewhere close to nature or if they lived in a city where they could walk everywhere instead of driving. Think of how you could shorten your commute or enjoy the nightlife or the wildlife.

As I mentioned, my friend Nicole who visited me came from Chicago, and she told me once that what she loved about the city was that she was never alone. There were always people awake. If she was up in the middle of the night, she knew that there was always someone who was also up at that time.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, Ben and I were seriously considering buying a house in the middle of nowhere in New Mexico that didn’t even have a real road because when we got out there, it was the loudest silence I had ever heard. There was no traffic noise. There were no planes flying over. You just heard absolutely nothing.

So don’t discount those other lifestyle factors when you are considering relocating to another place for your creative pursuits.

Finally, you have to consider the value of having a love affair with the place where you live. And this is something that I’ve understood since I was a teenager. I think I became aware that there were certain towns and cities that gave me a really good feeling. 

This sense of place has only become more important and more pronounced for me since I’ve gotten older. I usually fall in love with little towns like Buena Vista, Colorado or Taos, New Mexico because they have a specific vibe. Nicole and I were talking about how nice it is to be in a tourist town because everyone is on vacation. Those places always going to be more relaxed than a place where it’s business as usual all the time.

You should never discount the value of your own personal happiness.

It’s true that wherever you go there you are, but there is a special kind of joy in life that comes from living in paradise. And paradise means different things to different people. Paradise to me is dry, dry heat, cacti, and mountain views. Paradise to other people is a tropical beach with ocean views or a cityscape. 

And, in my view, life is short. If there is a place that you’re dying to move to, just make it happen. Who cares if it’s impractical? If it matters to you that much, just do it. Give yourself permission to take a risk and do something just for the fun of it.

Being in love with where you live will serve your art, but you have to continue to do the work. You can’t move to Colorado and become a ski bum or move to New York and get caught up in the hustle and bustle and stop going on auditions. You have to continue making your art and let your love affair with your city soak into what you make.

That’s all I have for you today…If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe and leave a written review. Reviews help new listeners discover the podcast, and they really help me.

As always, you can get in touch with me on Instagram @writewithtarah and on the web at www.writewithtarah.com. You’ll find a transcript of today’s show, a new blog post every Wednesday, and my free course for aspiring authors, “Stop Procrastinating and Write the Damn Book.”

I’ll see you next time, and happy creating!

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