Occasionally a young writer will come to me for guidance. They want to know of the writer’s life. I listen to their questions, then tent my fingers thoughtfully beneath my chin. “The life of a writer requires brutal discipline and mental endurance,” I say. I tell them the path is not easy. That they must make friends with pain. Then I wait for them to leave, and resume clicking through a slideshow of Tom Arnold’s home.
But writing really is a vicious mental game, and it takes constant self-bribery. Sometimes, when I’m up against a deadline and need to get pages out, I’ll go on one of my trusty Hotel Writing Retreats. I just published my first book, and wrote a bunch of it this way, so I can assure you the method works. All it takes is a willingness to burn through some cash and gain five pounds in five days.
Now, it’s true that you don’t need to go to a fancy hotel to write. It’s just that it’s fun, we’re all going to die, and I’m fine with my unborn kids not going to college—so what the hell!
If you’re looking for a charming hotel within an easy drive of New York, and you’re not too attached to the idea of “value,” then let me introduce you to one of my go-to writing retreats: the Mayflower.
I love the Mayflower! It’s a former boys’ school in Connecticut that ex–Treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin’s dad bought in the 90s and turned into a luxury inn. And you don’t even have to feel bad about the Mnuchin part, because Steve’s dad is apparently as perplexed by his son as we all are. Still, father and son obviously share a passion for the finer things. On the drive up to the Mayflower, I recommend holding a $50 bill out the window and letting it flutter away into the wind. That’ll break you in for what lies ahead!
My trick is to go midweek, because it’s cheaper and there are fewer guests to piss off when I take over the library. This library is one of the world’s most perfect writing rooms. It’s teeny—almost like a dollhouse—and has a fireplace, a lot of polished wood, several busts of Shakespeare, and a little oil painting of a shell. They’ll let you order dinner in there, too. I did that once, and as I sat in that library in that big Connecticut house with my mocktail and my lobster bisque, I felt so evil that my hand just kept instinctively reaching out for a rotary phone to put a hit out on my husband.
The Soniat House
New Orleans might not scream, “Let’s meet that deadline!,” but I love doing writing retreats there—mainly because the food rewards are second to none. I feel extra motivated when I know I have a great lunch to look forward to, and in NOLA no one bats an eye when you order a fried-catfish po’boy, hush puppies, key-lime pie, and a sweet tea. Normally to get that meal you have to kill six white girls in a death-penalty state.
The Soniat House is a quiet haven in the madness of the Quarter. I like the suite in the attic, because it has a great living room with a skylight. But the best part about this place is that, when you stay here, you also get access to the New Orleans Athletic Club.
The New Orleans Athletic Club is a gym, but really it’s so much more. There’s a lot of chandeliers, and complicated machines with leather straps that seem to be geared toward physical therapy for polio. Striding across its parquet floors, I feel like a fit and hearty lass, ready to crack the whip on my monkey mind and make my fortune. Plus, like the Mayflower, they also have this library that’s great for writing. God bless Michael Stipe for recommending this place to me. I don’t know Michael personally, but he talked about it on Goop, a Web site that is magically printed out and slipped under every thirtysomething white woman’s door each morning.
I always find it inspiring to know that successful writers have stayed in a hotel before me. Oscar Hammerstein wrote the lyrics for The Sound of Music here. Noël Coward used to come as well, as did Ian Fleming. J.F.K. wrote his inaugural address by the pool while Jackie slalom-skied around the bay! How’s that for inspiring? I actually tried channeling J.F.K. the last time I was writing there, but all that happened was my back started to hurt and I got a sudden urge to deflower an intern.
I can assure you the method works. All it takes is a willingness to burn through some cash and gain five pounds in five days.
It might shock you to hear this, but Round Hill has a gorgeous little library that is made for writing. The only problem is it’s so charming that people keep ducking their heads in and murmuring about how charming it is. So between people ducking in and murmuring about how charming it is and you looking up every few minutes yourself and thinking how charming it is, it’s actually kind of distracting. This brings me to the tree frogs.
When you’re at Round Hill, it’s very important to get your writing done during daylight hours. This is because as soon as dusk falls, every tree frog in the world meets up here and begins to shriek. It’s actually pretty cool when you first notice it, like a fun reminder that you’re in paradise. But by the time you’re ready to turn in, you’re like, “Someone needs to go out there and kill those frogs.”
Nighttime shrieking aside, though, I’ll never turn my back on Round Hill, because their staff understands me on a deep, soul level. I know this because every afternoon they put out a big samovar of hot tea with trays of sandwiches and scones and stand far away.
It occurs to me now that, over the years, I may have wildly overspent for the simple convenience of having access to hot beverages. But, honestly, how am I going find time to heat up all that water? I’ve got writing to do.
Jen Spyra is a former writer for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and the author of Big Time