If you build it, they will come: building a field of dreams that flourishes

I spent the last few days driving around France looking at chateaux and castles for sale. I rarely have that much time for reflection and introspection. It may have been due to the dismal weather or the fact that the French landscape is totally dead in March, but I find myself dealing with disappointment and doubt.

The properties I came here to see aren’t as impressive as I thought; and the dream of buying a castle to use as a writer’s retreat is seeming less and less like a good idea.

#dreamhouse

If the property is remote, it means we’ll need to drive down the windy roads to the nearest town or train station to pick up guests – often an hour or more each way. The same with buying groceries or supplies. True, I had wanted something surrounded by nature and a little removed from civilization, but I don’t want to spend my life driving around. I want to stay home in my castle and write books.

Chateau Marzac, France

But then, who will do the chores? Cook? Garden? Other writers aren’t going to want to do that stuff either. I can open it up to guests who want to work in exchange for the luxury of living in a castle, but that’s more people I need to pick up and drop off.

#savetheprincess #castle #medieval #dreamhouse

I’ve been thinking a lot about Kevin Costner’s Field of Dreams, a movie I haven’t seen in a long time and may be mis-remembering. But it seems to me a farmer destroys his reputation, business and relationships in order to build a ludicrous baseball field way out in the middle of nowhere, because a voice told him to.

If you build it, they will come.

And they do come: ghosts of baseball players of the past materialize and play ball. He and his son watch, but (I think) not everybody can see them. The lesson of the movie is: believe in crazy things. If you believe hard enough, you will see the reward, even if other people don’t.

field of dreams

 

“Success” in those projects is usually achieved when the project is realized. But then… life continues. Will he watch the baseball players play ball everyday? Who will farm? How will he make money to support his family?

One of the main messages of Creativindie is to focus on providing value that other people want, and not merely chase after unrealistic dreams or your heart’s passion. It isn’t that hard to “achieve” your dream: opening a yoga studio, publishing a book, getting a gallery exhibition. And if you do it right, you can control visibility with you online presence and content, and make enough money to grow bigger and bigger. But it’s always a struggle. You don’t just retire (well, that depends on the kind of business you’re building… there are ways to make a lot of money quickly, or at least enough money on autopilot once you set everything up).

In my case, there are horror stories of people buying a $1 million dollar chateau and spending $30 million to fix it up. There’s even a tragic story of a husband and wife getting so stressed out about their fix-me-up chateau that he finally snapped, killed her and put her body behind a wall.

Also, there’s this worrying forecast on astro.com (I don’t believe in astrology religiously but find it helpful, and often very fitting when I’m facing challenges):

Neptune opposition Jupiter: Overconfidence

End of April 2015 until mid-February 2017: Inflated expectations, excessive and impractical idealism and sudden disappointments are among the dangers of this period, if you do not make a concerted effort to keep your feet on the ground. This influence makes you feel that nothing can defeat you. You feel tremendously lucky and are inclined to take foolish risks that you wouldn’t normally take, especially financial risks. But any form of speculation or gambling is extremely risky under this influence and should be avoided altogether. By the same token you should be careful that this foolish overconfidence does not make you overlook factors in your job or home life, for example, that could trip you up and cause serious problems. But be particularly careful not to overextend yourself financially. This influence arouses your intrinsic idealism. The limitations of the real world may seem very difficult to bear, because you so badly want the world to be better. This influence stimulates and arouses your compassion for others. You want to help people out and share whatever good fortune you have. But make sure that the people you are assisting will get some real benefit from your efforts. You are very likely to be preyed on by “leaches,” people who take advantage of your generosity but who gain nothing from the experience.

Common inspirational quotes would challenge me to “persevere” and overcome opposition, no matter how unrealistic success may seem, but with all these warning signs, I’d be a fool not to question my plans. Even though I think I could raise $1million on Kickstarter and buy a castle, the castles I could buy at that price would need fixing, plus taxes, plus transportation costs, furnishing, living expenses, and feeding all the guests (25 a month for several years).

And even if it all went smoothly, I would spend those years running around managing the program and helping the guests – many of whom, it seems likely, may be frustrating to deal with (not to mention live with!).

I’m planning to stop client work soon to focus on my writing, but an endeavor this large or challenging wouldn’t leave me much free time. It seems far better to just find an amazing apartment in the most beautiful place in the world (wherever that may be) and focus on my own books, until I make a $1 million of my own – and if I can do that, why would I want to invite other authors who need help to come live with me and share in my success?

But I’m not giving up

It’s healthy to have doubts and take reasonable precautions. Mostly, I think I haven’t yet found the perfect property; also, the properties that I really want are closer to $5million, which seems daunting. But that’s still only 1000 people paying $5000 to live for a month in a castle. If my platform is large enough, and the castle is amazing enough, this shouldn’t be inconceivable to pull off successfully.

And it’s still a good idea: a coworking space and writing retreat focused on creativity and productivity, in a medieval castle, surrounded by nature – a sort of summer camp for adults who want to achieve big goals and need a little personal help sorting out the details and building their online presence.

But I may focus on my own businesses for the next year or two, prove that I can make $10,000 a month in Kindle sales, build courses and resources, and continue building support, before I pull the trigger.

Unless I find the perfect castle, in which castle I may just roll the dice and see what happens.

Basic principles of business

What it’s easy to forget is, no matter what you’re doing, you need to solve a marketplace problem. You need to produce something people want. Maybe they want to live in a castle – but will they pay for it? Unless if it’s solving a pressing need. Only if it helps them achieve their goals or alleviates some of the common human frustrations. And of course, you always need to find a way to make more money than you spend.

THEN you need to automate, scale, build processes, and remove yourself from the enterprise to actually enjoy any of it. You can’t just build something because you think it’s a great idea and expect support or interest – and even if you have a ton of interest, you can’t assume that will translate into profit.

What do think about all this? Do you believe the universe is telling me to slow down, or challenging me to push forward?

About Derek Murphy

I help authors and artists turn their passions into full-time businesses, make a bigger impact, and blaze a luminous trail of creative independence. Right now I'm in Taiwan finishing a PHD in Literature, writing several books, and managing a handful of online businesses. Find me
  • mtr amg

    I love watching shows like Grand Designs where people
    rebuild ruins and build their dream homes. When they do it on a shoestring
    budget, it takes an awful lot of their time. And that’s what is valuable to you now. I’ve also seen projects where
    it sucked up as much money as they could put into it.

    But I do remember one where it was in a tiny French village
    and the house had been a ruin since WWII. And this retired English couple
    rebuilt it, and the community loved them for it. They didn’t even speak enough
    French to know that. Kevin McCloud, the presenter is fluent in French. They ran
    it as a bed and breakfast.

    Castles, just because of their size, come with big parcels
    of land and that also makes them pretty expensive. There are very good reasons
    why castles needed a number of staff to run well. You could employ a manager
    who would drive, look after the minor repairs, and collect guests; a
    housekeeper to shop (or manage deliveries) prepare meals and clean rooms; and
    you’d need a gardener for outside stuff, mowing lawns, growing vegetables and
    so on. You’d also need a guest manager to talk to residents if you want to
    write. All of that is going to cost money.

    But if people have come to write they don’t want the roof to
    leak, or owls to nest in the ceiling. And if you want to write, you don’t want
    to spend all your time dealing with guests and groceries.

    What about… if there is an existing large country house or
    estate that wants to branch out into some extra business? It would already have
    all of that in hand. A writer’s retreat is different to a standard B&B. You’d
    certainly know how to help them set up a website and market it.

    But… it wouldn’t be a castle and it wouldn’t belong to you.

    And that’s really the dream, right?

    I’d say, keep looking, keep dreaming and save your pennies. You
    still have a lot of time. And thank goodness you don’t have to actually build a
    castle, ‘coz that would cost a fortune!

    • The big issue is this: it would be easy to buy something small and nice and fix it up, and run it as a business, but why would I? I don’t need to share it. I don’t need crowdfunding. A castle is a visual symbol other people can get excited about, the bigger the castle, the more shares and media it will attract, so the easier it will be to fund. Also, even if it operated at a loss or was very difficult to run for several years, it would be an enormous bump for my platform, which I could use to boost my other businesses and income. Instead of just a digital nomad or book cover designer, I’d be the guy who raised millions on Kickstarter to buy a freaking castle – that’s the valuable part. I’d also get to enjoy the perks of living in a castle. The other part is, it’s intimidating to think of doing this all myself, but that’s why I need a BIGGER castle; so I can invite more people, and more staff, and set up processes and delegate tasks, so that much of the daily operation could run without me. So if I do it, I’m going to do it big, with one of the 5 million dollar properties…. (one of those even has a vineyard, so it could become profitable and self-sustaining in a couple years once we start producing.) But in that case, I still need to build my own platform more, and also generate a lot of income and savings, to mitigate risk.

      • mtr amg

        okay… so it HAS to be a castle. And I agree with your reasoning on press and free marketing.
        And you could have levels of the Kickstarter that allowed people to contribute even a small amount, and then they’d feel like they helped. I know I was strapped for cash when the Veronica Mars kickstarter happened but I could give a small amount and get a pdf of the script on release day. You could offer a tour or a cup of coffee if they ever visited, or something.
        Land that produces something pays for itself. Wine takes a while to age, but boutique beers are all the rage right now. Or organic food…
        *thinking*… VR tours… celebrity chef restaurant… ‘sell’ the castle to use in a fantasy game… I know when I was writing a fantasy story, my heroine had to push a guy off the roof, and I tried to research how tall the ramparts are, is there even a flat area on the roof for them to stand on, etcetera. I needed to see a castle, but there aren’t any in Australia.
        I can see it now… Derek Murphy… castle guy.

  • I would pay heed to that astrology forecast! And while I think your idea is noble and creative, I still find it incredibly impractical for all the reasons mentioned. I think you might have better luck owning your own castle where YOU live and then buying a smaller chateau closer to town where your retreat is a business. And then you can shuttle people up to your castle one night of their stay for a grand banquet of types. A time to eat, laugh, and get to know one another, and then they all go back to the chateau where staff takes care of them. Lol.

  • Or, you could rent out a castle/property short term for a writer’s retreat, rather than buying it outright. You’d still get the benefits of spending time in that environment, without the hassle of maintenance and other expenses.

  • Suzie

    Why are you not looking for a castle in England? We have tons of them, and England isn’t that big that you’d spend hours getting to the station to pick people up. Plus it’s nearer to USA than France, and we all speak the same language!!

    • I have been looking; a lot of the English castles have been entirely redone and modernized and I don’t like the contemporary look. I’ve seen a couple reasonably decent ones for 1.5million pounds or so, but nothing really amazing. France has some untouched buildings… plus more moated chateaus with landscaped gardens, and more fancy architectural elements. However, after having driven through France, I’m not sure I’d really want to live there. I’m considering all options, anywhere… feel free to suggest some if you see any!

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