Where to Find Inspiration When You Need It

Two weeks ago, when I rather flippantly said that I was going to Chicago to revive my creativity, I was surprised at some of the responses I got. There were those who thought Chicago was an odd place for me to find writing inspiration. 

I beg to differ. Inspiration abounds in the city. At least, it does for me.

So, let me back up a bit. Hello, I’m Kathleen, and I’m wild about cities. I make the occasional trek into the great outdoors, like gardening and even write poetry about it, but my heart’s  home has always been an urban area. I seek out bigger urban areas for the multitude of offerings there, for the human diversity, the always-on schedules, the option of eating dinner at 9 p.m. without worrying that the kitchen will close soon. I love the snippets of conversation that can be heard at a bus stop, in the market, on a train. I love Chicago for the possibility of stumbling on an outdoor concert in Grant Park on a hot Sunday evening in July or bumping into a film crew shooting on location (which we did – the next Transformers movie is being filmed on location in Chicago this summer). I love to watch little kids splash in the water from Crown Fountain, their shoes lined up along the low wall off to the side, their parents indulgent about this one summer thing that is fairly harmless. I love the moment when dusk becomes noticeable and street lights click on to illuminate a hot summer evening. And I love sitting at an outdoor cafe, a drink in front of me, people going by in all directions. This is inspiration. This makes me think about possibility, about creativity, about how we all interact and what gets our attention. To go out my front door and find all this makes me happy.

My muse, if I have one, is not quiet. She is not particularly sedate. Sometimes, she languishes in the garden, tired and in need of her own break. Sometimes she needs to hear the wind move through some desolate place without human presence. But, often, she needs to be among as many people as she can find and celebrate as many of their works as she can take in.

There are times, certainly, when a writer must be quiet. During revision is one of mine. When I’m critiquing someone else’s work is another. But when I’m generating something new, like this column,  I listen to Rancid and sit at the kitchen counter.  Then I go run errands while I think about what needs to be fixed in that first draft or whether it’s even a viable piece of writing.

Everybody has their quirks.

So, yes, Chicago was a perfect place for me to rejuvenate, to fill my well, as Artist’s Way author Julia Cameron might put it. Here’s another little quirk of mine: in a city that offers internet access everywhere, I chose to leave my computer at home. I did not check email or Facebook or LinkedIn. I did not even use Google Maps. I wanted the uncertainty that wandering around without an agenda or connections offers. I showed up in Chicago with my daughter and we said, let’s see what happens.

We were not disappointed.


This week was incredibly sad in my neighborhood. A 12-year-old boy was accidentally killed in a park down the street on Sunday when a large rock he and a friend launched with a home-made slingshot hit him in the chest.  I have been thinking about what it is to lose a child ever since. How do we support someone going through that kind of grief? Here are some links I dug up.

AAMFT Consumer Update Grieving the Loss of A Child

Pass this one to anyone who can use it.


  1. I think I [unwillingly] agree with you! I am a country girl; I would like nothing better than to be out in the middle of nowhere, disconnected from all technology and loud, unfamiliar people. But the truth is, some of my worst writing comes from settings like this. I love exploring, hiking, just sitting and taking in the landscapes, but it all rarely inspires my muse. My best stuff comes from the noise and bustling of places like the city. It's hard to admit, but true nonetheless. I currently live in the far west Chicago suburbs, right on the edge of nothingness but still with decent access to the city. I guess for now, it's the best of both worlds.


  2. Inspiration is where you find it. Sometimes it is in my mountains, other times it's the hustle and bustle of the city. You can straightjacket yourself into only being able to create in a certain setting if you let yourself. I think that would be counterproductive. I've written some of my best stuff in snatches at work in between clients. Sometimes the great, unbroken swathes of nothingness are intimidating, rather than inspiring. The hum of a city can jazz the muse into interesting feats of creativity.

    Hope yours is recharged and ready to rock and roll. 🙂


  3. Hey Constance – “great, broken swathes of nothingness” is my favorite line here! And yes, absolutely, it's necessary to explore all kinds of environments in which to do creative work. You just never know what will grab you by the throat.


  4. Kathleen – I may be one of those people who thought a summer vacation to a throbbing metropolis couldn't be relaxing. I prefer the Caribe for relaxation, calm, sedate and far away. Not that I dislike cities, I don't. I'm a Bronx boy and Ispend a great deal of time in Manhattan. So, getting away takes on a different meaning for me.

    Having said that, I'll add that cities are fabulous places for a writer to find characters. Cities are loaded with them, bartenders, street corner cops, pretzel salemen and (my all time favorites) CAB DRIVERS! I love cab drivers! I'm going to start writing down my favorite cabbie stories.

    Glad tou had a great time, john (welcome back)


  5. It must be the dog days of August … your blog postings today have my mind wandering all over the place. We should all just meet up at Deux Magots, one of Hemingway's Paris cafes, drink coffee, scribble in a journal and people-watch … doesn't look good to get much work done today.


  6. Hey John – thanks for the welcome back! The Bronx and Manhattan, huh? I celebrated my birthday in Manhattan last year in August – that was sticky. But totally worth it. Our cabbies were kind of quiet, but maybe that's because there were four of us traveling together blabbing about everything. Go for that cabbie story collection. I'll be an early reader if you need one.


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