4×4 Sources of Writing Inspiration: Populated Places

Playing House

Joanna has a new group writing project for her monthly theme of ‘inspiration’. Here are her rules:

  • Share 4 lots of 4 things on the theme of writing and inspiration
  • You don’t need to follow these headings: there are zillions of possibilities (4 blogs, 4 books, 4 authors, 4 people, 4 teachers, 4 pieces of music, 4 paintings and so on)
  • But please stick to the format of 4 x 4 and the theme of writing and inspiration
  • Post your contribution by 28th March (midnight, your time)
  • Let me know you’ve written your piece, by linking to this post, leaving a comment on the post, or contacting me

So, always up for a challenge, I’ve decided to give it a go, although, perhaps predictably, I’ve decided to bend the rules slightly. Instead of giving you my 4×4 in one post, I’ve decided to space them out over a series of 4 posts. I’ve also decided that all my sources of writing inspiration will be related to place. As you may have noticed from the posts here at Lives Less Ordinary, I’m often inspired by the locations that I find myself, whether these are geographic (both populated and unpopulated), virtual or imaginary. In each of the 4 posts, I’m going to focus on a different type of place, and explore why I find them so inspiring, and why I think you might find them inspiring too.

So, today’s post is on ‘populated places’. People are fascinating creatures, are they not? Especially en masse. I don’t know about you, but I love to people watch. I like to imagine their conversations, their histories, their futures, their relationships. Here are 4 of the places for optimum people watching:

  • Cafes – Now, I know I’m not the only one who finds inspiration in cafes. Joanna actually has a wonderful voice thread about writing in cafes, which I really recommend you check out. What I like about cafes (apart from the coffee and muffins), is that it’s the perfect place to sit back and watch the interactions of the other customers, as well as the passersby, if you happen to be lucky enough to get a window seat. John Betjeman knew about cafe inspiration too.

      In A Bath Teashop
      ‘Let us not speak, for the love we bear one another –
      Let us hold hands and look.’
      She, such a very ordinary little woman;
      He, such a thumping crook;
      But both, for a moment, little lower than the angels
      In the teashop’s ingle-nook.
      by Sir John Betjeman

      1. Public Transport – I don’t know why it is, but whenever I’m on the bus, which is often, the other travelers can be heard sharing ridiculously intimate secrets either while talking loudly on their mobile phones, or to their fellow passenger/confidant. Out of politeness you try and ignore them, but after a while, you can’t help but listen in. You have no idea about the characters involved, and you have no context in which to place them, but nevertheless, their narratives are fascinating. If you don’t believe me, read some overheard conversations here. They’re not all overheard on buses, but I don’t find it in the least surprising that the majority are overheard on public transport.
        1. Airports – Do you remember the opening scenes of Love Actually, where the Hugh Grant character provides the voice-over explaining why he loves the arrivals gate at Heathrow ? Here’s a reminder:

              I find the arrivals gates at airports incredibly emotionally charged places; all that anticipation as folk stand around waiting for their much missed loved ones to negotiate their way through customs, and finally exit through the sliding doors, pushing their overloaded trolley, expectantly glancing around for a familiar face amongst the crowd. Stories abound in places like this. If you don’t find inspiration at a busy airport, you’re just not trying!

              1. Waiting Rooms – Unlike public transport, people in waiting rooms often sit in silence. Consequently, you need to rely on your observational skills to find your inspiration. Focus on the details: body language, dress, facial expression, whether they are waiting solo or with someone. Flannery O’Connor offers this wonderful character study set in a waiting room:

                  ‘The doctor’s waiting room, which was very small, was almost full when the Turpins entered and Mrs Turpin, who was very large, made it look even smaller by her presence. She stood looming at the head of the magazine table set in the center of it, a living demonstration that the room was inadequate and ridiculous. Her little bright black eyes took in all the patients as she sized up the seating situation. There was one vacant chair and a place on a sofa occupied by a blond child in a dirty blue romper who should have been told to move and make room for the lady. He was slumped down in the seat, his arms idle at his sides and his eyes idle in his head; his nose ran unchecked.’
                  Flannery O’Connor – ‘Revelation’

                    Waiting rooms are great places to hone your skills for building up characters, and it can offer some much needed distraction to help the time pass faster while you wait!

                    Ok, those are my four populated places which provide me with inspiration – What are yours? Do you find you’re itching to pick up your notebook and pen while waiting in the queue at the supermarket? Or do you find a crowded beach affords you with plenty of material to get started on your next writing venture?  Oh, and make sure you come back tomorrow, when I’ll be focusing on unpopulated places!

                  1. Advertisements

                    March 19, 2008. Inspiration.


                    1. mrschili replied:

                      Oooh! I LIKE this idea. I’m going to play, too – and I’m going to follow YOUR rules. I’ll come back and let you know when I’ve posted.

                      As for me, I like people watching in shopping malls and coffee shops. I’m rarely IN these places, mind you, but when I am, my creativity is in overdrive. What’s in that lady’s bag? What’s got that couple so upset that they’re not even looking at each other over their food-court lunches? How does that snippet of conversation – overheard on the way in the door and a bit on the way out – end?

                      I’m going to be spending some time in airports in a few weeks – I’m going to be paying special attention!

                      SUCH fun!

                    2. Joanna Young replied:

                      Amy, this is fabulous, thank you for putting so much thought and research into it.

                      I’m with you totally on cafes, public transport and airport lounges. Particularly the last, sometimes the emotions there are so intense it’s almost unbearable to watch – the pain of departure, sweet arrival, watching people arrive and cling to each other in grief, a mother frantically searching for her children.. and so it goes on.

                      I can’t wait to see where you go with this next!


                    3. 4×4 Sources of Writing Inspiration: Unpopulated Places « Lives Less Ordinary replied:

                      […] on from yesterday’s post concerning the populated places in which I find writing inspiration, this post addresses the unpopulated places that get my […]

                    4. captainstardust replied:

                      i hadn’t realised this before — but i am NOT a people-watcher! not in general, anyway… i hadn’t noticed half so much watching the people around me. except on public transport, which was always a boon for amusement. unfortunately we don’t HAVE public transport here in my little town!

                    5. Penelope Anne replied:

                      The opening of Love Actually really struck with me also…
                      For me, let’s see:
                      1. The library
                      2. Church
                      3. The park
                      4. Bus stop

                    6. Autumn Song replied:

                      I love people-watching! Trains, I think, are particulary good places. I suppose they are better than buses in some ways because there is more movement of people on trains, walking up and down, and not all of the seats face the same way. And on longer journeys, people tend to talk more / reveal more about themselves. I posted some people-watching on a train relatively recently at Falling Leaves.


                      I think you’re right though, people say less in waiting rooms. maybe time passes differently when you’re in the same place rather than between destinations?

                    7. amypalko replied:

                      Do you know, Mrschili, I very nearly included the supermarket! Oh, do join in 🙂 If you do decide to, let Joanna know and that way you’ll be included in the round up post and you’ll be entered in for the prize.

                      Airports have to be one of the most emotional places in our society, are they not, Joanna? Glad you like what I’m doing with the writing project 🙂

                      After this post, Captain Stardust, maybe you’ll notice more the next time you’re out and about! If you do, make sure you come back and let me know.

                      What great populated places, Penelope Anne!

                      I am always amazed at the kind of information divulged on public transport, Autumn Song. People can be so indiscrete!

                    8. Nenette replied:

                      I’m one of the ‘cafe people’! I love people watching. I also find that I’m not the only writer there, and you can almost feel the air crackling with creativity. Puts me in the writing mood almost instantly!

                    9. 4×4 Sources of Writing Inspiration: Imaginary Places « Lives Less Ordinary replied:

                      […] the 4th and final post in a series of sources of writing inspiration (the other posts being about populated places, unpopulated places and virtual places) as a contribution to a writing project being run by Joanna […]

                    10. amypalko replied:

                      I love that! – ‘the air crackling with creativity’. It’s so true, Nenette, that cafes are wonderfully creative places filled with people following their own lines of thought, chasing their own inspiration, and yet I’d never heard it articulated like that before. Thank you!

                    11. Nicholas replied:

                      I write in cafes a lot. My fave one closed down a few months ago and that had a deleterious effect on my writing output, but I have since found other places to go. I am about to go to one now for a couple of hours and a few hundred words.

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