As a resident of Chicago for most of my life (besides my four-year haze in Bloomington, IN,) I tend to walk or ride my bike along the long paths and streets filled with honking cars to find the best things to do in Chicago for writers and other creatives. I’ve always thought of Chicago as a creative town, since just about every comedian you see on TV has lived in Wrigleyville and taken the L to Second City, because Old Town is too expensive.
This is part of my Creativity City Series, a series of blog posts that outline the best places, events and coffee shops for writers and artists to expand on their learning possibilities. I’ll partner with artists from other cities and hopefully give you some interesting new places to visit in your towns. Since I live in the Windy City, I don’t need any help here, so let’s take a look at the best things to do in Chicago for writers and other creatives.
Things to Do in Chicago for Writers
The Chicago Writers Conference
It would be silly not to include the Chicago Writers Conference on the top of this list, because it’s the epitome of the Chicago writing scene. The October conference is ideal for those who want to meet up with agents, publishers and other writers to showcase their work. It’s also cool because the conference hosts events throughout the entire year, most of which entail fun readings or lectures to meet other people.
Visit the Chicago Writers Conference Website
If you write, you’ve no doubt heard of National Novel Writing Month, but have you ever went to one of the local gatherings? They are great for listening to pump-up speeches and finding a few people to get on your team to swap notes with. I’ve found that these meetings aren’t always the best for getting feedback, but some of them are nice for motivation and others just force you to sit down and write.
Take a Self-Guided Book Lover’s Tour of Chicago
How come you don’t hear about Chicago being a hub for writing as much as other cities like New York? The truth is, Chicago pumps out tons of great writers, from Ernest Hemingway to Harriet Monroe. If you love books, and literature in general, this read brings you on a self-guided tour throughout the city’s literary monuments. The book is called Literary Chicago: A Book Lover’s Tour of the Windy City, and it’s perfect for learning about great writers who incorporate Chicago into their books or call(ed) the city home.
Write in the Coolest Coffee Shops
Writers use coffee shops as offices, but Starbucks just doesn’t fly. You need local art on the walls, a single barista running around making the perfect frappuccino and just enough people to create a constant hum. There are plenty of quaint coffee shops to make writers and all creatives comfortable, but Metropolis is great place to start.
Coronas in Wrigley was a favorite when I lived in the area. If you stop by don’t forget to try their focaccia. I’ve heard some good things about Eva’s Cafe, and Gaslight Coffee Roasters on Milwaukee gives you that hipster feel in Wicker Park. Bad Wolf Coffee is another favorite, but let me know in the comments if you have any coffee shops that must be visited in Chicago.
I hate endorsing chains, but if you’re looking for a late night writing spot, the Starbucks on North and Wells is open for 24 hours.
Read in the Quirkiest Book Shops
I read most of my books on a Kindle, but visiting a local book shop helps me remember why I started writing. The musty smell and the chance to admire striking cover art is enough for me to return to book shops like Quimby’s.
The Seminary Co-op Bookstore is the quintessential place for writers and readers, since it’s a bunch of people contributing and working together to spread literature around Chicago. Some other nice shops include Women and Children First, the Unabridged Bookstore in Lakeview and Myopic Books in Wicker Park.
Try a Writing Meetup in Chicago
Writing Meetups are hit or miss, depending on the amount of people who show up, but I’ve noticed that a few of the more active ones are worthwhile to simply force yourself to sit down, write and meet a few new people. I like meetups because they get me out of the house and I can meet people who are potential beta readers or writing buddies.
Search for Writer Meetups in Chicago
Printers Row Lit Fest
The Printers Row Lit Fest is one of the best things to do in Chicago for writers, because it’s the biggest event in Chicago dedicated just to books, writers and reading. Around 125,000 people attend this festival where you can meet your favorite authors, listen to readings and just shop for cool new books.
Visit the Printers Row Lit Fest Website
Things to Do in Chicago for All Artists and Creatives
Take a Class or See a Show at Second City
Chicago is known as breeding ground for comedians, and the Second City theater is not just for watching the greatest improv in the world. Anyone can take improv classes and see if they have what it takes to get on the big stage. Choices for classes range from comedy writing to song comedy to TV acting.
Visit the Second City Website
Chicago River Architecture Tours
Architecture is an entrancing art form, and Chicago is filled with it. Learn how to incorporate buildings into your stories or write a song about “that toddling town” after you take one of the famous Chicago River architecture tours.
Explore the Floors in Harold Washington
Checkout the Harold Washington Library Website
You haven’t experienced a library until you climbed the staircases in the Harold Washington Library. There’s something for everyone who fancies themselves a writer or artist. History buffs have the entire 6th floor dedicated to the past. Fiction books line the 7th floor stacks and free movies and books about Hollywood are right on the 1st floor. You can even create a bracelet or key chain from a 3D printer at the Maker Lab. The final treat is the 9th floor Winter Garden, which has a beautiful glass ceiling and is typically reserved for large gatherings.
First Fridays at Flat Iron (And Second Fridays in Pilsen)
Wicker Park has just about everything a creative type needs, including First Fridays at Flat Iron. Walk around to view an endless maze of art from resident artists. The place is similar to a college dorm, except every inch of the hallways are covered in unique art such as 3D compositions and comic book designs. Grab a glass of wine and chat with the artists in their own personal art studios.
I’ve also had a few readers send me messages about the Second Friday art showing in Pilsen. It features over 30 art galleries in the Chicago Arts District. You get to walk around and see where the artists work and chat with them about their recent art.
Learn More about 2nd Friday Art Walks Here
Chicago Art Institute
Any creative who lives in Chicago needs to stop for a visit at the Art Institute. I never realized the power of paintings, or stainglass windows for that matter, until I stopped by for a day trip. Learn about Indian Art of the Americas, Modern art from Chicago, along with photography and contemporary pieces from around the world.
Visit the Chicago Art Institute Website
Chicago Park District Movies in the Park
The Chicago Park District holds outdoor movies in various locations throughout the entire summer. There’s nothing more authentic than watching Ferris Bueller off the shore of Lake Michigan.
Checkout the Movies in the Park Schedule