Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Curiosity of a Writer - Refilling the Well 1

Research, experience and living are the source waters of storytelling. If you make these part of your life, you'll always have something to write about. I'll talk about in in future posts, but first a word about curiosity.

I've written about curiosity in terms of Practical Imagination and in an article “Need to Know: How curiosity drives innovation” (available upon request). These look more at invention and creating change than at writing, but a writer needs to actively nurture his/her curiosity, too. Ironically, this is even more important in an age when answers are available within a few clicks. Answers that lead to new questions nurture curiosity, but answers that don't, kill it. So here are three practices to keep your curiosity alive in the age of the Internet.
  1. Speculate. Before you click that button that will tell you how clams survive the deep-ocean pressure of the hyperthermal vents, think of what the answers might be. Consider which one is most convincing and why it is most convincing to you. Then, when you see the "expert" answer, you have a few tools to challenge it and are more likely to say "yes, but..." than "uh, huh." This can work for the hard sciences, but it is even more valuable when you explore softer, more controversial subject like society's distribution of wealth.
  2. Put it out there. I am always suspicious when I stumble upon an article that is too convincing. Sometimes this triggers my search for propaganda techniques. (It is amazing how often these show up.) But, at other times, I need help not to swallow the answer whole. In these cases, I just post the link to Facebook and ask for comments and verification of facts. Over and over again, I have been surprised by the responses I get from my circle of friends. They enthrall, illuminate and challenge -- which is just what I'm looking for. (The proviso on this one is the friends need to have different perspectives that they feel free to express.)
  3. Dig deeper. Curiosity can be trivial. It can go and search of novelty that doesn't matter much. Tabloid headlines may add color to your stories, but they do not refill the well of imagination. The trivial can be fun, and I'm a big believer in having fun. However, a writer needs to probe more deeply and to have a higher proportion of his/her explorations dedicated to those things that go beyond titillation -- meaning, honor, caring and the sacred. Does that headline screaming about Brad and Angela have anything to say about the people you love, fostering kindness, personal responsibility or what you will leave as your legacy?
These are just a few ways to open your mind, fill the well and find something of value to write about. Perhaps I've raised a few questions. I have one for you. What do you do to nurture your curiosity?


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