Writing tips often focus on the technical aspects of becoming a better writer. And sometimes the abstract. But what is often overlooked is the practical precursor—curiosity.
Writing is more than getting words down in the correct order to tell a compelling story. Most of us don’t open a blank page and type at random. Ideas and characters have to come from some place.
It may feel like it came from a muse, but that is not reality. Reality is that as we learn, our brains absorb and encode information and store it in our memory. In what can feel like magic, a stimuli, like smell, triggers our brains to retrieve the information. I’m not a neurobiologist, but I think even us lay people know the brain is used for thought. We know that not only do our brains retrieve memories, but processes them with new information creating new ways of thinking.
It is this process of saving information, retrieving it, and applying it in new situations that helps us in our writing. And it all starts with wanting to learn.
Curiosity is an idea generator
The more information we store, the more possible associations we can make. Think about all the possibilities. One of the tenets of writing is that everything has been done before; a good story uses the existing elements but puts it together in new combinations.
In order to think in new combinations, we need to be open to seeing things differently. That’s part of what curiosity is. If we think we already know something, we’re not curious to see it differently.
We become a better writer by opening our minds and being receptive to new ideas.
Curiosity gives us a place to start
Have you ever been so lost on a project you don’t even know what questions to ask? I felt like that at my first job. All I could do was stare and listen. Once I got the foundation down it started to make sense, and I was able to start digging deeper.
We can’t know everything. Even if it were possible, we would still have to make time to do the actual writing. But what curiosity does do is makes us notice things, little nuggets, that we can later learn more about.
Becoming a better writer means digging deeper into a topic. Curiosity gives you the spark and then the tenacity to keep going.
Curiosity gives us insights into character
People like to talk about themselves. When we’re curious, we stop and listen. And by listening, we learn more about why they do what they do.
In our writing, Character drives story. The more we understand human nature, the more we can attribute certain behaviors to our characters. And if those traits are common, like our character is tired and hungry and reacts in anger, the more it resonates with the reader. I think we can all identify with an hangry person.
Writing a believable character comes from understanding what’s going on with that character. Seeking to understand is driven by curiosity.
Curiosity is non-judgmental
Ideally, we don’t make judgements before we have all of the information. This can be good for a number of reasons. First, you know what they say about assumptions. Second, books that tend to be overly judgmental and preachy only work in certain segments. The general public wants to decide for themselves.
We all have strong thoughts and opinions, even our characters. However, if we can momentarily suspend those, and let non-judgmental curiosity lead us into understanding then we are better able to write a believable character. After all, every character, even the villain, is the protagonist of their own story.
As kids we were naturally curious. As adults, it’s a little harder, especially those of us with families and full time jobs. But a little goes a long way. Below are a few ideas you can incorporate into your daily life.
Be open to learning and thinking differently. Look around and notice things, events, people. Be empathetic. Read not only fiction, but magazine articles and nonfiction books. Ask questions: why, how, what, who cares, does it matter. Be a life-long learner. Remember that what we lean today, may be useful in years to come.