Do you ever wonder where the sparks for your stories come from, or why you can’t let go of specific ideas once they’ve entered your mind? What pushes you to write?
Curiosity affects a writer’s levels of creativity in a variety of ways. And you can bolster that curiosity with craft.
Curiosity Propels the Writer
Ideas for writing tend to ebb and flow. But when you’re ready and willing to explore them as they arise, you’ll be poised for some great writing and learning experiences.
There was one time a few years back when I woke up with a powerful feeling as if there was something I needed to write. It was as if the words were on the tip of my tongue, but I couldn’t begin to express them. Even though I didn’t know where this feeling was taking me, there was only one choice if I was ever to get out of bed that day. Write.
I started off rather emphatically:
This is not a piece about sorrow.
And, it’s not about bad things happening to good people.
It’s not about illness or loss.
It’s about …It’s about…It’s about…
Then came the moment when I had to complete the thought.It’s about… having known a group of people.
Curiosity Leads to Meaningful Insights
Suddenly the piece unfolded. My pen floated across the page as if someone else was writing it. I knew them well—intimate details of their lives, who was important to them, and how they felt supported or, in some cases, not supported.
The piece I discovered was about whom amongst my writing for wellness group would survive—figuratively and literally. How would we, as a small group of writers, deal with the loss of another member of our group to cancer? And how would we deal with the awkwardness of their empty seat…or the new person who would fill it?
When I read Colum McCann’s book, Letters to a Young Writer: Some Practical and Philosophical Advice, I knew exactlywhat he meant when he said, writers write toward their obsessions. “You will not be able to let it go until you find words to confront it. It is the only way you will free yourself.”
If you have had this breathtaking experience of discovering the words and the meaning of an experience you need to express, you will know the liberation I felt the day I wrote the first draft about my writing group—and to some degree, still feel, every time I have reread that piece over the years. I wish this for every writer.
Curiosity Fills the Information Gap
When I sat there that morning, I was filled with curiosity. What on earth am I trying to find out? What do I need to know or to understand?
Being curious plays out in our lives and work in many different ways. It has been credited with motivating us to be more independent, self-confident, and courageous as well as to fulfill our need for information.
Curiosity, I believe, is a critical tool for discovery, inspiration, and storytelling.
Curiosity is the Foundation of Creativity
If you want to encourage curiosity to lead you to the next level of creative expression, Colum McCann believes you need to be open to the world. “You have to be listening, and you have to be watching,” he says. “No one story towers over any other. All you know is that it has to be made new to the world, and you must begin to investigate it.”
McCann suggests that writers carry notebooks to capture images, ideas, snatches of street dialogue, addresses, and descriptions to help record details that could serve as keys to a whole new way of thinking. “Be a camera. Make us feel as if we are there. See the whole landscape at first, then focus in on a detail, and bring that detail to life. Be fish-eye. Be wide-angle. Be telephoto. Zoom in. Zoom out. Distort. Sharpen. Divide.”
Capture Ideas for Later Exploration
For years I’ve been carrying a tiny moleskin notebook and small pen in a pocket of my wallet. Sometimes I feel the urge to write down a word I’ve heard. Sometimes it’s a description. Other times a feeling.
In one recent note, I commented on how serendipitously seeing a home movie of the people who lived in my house 20-plus years ago left me utterly speechless. Knowing that other people have lived in my 100+-year-old house is one thing, but seeing them opening gifts on Christmas morning in my living-room was nothing short of unfathomable.
I know that I will need to write about this sometime soon. There is something that has so profoundly piqued my curiosity about the role of home in our lives and the transience of people, place, and time. Maybe if I write the piece, I will find out that it’s not at all about those things. It’s about something else.
Consciousness and Literary Style
Even if you feel the thrill of unpacking the meaning of a memory or experience, something in your writing will need to wow your readers. You need to write non-fiction text that readers want to keep reading. Whereas fiction, mystery, and sci-fi may have all kinds of tricks and inventions that make the work compelling, nonfiction writing has to earn the readers attention.
What does it take to write non-fiction text that readers will want to keep reading?
Philip Lopate suggests that encounters with a “surprising, well-stocked mind as it takes on the challenge of the next sentence, paragraph, and thematic problem it has set for itself…and an evolved, entertaining, elegant, or at least highly intentional literary style.”
The pressure of style should be brought to bear on every passage. As Lopate suggests, a formula for good nonfiction is: Consciousness + Style = Good Nonfiction.
Creativity and Craft
You need to find the elements that make your stories work. Call it idea development, style, voice, technique, or whatever you want. Discover the power of your writing.
Once you do, like a fine cook, time and time again, you must keep tweaking the ingredients, simmering them slowly to perfection. This I believe is creativity and craft at its best.
Every time I think I will never write again I somehow am moved to do so. The power of curiosity, and the restlessness and jitteriness that it creates, drives me to find pen and paper.
And whether I like it or not, to live an authentic life, I must ride the waves of curiosity—and write to find the answers.
Do you ever experience that feeling of not being able to let go of an idea until you find words to confront it? Let us know how you relate to curiosity, creativity, and craft by leaving a comment below.
About the Author
Deb Hemley writes memoir, personal essay, short fiction, and articles about social media. She has published pieces in Biographile, Hippocampus Magazine, All That Matters, and Survivor’s Review. You can follow her on Twitter @dhemley.