How Writers Can Cultivate Curiosity

“Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.”

Zora Neale Hurston, author of Their Eyes Were Watching God

Last week, I wrote a post about the habits of highly productive writers. One of the habits I mentioned is  the ability to maintain an open, curious outlook. For today’s post, I’ll be delving deeper into that habit.

Curiosity, by definition, is the strong desire to know or learn something. It is one of the most valued traits a writer can have. By staying curious about the world around them, writers are able to find answers to the questions they’ve long asked, and by extension, answer questions that readers want to know.

According to this Lifehack blog post, curiosity is important for several reasons:

* It makes your mind active rather than passive. By asking questions and doing research, curiosity makes your mind stronger and more engaged.
* It makes your mind more observant of new ideas. You’re more likely to recognize new ideas when they occur. When you fail to be curious, those ideas may pass you by.
* It opens up new worlds and possibilities. You’re able to explore different cultures and ways of doing things.
* It brings more excitement into your life. Because there are always new things to try and new ideas to explore, a curious person’s life is never dull or boring. Curious people have an adventurous life.

I will add one more reason to that list:

* Curiosity begets creativity. Curious people who have done their research tend to be more creative because the new knowledge feeds their desire to create something new.

By nature most writers are curious. They’re not afraid to ask questions. The five Ws are always in their writing arsenal. They’re the first to ask at an accident scene what happened, how it happened, who drove the car, when did it happen, where did it happen, and why.

Sometimes the grind of daily life can sap your curious nature, however. If you find yourself struggling to be curious about the world around you, here are a few ways to cultivate more curiosity in your writing life.

1. Read, read and read some more.  Reading books and magazine features on a variety of topics broadens your mind. If you prefer fiction, you can use curiosity as you read novels. For example, as you read, jot down questions about the characters, plot and setting. Where does the story take place? Is it a place you’ve never been to before, such as Alaska? Then jot down questions about Alaska that you’d like to find out.

2. Ask lots of questions. The five Ws plus How should be part of your writing toolbox. I would add a couple more:  “what if?” And “I wonder.” (Yes, I know “I wonder” isn’t a question, but it open up possibilities all the same.)

3. People watch. Hang out in the park, a shopping mall or a food court. Watch people as they go about their day. Be curious about them. Who are they? What do they do for a living? Why are they there? Create different scenarios for each person you observe.

4. Experiment. Be adventurous. Is there something you’ve always wanted to try? For example, several years ago, I finally had the chance to ride in a hot air balloon, something I’d always wanted to do. I enjoyed every minute of it. The experience gave me something to write about. Experiment with your writing too. For example, if you’re struggling to find the right viewpoint for your story, try writing it from different character points of view until you find one that works best for the story.

Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.

Voltaire

5. Research something just for fun. Think of something you’d like to learn more about, preferably something not related to your every day job or your writing practice. It could be how to make lasagna from scratch or how to begin bird watching – whatever tickles your fancy. Then spend 30 minutes on the internet researching everything you can find out about it.

Michelle Richmond at The Caffeinated Writer suggests this exercise to test your research skills:

1) Make a list of ten subjects you’d like to know more about.
2) Choose one of those subjects. Then write a list of questions about that subject.
3) Spend 30 minutes researching this question on the internet.
4) Then find one book that will help you delve further into the topic and deepen your understanding. You can buy a book or borrow it from the library. Richmond says buying the book allows you to make notations.

Remember this is strictly for fun, so enjoy the research process. But be sure to cap the amount of time spent researching. It’s easy to get carried away and lose track of time!

6. Connect with an expert. We all know people who are experts at something. I have a friend who is a scientist, another who runs marathons, a third teaches yoga, and a fourth studied engineering. They’re all experts at what they do, and I know that if I ever need their insights or want to learn more about what they do, I can reach out to them, armed with my toolbox of questions.

I challenge you to jot down the names of 10 people you know along with the special knowledge or skill that they have. Then jot down questions you might ask them about what they do. Bonus points for reaching out to one of them and chatting with them about their work.

Because curiosity can boost your creativity. So it makes sense to cultivate more curiosity into your writing life.

Six Lessons Writers Can Learn from the Life and Career of Ruth Bader Ginsberg

Photo by Matthis Volquardsen on Pexels.com

Like most people I know, I was devastated to learn of the passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. She had been a mainstay on the U.S. Supreme Court for several decades, and only the second woman to serve behind Sandra Day O’Connor.

Her passing has made me think about my own legacy. What kind of impact do I want to make in my career as a writer? I can’t possibly live up to the same standards of success as RBG, but certainly I can make the world a better place in my own way through my writing.

Fight for the things you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” Ruth Bader Ginsberg

As writers, we can all learn something from Ginsberg through her experience as a law student, an attorney, college professor, circuit court judge and Supreme Court Justice. Here are a few of them.

1. Don’t let rejection deter you from your goals. Ruth Bader Ginsberg graduated from law school at a time when women weren’t allowed to practice in law firms. She applied to hundreds of law firms and was turned away because she was a woman. RBG altered course and did what most other women who graduated law school did – she went into teaching. But she used her legal education to take up the fight for gender equality so that women wouldn’t experience discrimination like she had.

As writers, we’re bound to receive hundreds of rejection letters. But that shouldn’t mean we stop writing. Don’t let rejection deter you from writing. There’s always something to say, something to write about, even if others don’t want to read it or publish it. Keep writing. Somewhere there is an audience for your work.

2. Find a cause to be passionate about. After her numerous rejections by law firms, Ginsberg found her cause – gender equality and civil rights. And she persisted in her fight for equal rights throughout her career.

Writers too can find a cause to be passionate about. Whether that cause is social equity, climate change or rescuing homeless pets, your passion can fuel your writing. Write essays, letters to the editor, opinion pieces, even short stories that carry a theme around your cause. Use your words to fight for a cause that’s important to you.

3. Have a Plan B. I heard an interesting story during RBG’s televised memorial last week. Sandra Day O’Connor, the first female Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, once asked Ginsberg, “Where do you think we’d be if we had been accepted into a law firm? We’d most likely be retired from a law firm.”

In other words, neither woman would ever have been named to the Supreme Court. Their rejection by so many legal firms proved to be a blessing in disguise for it paved the way for a different legal career path.

As writers, it’s important to view repeated rejection as a sign that it may be time to change course, to redirect your energies elsewhere. For example, if you keep looking for work in the corporate world and keep getting turned down, it may be a sign that your talents are needed elsewhere, perhaps in a new industry or as a freelancer. It’s up to you to figure out how and where. Sometimes rejection means a better opportunity awaits you in a direction you never considered.

4. Do your homework and get the facts. For every case Ginsberg ever worked on, she needed to do research. Her ability to review past cases, study data, and conduct interviews was key to making her case in a court of law. As a Supreme Court Justice, there were numerous cases to review, hearings, review testimonies and more reading and research. Only then was she able to provide her judgment on key issues.

As writers, especially those in journalism, research is a key component of your work. It’s necessary to get all the facts, interview credible sources, and be thorough in your investigation. Presenting factual data helps establish your authority and credibility. People will want to believe you because you’ve taken the time to do your homework.  

5. Work for the common good. Whether through her teaching, trying cases on behalf of the ACLU, or hearing cases as a Supreme Court Justice, Ginsberg made sure she made decisions that benefited all people. She was committed to making the world a better place.

As writers, it’s important to write for the common good too. Use your words to persuade, examine, educate and inspire others. Like RBG, be kind and helpful to others, even if they don’t share your views.

6. Surround yourself with a strong support team. Ginsberg’s husband Marty saw Ruth’s potential while they were in college together. Many years later, when RBG was nominated for the Supreme Court, Marty became her cheerleader. Because she didn’t care for schmoozing, Marty met with Senators to persuade them that she was the right person for that role.

Writers can benefit by having one or two people in your inner circle who will go to bat for you, who will cheer you on when you finish that first novel, promote your work, and give constructive feedback. We all need that one person who supports our work and who sees our potential long before we do.

Throughout her long and productive career, Ruth Bader Ginsberg made a big difference in many people’s lives. As writers, we can all learn to approach our life’s work with the same grace, compassion and wisdom that made RBG so successful.