How excited am I allowed to be that we are starting a new series today?
Better yet, how excited are you?
Never mind, don’t answer that question.
In this series, we are exploring the eight characteristics that make a good writer. I say eight, but I think we all know writing is more complicated than that. I could do eight hundred and still not have covered all of them—or explained fully how each and every writer is different and has a different system and a different way of approaching their books.
Still. We are going to ultra-simplify the process and cover the eight most important characteristics of a writer.
And . . . *cue drumroll* we are going to start with Curiosity!
“Millions saw the apple fall, but Newton asked why.”
~ Bernard Baruch
When you cultivate curiosity, you set your stories alight and allow the magic back into your pages. The best writers are always curious. They want to know how something happened, but they also want to know why it happened, how it felt, what it meant. Their curiosity translates to the page and keeps the reader tucked up with their book long after they meant to go to bed. Curiosity does that to us all, and it is the best trick of the trade for a writer.
After all, who can resist the question, “What happens next?”.
Tips to Cultivate Curiosity.
1. Take a moment, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing. Stop. Listen. Look around. As I’m writing this, it is just before dawn at my house, outside is dim and cool, a cricket is chirping, and it is so, so quiet. In moments like these, stories wake up. In the silence. In the pause before the day begins, or before it ends. The best way to get your mind moving and your stories to come to the surface is to step away from the lights, the noise, and the routines of the day, and find a few minutes to just be still and listen.
2. Read widely. Read about everything. Pick up books you think you’ll hate and read them anyway. Read books people recommend to you. Find out about personality types, about the enneagram and the Myers-Briggs test. Research Stockholm syndrome and the civil war and the trenches in the ocean. Everything is story fodder, and a good writer can get some snippet, some thread of an amazing story out of the strangest of places.
3. People watch. When you’re shopping, when you’re sitting at the library, when you’re having coffee or in line at the doctor’s office. Try not to be too creepy about it, but stories are about people. About their lives and loves and pains and hopes. Wooden characters and cliche cardboard cutouts will sink a story faster than bad grammar and nonexistent punctuation. So watch. Watch how the cashier at a grocery store deals with customers who are difficult. Watch how the mother in the restaurant interacts with her child or the two friends at the coffee bar laugh over something no one else would find funny. Don’t be creepy, but do watch.
4. Allow your story to have a ‘What if’. Sometimes we get so stuck in our vision of what the story should be and the very first vision we had for it that we forget to ask ‘What if’. What if the friend your hero depended on so completely was actually a backstabbing snake? What if instead of getting the girl, your hero leaves her to set out on a quest and she marries someone else in his absence. Stories are built on what if, and if you forget to ask it, your book will suffer. Remember, your first idea is not necessarily your best one.
Good luck, dearest writer! May your tea be hot and your dreams wild.