One of my core values is writing prose that echoes what human beings experience. One particular mindset that is absolutely essential to such an effort is curiosity.
We have much to learn from our pets, who are constantly exemplifying curiosity to us–sometimes to a fault, especially when it comes to dogs and table food or cats and holiday decorations. Our domesticated animals notice things–what we human beings might describe as “the extraordinary within the ordinary”–because they are hard-wired to be curious in order to stay alive, get nourishment, and find shelter.
The writer Elizabeth Gilbert, most famous for her book Eat, Pray, Love, has offered some of my favorite thinking on the importance of curiosity. “I think curiosity is our friend that teaches us how to become ourselves,” Gilbert says. “And it’s a very gentle friend, and a very forgiving friend, and a very constant one. Passion is not so constant, not so gentle, not so forgiving, and sometimes not so available. And so when we live in a world that has come to fetishize passion above all, there’s a great deal of pressure around that.”
I love the metaphor of curiosity as a “constant friend.” I can tell you from decades of experience that writing is a very lonely and frustrating pursuit, and that passion and inspiration are by no means reliable companions. I’ve found the most success as a writer when I’ve established a routine and stick to it, but have also come to understand that such discipline itself is not the only core ingredient in the recipe of successful writing.
Rather, it is truly curiosity that keeps me writing. Curiosity about people, places, and ideas that I’ve yet to fully explore. Curiosity about characters and situations that are tucked deep inside of my brain, waiting to be summoned through my fingers across a keyboard. I’m deeply curious about people’s personal stories and what has made them who they are. To me, every individual is a book to be read and understood. And my hope is that when I write, that people will not necessarily agree with or like everything I write but that they’ll be curious enough to want to understand where I’m coming from or what and why a character is doing what he or she does.
Of this I am certain: I will never run out of curiosity. I might reach a point in life, due to health ailments, where my mind no longer functions as it does now or when my hands can no longer type or even write with a pen or pencil. But the curious soul that dwells within me shall remain, and will continue to make itself known in ways I’m unable to predict.
Thank goodness for such a constant friend.