“Be curious, not judgmental.” Walt Whitman
“Anyone who stops learning is old… at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.” Henry Ford
Curious or judgmental — which one will it be? A quick dip into my handy Compact Oxford English Dictionary gives us the lay of the land. “Curiosity:” “eagerness to know or learn something.” “Judgmental:” “having an excessively critical point of view.”
Curiosity sounds open-ended and expansive, doesn’t it? At the other extreme, being judgmental — “excessively critical” — sounds narrow and restrictive; it can stifle or nip curiosity in the bud. As writers, curiosity surely ranks as one of the most valuable tools in our kit bag: It leads us down fascinating byways and ignites our ingenuity. So inviting it to come out and play with us is always a wise decision. How can we bring more of this vital, yet ephemeral, quality to our work? A few ideas to ponder and apply:
Court it: If we see curiosity as an ally and wellspring of invention rather than dismissing it as a distracting diversion — we create a receptive, welcoming state of mind. It’s this relaxed, open mindset that allows us to perceive flashes of curiosity when they arise.
Chase it: It’s happened to all of us — the wisp of an idea flutters into our consciousness and we ignore it instead of pursuing it and seeing where it will lead us. In my experience, curiosity can be insistent, but it’s often fragile and undemanding: If we don’t follow its lead, we easily lose the thread of it and the chance to develop an idea or theme that can enrich and enliven our stories.
Challenge it: When we take the time to mine a curious notion that pops into our head, it gains heft and substance — other ideas cluster around it, some of them more curious than the wispy one we started with. Playing out a curious idea may lead to an even better one: When we challenge curious notions by developing them into different scenarios or pushing them to extremes, they can morph into something even more exciting.
Cultivate it: Curiosity is powerful mind fuel. When we refill and nourish the wellsprings of our creativity by cultivating our curiosity, the rewards are boundless. And, as Henry Ford said so well, when we keep learning, our minds remain young and supple. Reading across genres, exploring the arts, listening to people, and taking time to muse and meander — these can all nourish our curiosity — and our creativity. Write on!