Do you listen to On Being? If you don't, you should. It's a public radio program that airs on Sunday evenings. The host, Krista Tippett, interviews a guest on each show and explores with them the big questions of life: what does it mean to be human, and how do we want to live?
I write to discover. This phrase, said in one of Tippett's interviews with singer/songwriter Joe Henry, compelled me to pull over and scribble in my notebook while driving over the Santiam Pass this past weekend. (You can download or stream the program recordings as podcasts. They make great road trip material. Good fodder for self reflection or a gateway to meaningful road conversation.)
This theme - writing to discover - continually surfaces among creators that I admire. Read how author and activist Terry Tempest Williams describes her approach to memoir writing:
With each book, I begin with a question or an image: my mother left me her journals and all her journals were blank. Why? What is voice? How did I find mine and where? When did I lose it, retrieve it? What was my mother saying to me?
I write from this place of inquiry. The first draft is a discovery period to see what I know and what I don’t know. My task is simply to follow the words. There are surprises along the way. I just have to get it down. Call it the sculptor’s clay. Revision digs deeper, asks more of me to clarify, enhance, illuminate what I have written and dares me to walk more fully into the shadows to face, confront, and explore what scares me. Through revision, I enter the realm of the unspeakable and find the words that have eluded me...In the end, I see where my pencil has been leading me. It’s not that my questions have been answered, but they have been respected, explored, and saturated with my attention.
In her new book, Big Magic, author Elizabeth Gilbert encourages us to follow curiosity (as opposed to passion) as a way to approach creative work. At the heart of her premise, Gilbert commands anyone wanting to live a creative life to probe a question.
I believe that curiosity is the secret. Curiosity is the truth and the way of creative living. Curiosity is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end...Curiosity only ever asks one simple question: Is there anything you're interested in?
Even a tiny bit?
No matter how mundane or small?
The answer need not set your life on fire, or make you quit your job, or force you to change your religion, or send you into a fugue state; it just has to capture your attention for a moment. But in that moment, if you can pause and identify even one tiny speck of interest in something, then curiosity will ask you to turn your head a quarter of an inch and look at the thing a wee bit closer.
It's a clue. It might seems like nothing, but it's a clue. Follow that clue. Trust it. See where curiosity will lead you next. Then follow the next clue, and the next, and the next. Remember, it doesn't have to be a voice in the desert; it's a harmless little scavenger hunt. Following that scavenger hunt of curiosity can lead you to amazing, unexpected places.
This process of discovery, of following questions and curiosity, should drive your creative work. So I ask you: what questions burn inside your heart? Are you writing about them?