“This is what it’s like to write a novel: I come up with a shred of an idea. It can be a character, a place, a moral quandary. … when I’m putting it together, I leave all the doors and windows open so the characters can come in and just as readily leave. I don’t take notes. (I don’t want to) feel like I’m nailing the story in place. When I rely on my faulty memory, the pieces are free to move. The main character I was certain of starts to drift, and someone I’d barely noticed moves into fill the space. The road forks and forks again. It becomes a path into the woods. It becomes the woods. I find a stream and follow it, the stream dries up, and I’m left to look for moss on the side of trees… In some ways it’s not unlike putting together my own life. I think I know what I’m doing when in truth I have no idea. I just keep moving forward.”
The passage above is from an Ann Patchett essay in Harpers.
It’s as important to trust your unknowing as it is to trust your knowledge.
Today follow the thread. If the stream dries up, find what’s there instead. Today, in your writing time, try to simply follow. If it dries up, follow the sentence or the thought to the next moment.
This is also partly about following your own curiosity. You don’t need to know the outcome – not in story, not in life. You simply need to have curiosity. Courage and commitment – these come later. Curiosity first.
So today, some time today – when you’re on a train, in a café, in the garden, in your sitting room, in your bed – take out your journal and make a list of all the things you are curious about. Begin with the sentences:
I am curious about….
I would like to know…..
What puzzles me is…..
I’m interested in…..
If you’re embarked already on a particular book or script, even if you’re quite far into a draft, use this to engage with what you are still puzzled by, still driven by, still curious about in your project. For instance, towards the end of the late draft of Fury, I realised that I was still curious about a particular element of the story. Fury is a memoir and there was something from the past that I had not allowed myself to wonder about. A question I was too afraid to ask. Finally, not long before submitting it to my publishers, I allowed myself to admit to this curiosity. In this case, it wasn’t a comfortable admission, but I let it in nonetheless. And allowing that curiosity in led to one of the book’s most significant chapters, to a series of scenes which are dramatic keystones. (If you have read the book, you’ll know immediately which section I am talking about!)
Know that there is no correct thing to be curious about. This is for you, to draw it to the surface, that’s all. If you’re curious about ancient Greek myths, good for you. If you really really want to know about the early life of Britney Spears, also good for you.
When I was a teenager, my mother had a special ‘telephone voice’. It was one of my pleasures, to watch her switch from shouting in frustration at me to picking up the landline with a calm voice, rounded vowels. We can get in our own way as writers by giving into the literary version of the telephone voice. As in (spoken in fake posh accent) why hello, yes, I have a passionate interest in microscience and how it relates to literary form… I mean, great. Good for you, if that really is your passion. Follow it. But don’t do it to impress. Because there is only one thing that will really chime with you, and later with readers: the truth.
And the truth begins with curiosity.
Here is today’s prompt…
Golden (colour, mood, or object).