“Curiosity can ruin my writing? What? I thought Ann Kroeker lauded curiosity as a key component to the writing life! She claims it’s one way we can achieve our writing goals!”
“Is she turning her back on curiosity? Has it killed the cat and now she’s urging us to return to predictable poetry and lifeless prose?”
No worries, friends. Curiosity still fuels my creativity. I’m still convinced that curious writers are generally more creative and productive, and able to achieve their writing goals—all while having fun!
But every once in awhile, curiosity ruins my writing. And if you’re not careful, it can ruin yours.
1: Trouble with Curiosity about our Environment
First, what happens when we give in to an insatiable curiosity about our environment?
We think we’re sidetracked by interruptions and distractions, and those do exist and they can be the issue. But distractions alone aren’t always to blame. Sometimes what threatens my productivity or the depth of my ideas isn’t the distraction itself but my curiosity about the distraction.
Even if someone else addresses the interruption and I didn’t have to lift a finger from the keyboard, curiosity wonders:
Wait, who called?
Who was that at the door?
What’s that noise?
I wonder who wrote that song?
Hey, who’s he texting?
Curiosity is behind that niggling feeling that asks:
“I wonder if I should open that email now or if it can wait?”
“Isn’t that my Words with Friends notification?”
“Are there any chips left? I should check.”
So it’s not only the distractions—it’s our curiosity about the distractions that can create disruption, which can ruin my writing, or at least my writing session.
Try asking a question out loud about your project to distract from the distraction and bring yourself back to the work. It reminds your brain where to direct its attention, like, “What would make this section stronger?” Or, “What am I trying to say here about the topic?” It re-engages you with the work.
2: Trouble with Curiosity about Systems
Another trouble area is a consuming curiosity about systems. This is like Shiny Object Syndrome.
You’re curious to try a new organizational tool or productivity app, so you spend a few hours downloading it, messing around with it to understand how it works, then another hour moving all your information over to it, then it’s kind of slow because you’re still adapting, and just when you gain some momentum a week or a month later, you hear about another one and find yourself drawn to give it a try—Maybe it’ll work better than the last one?—and you go through the process all over again.
Productivity experts will tell you this about these alluring systems: The best system is the one you actually use. Pick one. Commit.
Don’t worry if Trello’s color scheme isn’t your favorite or Evernote’s tagging system feels a little cumbersome. If it’s working pretty well, stick with that.
You’ll be able to get to your work much more effectively if you can curb your curiosity next time someone—even someone like me—entices you to try something else. You want to be able to find your notes and research, and that works best with something you use consistently.
3: Trouble with Curiosity During the Research Process
That leads to number three: Curiosity is a friend to the research process…to a point.
It can become a crutch and an excuse not to do the work of finally planning the piece and writing it.
We research and research and research for a short story, novel, article, or essay, following interesting tidbits that branch out to more and more interesting tidbits driven by insatiable curiosity, when you already had what you needed to get busy and write the story to meet the deadline…that you miss because you spent hours hopping down those trails.
Whether we’re distracted by all that great information or afraid to get to work, there comes a time when you have enough—you have enough to write the story and meet the deadline.
4: Trouble with Curiosity about Techniques and Forms
Another way we can ruin our writing is by letting a consuming curiosity about techniques and forms take the wheel.
We can try out every possible way of telling the story, switching from one point of view to another and back again, insanely curious to see the events unfold through each character’s eyes. When that happens for the fifth, sixth, and seventh time, we may need to tell curiosity to take a break, commit to one approach, and finish.
Don’t misunderstand me, because revising a portion of your work to try out another point of view can serve as a useful creative writing exercise—it might help you discover the best way to tell your story.
My concern is when curiosity takes over, and instead of letting the exercise serve the goal of completing a quality story, we let it distract us from finishing the work and sending it off.
Resist the urge to continue with so many techniques and forms for your poem or essay or short story, you lose the heart of the piece altogether.
5: Trouble with Curiosity about Other Writers
The fifth way curiosity can ruin your writing is when you get so curious about other writers and their successes, you distract yourself from your own goals and your own success.
We can look to others for inspiration and ideas, yes, but when we dig and dig to know what they’re doing, how they’re doing it, and what got them there, it can shift something in us. We abandon our own desires and convince ourselves their approach, style and values are stronger than our own. You could end up imitating them or you could end up with a level of success in something that never really fit you in the first place.
That can ruin your writing.
Curb your curiosity about others if it causes you to crave or covet something that doesn’t fit you. Be curious…about yourself. What do you want? What makes you tick? After all, the better you understand yourself, the more you’ll have to offer through your writing. That can serve your writing far better than a consuming curiosity about someone else.
Don’t Let Curiosity Ruin Your Writing
Curiosity can be lassoed to serve our writing projects and writing lives so we can create our best possible work, but it can also send us off willy-nilly with no plan or accountability, distracting us from deadlines and keeping us from wrapping up projects.
Don’t let curiosity rule or ruin your writing. Make sure curiosity is working with you, not against you, and you’ll produce strong writing, on time, that builds your body of work and makes you proud that you know when to stop and how to focus.
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Images by Isabelle Kroeker.
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Megan Willome says
No. 3 often gets me when I’m writing a big article. I’ll actually set a date and tell myself, No more research after this date! Then, inevitably, in the quiet of the next few days, some other thing will bubble forth in the news, and lo and behold, it is exactly what I needed. So I have to factor in time for that, too.
Ann Kroeker says
That sounds intentional. I like that you build that into your writing process.
It’s far more intentional than what I see happen in some writers (including myself), where we’re using it more for procrastination, avoiding the writing itself. I’ve discovered that as I write, I need more or different information from what I was digging for in the first place, so sometimes writing is exactly what I need in order to complete accurate and helpful research. So I need to stop researching, start writing, and then do more research. Maybe that’s what you’re describing, too.