Curious writers are generally creative and productive, and able to achieve their writing goals—all while having fun. This is no surprise to you—I say it every week! Curiosity can fuel our writing projects and our writing lives so we can create our best possible work.
But curiosity can also send us off willy-nilly with no plan or accountability, distracting us from deadlines and keeping us from wrapping up projects. In fact, every once in awhile, curiosity ruins my writing. And if you’re not careful, it can ruin yours, too.
Here are five ways curiosity can ruin our writing.
1. Too Curious about our Environment
Interruptions and distractions can throw us off, but outside distractions alone aren’t always to blame. Sometimes what threatens my productivity or the depth of my ideas isn’t the distraction so much as my curiosity about the distraction.
Let’s say the phone rings. Someone else answers the phone, so I don’t have to lift a finger from the keyboard. And yet, a minute later, curiosity kicks in and I’m distracted from my work:
“Wait, who called? Is it a reminder call from the doctor? Will I have to make an appointment somewhere?”
Or we’re listening to music in the cafe or the coworking space or we have our own headphones on and start to think, “I wonder who wrote that song? What’s that line?”
The notification dings on the phone. Curiosity is behind that knee-jerk response: “Should I check who sent that, or can it wait?” Or, “Isn’t that my Words with Friends notification?”
So it’s not only the distractions that distract—it’s our curiosity about the distractions that can disrupt a writing session.
Try asking a question out loud about the writing project to distract from the distraction and bring yourself back to the work. It reminds the brain where to direct its attention, like: “What would make this section stronger?” or “What am I trying to say here about the topic?” Redirect your curiosity about the environment over to re-engage with the work.
2. Too Curious about the Next New Program or System
Have you found yourself curious about systems? This is like Shiny Object Syndrome.
It’s when you’re curious to try a new organizational tool, word processing program, or productivity app, and you spend a few hours researching it, downloading it, messing around to understand how it works. Then you spend another hour moving all your information over.
You’re kind of slow using it at first because you’re still adapting, and just when you gain some momentum, you hear about another system and find yourself drawn to give it a try. And you go through the process all over again.
All the while, you could have been writing.
Productivity experts will tell you this about those alluring systems: The best system is the one you already use. Pick one. Commit. And resist anything that’s interrupting your writing.
Don’t worry if Trello’s color scheme isn’t your favorite or Evernote’s tagging system feels a bit cumbersome or Scrivener looks a lot cooler than Google Drive. If Google Drive is working well, stick with that. Curb your curiosity next time someone entices you to try something else.
3. Too Curious During the Research Stage
Curiosity is a friend to the research process…to a point.
Driven by insatiable curiosity, we research and research and research for a short story, novel, article, or essay, and we follow interesting tidbits that branch out to more and more interesting tidbits. In reality, if we stepped back and took a look at our notes, we might see we already have what we need to get busy writing the story to meet the deadline.
Our curiosity about the subject matter can drive us deep into rabbit holes, digging up interesting but unnecessary information instead of using what we have to get going on the project.
Sometimes we’re overwhelmed by the project—maybe a little afraid to get started writing it—and we let research serve as a crutch and an excuse not to do the work of finally planning the piece and writing it.
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. Once you have plenty to work with, use the research you have to get going on the project. If you find you’re missing some information, you can hunt it down as needed.
4. Too Curious about Writing Techniques and Forms
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. We can benefit from revising a portion of our work in this way—it’s an instructive creative writing exercise. It might even help us discover the best way to tell our story.
But when curiosity takes over, we can, without realizing it, let that revision process distract us from completing the project. And when we completely rewrite a book for the fifth, sixth, and seventh time, we may risk losing the heart of the piece altogether.
At some point, perhaps after two or three versions of playing with various elements and approaches, you’ll have a version that works. At that point, resist the urge to continue with so many techniques and forms for that poem or essay or novel or short story. Instead, tell curiosity to take a break, commit to one approach, and finish.
5. Too Curious about Other Writers
When you get too curious about other writers and their successes, you distract yourself from your own goals and success.
It starts innocent enough. We look to others for inspiration and ideas. We dig and dig to figure out what they’re doing, how they’re doing it, and what got them there. Then we start to wonder: Can we replicate their success? Can we write like them if we position our desk the same way, use the same, download the same program?
Next thing you know, you’ve fallen into the comparison trap and you’re jealous or discouraged, ready to give up. Getting too curious about other writers can unsettle us or cause us to question our own goals and dreams—we abandon our own desires and follow their approach, style, values and dreams.
And you know what? It can work. We can end up imitating that writer and arrive at a level of success only to discover it never really fit us the way it fit them. It’s not what we really wanted.
If you sense you’re starting to crave or covet another writer’s success or technique or style to the point you’re starting to abandon your own, be curious not about them, but about…yourself. Open up a journal and write questions like this: “What do I want? What makes me tick? What makes me smile? Where have I felt the most energy in my writing? Where have I seen readers respond positively to my work?
The better you understand yourself and your writing, the more you’ll have to offer as a writer. That can serve your writing far better than a consuming curiosity about someone else. So be curious about yourself and become the best you possible.
Don’t Let Curiosity Ruin Your Writing
Don’t let curiosity rule or ruin your writing. Make sure curiosity is working with you, not against you, and you’ll produce the best writing you’re capable of, on time, that builds your body of work and makes you proud that you know when to stop and how to focus.
- E.B. White on forgoing distractions
- How to Avoid Distractions and Manage Attention to Write
- Ep 108: When Writers Compare: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
- All podcast episodes
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