The Art of Asking: putting the quest back in question to awaken Creativity
One of my all time favourite albums is This Side by the blue grass band Nickel Creek. I’ve stolen quite a few bits of wisdom from it. This one’s my favourite:
Only the curious have something to find.
It’s true, isn’t it? Think of the most creative person you know. That person who always sees shapes in the clouds and pulls stories out of thin air. That person who sees the world, not as it is, but as it might be. That person who’s forever asking the question “But what if…”
Maybe that person you know was just lucky to be born with a creative soul. But then, aren’t almost all children born with a sense of awe, a readiness to absorb information &, most notable of all, a billion questions on their lips?
The problem with many of us struggling artists is not a missing ‘creative gene’ but rather a loss of our childlike sense that life is a Grand Adventure. Thinking we’ve seen it all, we stop looking (see Part II on the Art of Observation). Not wanting to appear ignorant, we stop asking questions. We become jaded, & our imagination just doesn’t work like it used to.
But what if we could revive that lost art that comes so naturally to children… the Art of Asking?
There is a direct correlation between Curiosity and Creativity. The one fuels the other. So if you let Curiosity dry up, you can bet your Creativity will sputter out & wind up rusting in the junkyard of your busy, uninspired mind… unless you choose to embark on a quest that can reverse the hands of time & get your Creative mind banging on all cylinders again.
3 Ways Asking Sparks Creative Thinking
Inside the word ‘question’ is the word ‘quest’, suggesting that within every question is an adventure, a pursuit which can lead us to hidden treasure.
1) Asking questions excites your mind out of its drowsy state by laying an open road before it.
Just like Bilbo Baggins startled from his stupor by a troop of adventuring dwarves, your brain secretly longs for a mystery to solve, a quest to fulfill. Asking questions is an invitation for the brain to step out of its routine & into an adventure.
2) Asking questions gets your brain moving.
Wujec explains that a question puts the brain in a state of irresolution, a bit like an itch that demands scratching. And believe it or not, your brain LOVES this irresolute state! If you don’t believe it, just look at the masses of Sudoku & crossword puzzles sold in your local bookstore. The brain sees the challenge & sets right to work to scratch that itch. Before you know it, your creative mind is on fire!
Irresolution is a potent fuel, a source of energy & motivation. — Tom Wujec
3) Asking questions gives you a target & helps you aim.
Here’s where you can apply the Art of Asking directly to your writing, & especially when you feel utterly & hopelessly stuck. Asking the right kind of questions can be the hand up you need to get you unstuck & on your way again. So just what are the “right kind” of questions?
The Quest for better Questions
The best questions drive us to see the bigger picture, not just the immediate problem.
For example: Instead of Why is my protagonist so BORING?! Try What do I already know about this character? -or- How might this character respond in another situation?
The best questions are open-ended, inviting not just one answer, but many possible solutions.
For example: In what ways can I make my protagonist more interesting? or more believable?
Then scribble away! You’re only limited by the size of your paper.
The best questions may not lead you to a final resolution… They may even lead you to ask yet more questions!
That’s OK! In fact, that’s the point! For the creative writer, it’s not the answers but the Art of Asking that counts. Merely asking keeps the creative mind in motion & childlike wonder alive. Mastering this art will take practice — so much unlearning to do before we can have the humility to learn afresh! But the pay-off is enormous! Just consider all the books on your shelves that began with a simple, silly question:
“What if you fell down a hole in the ground & landed upside-down in a fantasy world?”
“What if you walked into a wardrobe & found yourself in in a winter’s wood?”
“What if an ordinary boy discovered he was actually a wizard?”
Do you dare to begin the quest? Who knows where your questions may take you…