Monday, December 10, 2012

A Bit of Critical Thinking

The amount of training and education
that goes into this moment is enormous
and the result of asking questions. Right?
Photo by NASA via Wikipedia.
Being a writer means asking Why?

A writer asks why? every day and more than just once or twice. More than a dozen times, too. If it's not in mind all the time, then you're not a real writer.

It's true. If you don't wonder about things then you're not curious enough to explore. And exploring is what writers do. Whether you're Pitfall Harry or Indiana Jones, you should have a sense of curiosity that drives you to wonder why things are they way they are. Why that formation? Why those colors? Why so many iterations? Why? Why? Why?

So -  a quick formula:

observation + curiosity = potential story

But dig deeper. Once you've asked why you have to keep asking why like you're a child talking to your parent. Avoid the whiny tone of voice but I think you probably get my meaning. You remember what that was like, don't you? You understand now that you're a parent - or maybe just older - that you weren't always trying to play a game by asking why; sometimes you were genuinely curious.

That curiosity is trained out of us as we go through school. School prepares us for what is known, trains us to be active participants in society in accepted ways. It's a good thing for us to be aware of the social contract and to understand that's the basis for how to interact. What we didn't get in school as often is the training on how to go beyond the teachings. It's the rare instructor that prepares students for the unknown. It's the rare teacher that asks students to think critically. That's education. What we get in public school and beyond is training though it's called education. Certainly you're being taught, being prepared for the everyday things that everyone knows about now, but how about what might be coming up?

Ever had someone ask you how you come up with your ideas? Ever thought about how you come up with your ideas? Ever thought about being a visionary?

Warren Ellis said a long time ago that part of his job is to stare off into the distance and think about what's next. That's exactly what being a writer is. It's also the definition of a visionary. And it's easier than anyone thinks it is, but it's easier by far to let someone else do the thinking for you. Swimming along in the stream with all the other fish and never wondering about anything except who did what to whom or just watching the other fish play is boring. I've never been one to just go along with everyone else. I've always asked questions.

And like that child who keeps asking why? over and over and over I am very unsatisfied with "because I said so". Aren't you? It implies there are things I'm not supposed to ask about, that I'm simply to accept because an elder tells me to.


It's not in my nature to simply accept things. Like everyone I will on occasion give up if the fight to find out more doesn't seem to be worth my time. That doesn't mean I don't stop thinking about it. I'll try to figure out all the angles and then approach the problem from a new position. I'll keep asking why? because it's important. Don't ever think I'll be satisfied with "because" or "that's just the way it is" or "it's always been that way".

Those three responses are reasons to write stories. To explore what could be, what might happen, if things observed were to change.

When you're thinking of yourself as a writer and someone asks you where you get your ideas, what can you say? You have to assess whether the interrogator is asking a serious question or just making conversation. Will that person be satisfied with "I just make stuff up" or will you be able to have a serious discourse on the subject? When someone asks you "how are you?" is he asking because he cares or just to be polite? It's up to you to decide, isn't it? How do you decide?

Training tells you to respond with "I'm fine, how are you?" because it's polite and you're on autopilot. Education will provide you with the critical ability to decide whether that person gives a damn and how to formulate a response appropriate to the relationship and their apparent curiosity. Most times I'll come to the the trained response but sometimes you do run into someone who is asking a genuine question and not just being polite.

Be prepared for that.

Or don't. It's up to you to decide. If you're a writer, you're already thinking about a lot of things. Look ahead. Be that visionary. Don't accept answers that amount to "because I told you so". Think for yourself and encourage others to do it. Keep asking why. Remember what it was like to wonder about things and know that it's okay to ask questions. It's okay to be curious.

And be a writer.