There are plenty of things about childhood that we can’t wait to move on from. However, there is one thing about our youth that we really should cling tightly to at any age. We need to see the world with all the awestruck excitement of a first-grade boy who just got to sit in his first fire truck. We need to be as curious about the world at age 50 as we were at 5. That’s how life stays interesting. And, if you’re a writer, that’s how your work stays interesting.
When we’re kids, our favorite questions usually involved the word “Why?” It feels like every day, there’s something new and amazing to discover. Every roller coaster ride, every new cartoon, every ice cream shop….Life was nothing but excitement. We shouldn’t lose that feeling. I’ve always figured that being a good writer means being open to new experiences and ideas. You don’t have to like them. You just have to appreciate that they exist. That way, you will constantly be finding new things worth devoting your words to.
I’m strictly a non-fiction writer, but I think this approach applies to both fiction and non-fiction. I’m constantly following the news, talking to strangers in the Starbucks line and reading everything I can get my hands on. Each new incident or story is like another log being tossed on my creative fire. My first book, The Can’t-idates: Running For President When Nobody Knows Your Name, is the perfect example of what I’m talking about.
A year ago, literally every friend of mine complained about their horrible choices for president. And as the race dragged along, those complaints only got worse. I know a lot of people just threw up their hands and walked away. On the other hand, because I wanted to know why our choices were so bad, I decided to look for options. So, I drove 10,000 miles in three weeks to meet some of the 1800 other registered candidates for president. I knew they wouldn’t win. Hell, I’m not sure they’d earn more than their own vote.
Still, because everyone else saw these people as tin-foil hat wearing loonies, I tried to find the positive in their quest. I wanted to know why someone would willingly take on a task that will cost them everything and will certainly end in complete failure. I had many an agent and publisher take the grown-up, practical approach that if nobody knew about these candidates, nobody would want to read about them. Which is precisely why I wanted to meet them. The road less travelled can sometimes have provide rest stops we haven’t seen before. And the more you experience new and interesting things, the more knowledge you have to pour into your writing.
I’m not saying it’s easy. From presidential politics to mortgages to having to pee three times a night, there are countless things that make being a grown-up feel like a job rather than a reward. Still, if you can be that kid in the fire truck driver’s seat, you’re going to have a great view of the world that will inspire your writing.