As some of you know, I’ve been spending up to ten hours a week in the car, driving between my home and teaching job and the hospital where my husband is. It’s a long 320 mile drive through the Nevada desert, but the benefit is that I’ve been listening to all kinds of podcasts and books on tape.
This week, I listened to a new favorite, Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert. Her most famous work is Eat, Pray, Love which became a huge international best seller. One of my favorite of her books is her collection of short stories, Pilgrims, and her most recent novel is an intricate historical saga about a family of botanists which I enjoyed.
In Big Magic, Ms. Gilbert talks about coming up with ideas for her novels. Currently, I’ve been wondering about my next project. I have an idea for a sequel for my historical novel, and while I really like the idea, I don’t feel like right now is the time for that project.
I also have an idea for another mystery involving the same characters as I’ve already written. Again, it has the same characters, and I’ll write this story but not right now.
With the upheaval in my life, I’ve been waiting for a new idea. But this new idea is still playing hide and seek with me, but it’s actually more hide than anything.
Have you ever felt like that? That an idea is just out of reach, somehow tickling your muse before scurrying away to peek at you from behind the nearest rock?
It’s hard to grasp it by the tail and pull it out. I’ve been waiting for it, but I’ve also been wanting to go after it.
In Big Magic, Ms. Gilbert talks about curiosity as a great way to find your story. She writes,
“If you can pause and identify even one tiny speck of interest in something, then curiosity will ask you to turn your head a quarter of an inch and look at the thing a wee bit closer.
It’s a clue. It might seem like nothing, but it’s a clue. Follow that clue. Trust it. See where curiosity will lead you next. Then follow the next clue, and the next, and the next. Remember it doesn’t have to be a voice in the desert; it’s just a harmless little scavenger hunt. Following that scavenger hunt of curiosity can lead you to amazing, unexpected places. It may even lead you to your passion–albeit through a strange, untraceable passageway of back alleys, underground caves, and secret doors. Or it may lead you nowhere” (238-239).
I had never thought about this, but it’s where my first novel and even my Master’s thesis came from. I thought about what interested me and followed that story. For my novel, it was my Great-great grandmother’s diary that she kept as she crossed the nation on the Oregon trail over 150 years ago. The Oregon historical society published it, and I always found her story fascinating.
I’d also written my Master’s Thesis on 19th Century Short Quilt Fiction which means I read and analyzed short stories that had quilts as a major plot point – did you even know there was such a thing? Me either, until I followed my curiosity. I quilt and find quilt and women’s history fascinating. Since my Master’s degree is in literature, I managed to find a way to combine my love for quilts and lit.
Then, a quilt found it’s way into my novel. I had no idea all those pieces would come together into a single story, but they did.
Ms. Gilbert tells the story of following her curiosity to write her latest novel. She decided she wanted to plant a garden in the backyard of her new house. Despite never having gardened before, she went ahead and did it. Then, she began to research the history of the flowers she planted. She wanted to know where they came from. This led her to discover that during the 1800’s botanists imported plants and flowers from all over the world. Three years later after much research and travel, she began to write her novel, an exquisitely researched story of a family who travels the globe in search of botanical specimens.
This week, with my pen in hand, I’ve been playing with my curiosity. I don’t know where it will take me, nor what story I will uncover.I’m waiting for it and turning my head toward whatever I find curious.
The story is there.
Try it. Follow your curiosity and see where it leads you.