Cultivate your curiosity

Me hard at work in the new Canstar office in Brisbane CBD. I took this photo using my new Windows phone.

Me hard at work in the new Canstar office in Brisbane CBD. I took this photo using my new Windows phone.

I’ve been thrashing out the articles for my current contract employer, Canstar Blue. You can view all of my articles at this link, and I’ve compiled a ‘Best Of’ compilation at the bottom of this post…

Have I mentioned lately how amazing it is to be writing for a living? I am thoroughly enjoying every day. And thankfully they like me, too, so I get to stay on for another 6 month contract. So thankful! Praise God.

So here’s two of the things I’ve been thinking about this Friday…

Every morning at 9am we start our day with an editorial team Brainstorm Meeting. Depending on what day it is, 3 to 7 of us get together in one of the meeting rooms and say, “Tomorrow’s product releases are 4WDs and pharmacies. What are some articles we can write today about that?” Then we chat about it and get a list of 5 to 10 ideas, divide them among us, and report on where we’re up to with our other article lists that we’re each responsible for.

I love these meetings because writing is largely a solitary task, but for 15 minutes every day, we’re all part of a team working together. We’re all having our work and our ideas acknowledged and validated. Team managers, take note of the first thing I’ve been realising:

Short, positive team meetings more often make for happier staff.

It’s great when we’re all working together, bouncing ideas off each other. But this productivity in idea generation doesn’t come from putting more people together. It comes from putting people together who have varied interests and a native curiosity about the world around them.

“My friend does 4WD rally driving and I think he said there’s some great competitions in Australia. We could do an article about the biggest 4WD rally driving comps. Or the biggest rally comps open to amateurs.” (Result: here.)

Only about a quarter of my article ideas come from personal experience, and the rest come from my curiosity and things that I’ve heard about or read or seen or wondered about. That’s the second thing I’ve been realising:

Creators need to cultivate their curiosity.

If you think about the best artworks you’ve ever seen, they’re all a picture of something that has captured the artist’s attention and imagination in their daily travels. My favourite paintings are portraits, where the artist has taken their time to intricately record every detail of a person’s face. Captured their expression. Imagined what the person was thinking. (Here are some of my favourite portraits in the SA Art Gallery.)

And it’s exactly the same for writers. The books I’ve enjoyed the most are on vastly different topics, from espionage to romance to magic to surviving as a Christian. The internet articles I remember today are about everything from psychology and business and the toxins in Amazon frog’s skin. Readers love it when you don’t just summarise what they already know, but you highlight something new for them, or make a new connection.

“I’ve always wondered why generic medications cost so much less at the pharmacy than brand names, even when they have the exact same ingredients in the same quantities. Could someone research that angle and write an article on what the difference really is?”

I’m not saying you can’t write interesting things in a vacuum, but it’s a heck of a lot easier if your inner voice is alive and active and asking “Why?” like a big kid.

The view from one side of the office at 9am. The other side looks out over the Botanic Gardens. We also get an amazing view of the sunset every day.

The view from one side of the office at 9am. The other side looks out over the Botanic Gardens. We also get an amazing view of the sunset every day.

Also, it turns out curiosity is good for you.

A study I read about in this article in Psychology Today found that people who cultivate their curiosity learn better and retain information longer, and they feel more sense of meaning in their life. People who did not feel curious or interested found pleasure in the moment through sex and alcohol, but did not feel as much sense of meaning in their life.

Other studies mentioned in the article showed that curious people take more risks and have more different experiences. However, the occasional risk that hurts (like experimenting with alcohol and falling down the stairs) is outweighed by the learning gained (like deciding not to get that drunk again).

How do I cultivate my curiosity?

  • Do you read? Read more widely. Try something in a genre unfamiliar to you.
  • Do you watch the people around you on the train? Start drawing the tiny human moments you see.
  • Write down your questions so you don’t forget to investigate them later.
  • Follow your passions. Whatever you’re interested in, make time to chase it. Not during work hours, unless you’re chasing the information for an article, like I am. Find other people who are interested in it. Find people who know more than you do.
  • Try the things you’re afraid of.
  • Reframe boring situations. You might be ordering your food at Macca’s, but you could also ask the assistant how their day has been and find out a small piece of what their life is like when they’re not at work.

Best of TJ Ryan on Canstar Blue so far:

Articles I found most interesting to write:

  1. Australian passengers learn to enforce train etiquette
  2. How to recycle your old vacuum cleaner and protect our planet
  3. About Westinghouse refrigerators
  4. Foods that taste better at room temperature
  5. How to do your own laundry – a guide for beginners
  6. Aussies want a good-looking servo more than cheap fuel
  7. How to overcome weight bias in job interviews
  8. How young is too young for make-up?
  9. Kids ask their parents to put down the mobile phone
  10. A grandparent’s guide to social media
  11. Safety standards for baby carriers and baby slings
  12. Fashions over the years in prams and strollers

Articles I found most useful in my own daily life:

  1. 5 Father’s Day gift ideas from the auto store
  2. Rainy day ways to dry your clothes without a dryer
  3. Is it cheaper to buy an air conditioner in winter?
  4. A shelf life guide to the foods in your fridge
  5. How to dry your clothes so they’ll never need an iron
  6. Can you take too many multivitamins?
  7. What can and can’t a pharmacist do?
  8. Oven temperatures you should use to cook food

Articles that were hilarious to research:

  1. Australians dream of owning a luxury vacuum cleaner
  2. Can you trust your microwave?
  3. Last-minute gifts you can buy at the service station
  4. The big workout fads of 2015
  5. Gen X takes more multivitamins but Baby Boomers feel more benefit

So there you go, some light internet browsing for your weekend wind-down. Enjoy!

This post was written by TJ Withers-Ryan © 2015. Re-blogging is always highly encouraged as long as you credit me as the author.

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