I’m getting a wee jump on the holiday weekend. The first Wood family gathering in a long time has been planned in honor of my uncle’s 90th birthday. Flying on a plane will be involved! It’s all very exciting and heartfelt.
So instead of my usual weekly livestream, I offer you a nice old-fashioned blog post. My inspiration? This quote, which I shared with the Storytellers’ Circle* membership last week. I think you’ll like it as much as they did:
“The best thing for disturbances of the spirit is to learn. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love and lose your moneys to a monster, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honor trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then—to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the poor mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting.”
— The Sword in the Stone, T. H. White
I agree with this sentiment wholeheartedly. To be a lifelong learner is a supreme source of joy, and yet many of us still stumble into fixed-mindset ways of thinking when we realize we don’t already know it all!
We write drafts that we think are pretty good. Later, after some time and training, we realize what we used to consider good was more amateurish than not.
Do we feel excited by our new levels of skill and discernment? Or frustrated—or even ashamed—that we didn’t used to know what we know now?
Does this discomfort, or fear of this discomfort, ever hold us back from learning? Do we try to cling to old ideas even as we attempt to integrate new ones?
In the words of my fictional friend, Agatha Swanburne, “An open mind lets ideas out as well as in.” This can be easier said than done!
Learning is another word for change, and whenever we change, we have to negotiate what feels like a flux in identity. It takes courage to pull the blazing sword of our own potential from the fixed, can’t-do-anything-about-it-now stone of the past.
Curiosity is a writer’s best friend. We must stay curious about what makes good writing good, about the reader’s experience, about our own creative process and how it works and evolves.
And we must stay curious about the world. We’re all different; the stories we tell and the way we tell them will be unique, and yet humanity is our shared subject. We must always be interested in how the world wags and what wags it. It's the world we live in, and the world our readers live in. All stories will be about this, one way or another.
How do you stay curious about the wagging of the world? I'd love to know.
*What’s Storytellers’ Circle, you ask? This is an ongoing membership for writers who’ve completed Path of the Storyteller’s in-depth course in story structure and writing craft. I can’t say enough good things about this amazing community of writers. Weekly coaching, critique groups, and our first-ever live retreat coming in 2022 (at a villa in Tuscany, no less!). The course runs again in Fall of 2021. Interested? Make sure you’re on the mailing list! Use the handy form below to join.