the question as catapult

Curiosity expressed as a question is a fuel source, a mirror, a key, a bridge across a chasm. Developing your skills as a Questioneer can add spectacular depth and bring surprising progress to your creative endeavours (and to everyday life).

A Questioneer is like a questing pioneer whose mode of transportation is the question mark. A good question – meaning a question arising from the asker’s genuine wonder and asked with openness to possible answers – acts as a catapult. In other words, it’s a pretty spectacular mode of transportation toward wherever you want to go.

Every question includes valuable information about the person doing the asking. By taking on the role of asker, you learn about yourself even before you find an answer. So form a question and dare to ask it. Allow a state of not yet having an answer.

When faced with a desire, a challenge, or a stuck spot, try formulating the most true question you can think of about the situation. Take a time out from trying to find answers and give all your attention to crafting an accurate and honest question.

A true question, one that’s got life and spark in it, is like a horn blast from the ramparts or a shout from the crow’s nest: Red Alert! Movement in the underbrush! All hands on deck! It’s a signal that draws attention to help needed. When you have a good question, answers will automatically home in on the bright beacon of your asking.

using questions to find out about others

Decades ago, a friend of mine told me his advice for enjoying parties: “Ask what you want to know.” That’s profound. Don’t ask what you think someone should be asking in this situation. Don’t ask a question if you don’t care about the answer. Ask what you want to know.

You can also ask inanimate object and imaginary people what you want to know. Ask your main character why she’s still so two-dimensional. Maybe her answer will be that you don’t seem to want to know that she’s more like you than you’re letting her be so far, and that makes her sad and flat. Or maybe she’ll tell you she’s not really the main character. Who knows? That’s why you ask.

“When we’re focused on what we already know,
we tend to ask questions to teach rather than to learn.”
Larry Zucker

Pay attention to questions other people ask. What do they tell you about themselves? What can you learn from them about the art of the question? Does their question seem to come from a genuine place? Does the question romance you into wonder? Does it prime your answer pump and make you blurt out an answer? Or do you lapse into quiet contemplation? What was it about the question that made you react the way you did?

When you’re gathering raw material for a writing project, exploring your fascinations, seeking juice and sustenance — start with a question.

If remaining curious is the only thing you do to help yourself find the path that takes you where you want to go, you’re guaranteed to make useful discoveries.

If you court the life of a Questioneer, you’ll be airborne before you know it. So hang on.

questioneer practice

  1. Make a list of the first questions that pop into your mind. Don’t edit, just list. They can be in any format or verb tense, asked with any degree of silliness or seriousness. See the questions that arise as direct messages from your psyche and let them be whatever they are. Try to catch the questions that scurry past before your analytical brain gets hold of them and snuffs them out.
  2. These instant questions offer a little view of yourself in this moment. Look at your list as though someone else wrote it. What does it tell you about that person?
  3. As quickly and instinctually as you can, answer the questions you listed in the first step.

variations

There are lots of possible variations on this practice. For instance …

Write the list of questions as though you’re someone or something else. For example, list the first questions that will pop up from the magazine editor’s psyche when he finishes reading your essay. Or list the questions the maple tree in the yard had at sunrise.

Another variation is to ask others to participate. You could practice being Questioneers around the dinner table together during dessert, or with your writer’s group, or with your kids. Make your lists on your own and then pass them around and see what you learn about each other. You could answer your own questions or everyone could write their own answers to everyone else’s questions.

(Ahem)

What might it tell you about me that these were the first six questions that arose when I decided to write this article?:

  1. What were your parents doing thirty minutes after you were conceived?
  2. How are dust bunnies created?
  3. What’s your favourite writing utensil?
  4. Do fleas consider dogs public transit?
  5. Who will remember you 200 years from now?
  6. What if circles were outlawed?

These were my first-thought answers:

  1. (Brain freeze.)
  2. By dust- and hair-filled tsunamis formed by local air current disturbances.
  3. Uniball Vision Micro or a Space Pen
  4. I don’t think they have that much conceptual computing space.
  5. My nephew’s great-great-great-great grandchildren, if any.
  6. Eyeballs would be square. We’d all be goats.

 

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