The Curious Writer’s Mind

Prince Edward IsAland

I am writing this post far from home: approximately 430 miles southwest of Maine. This early morning in Philadelphia, in a guest bedroom—more specifically guest bathroom (stay with me here) of my aunt’s house—I discovered this: I never turn off my writer’s curious mind.

But I get ahead of myself. MEH (My Engineer Husband) and I are here to celebrate an important birthday. Our daughter’s 21st! Last night we took her and four of her wonderful friends out for dinner at a delicious Malaysian restaurant. Then we wandered behind them through the streets of Philly, in search of a bar. Can I tell you it’s been a long time since I’ve done this? Of course I’ve never done it with my daughter! We had so much fun!

(An aside: If you have a daughter who at age two asks for a pony? Don’t expect she’ll outgrow wanting one. Even at age 21. Even as she’s sitting next to you on a barstool, ordering a drink called “Bulletproof.”)

I digress. What does this have to do with the writer’s curious mind? Earlier, on our way to the restaurant I took a photo—two houses with pretty unbelievable art displays in their front yards. I thought it was Halloween decorations, MEH thought it was more of a year round thing—and we discussed it for a while. But more importantly, I wondered: who lives there? What is their motivation? Why? What is the course of life events that leads someone to have such an assorted display.

The houses with the amazing art displays in their front yards.
Later, when MEH and I left our daughter and her friends to enjoy the late night scene, we wandered back to our small nondescript white station wagon. On the way we saw an amazing old building, beautifully lit up. I had to take a photo, of course, but I had no idea what building I was looking at—yes, I wondered and briefly tried to figure it out via Google on my iPhone. After I took the photo, we walked by the Ritz-Carlton Hotel—a couple dressed to the nines was getting out of a dark Mercedes, being helped by the doorman with their luggage. I had to wonder: who are they? Why are they in Philly? What’s theirstory? Are they in the foreign service? Are they spies? Are they here for their daughter’s birthday?
The mystery building turned out to be
none other than Philadelphia City Hall!
It just doesn’t stop. And so it was this morning (I told you, I’d come back to it), standing in my aunt’s guest bathroom, looking at the Map of the World shower curtain I noticed something. An island off the coast of Africa labeled: Prince Edward Isaland. No, that misspelled word is not a typo (well, not my typo). Of course I did what any curious writer would do: rushed back to my room for my iPhone to find out if there really is a place called Prince Edward Isaland—more specifically is it a typo?
The answer is yes, it is a typo. But, wait, there’s more! The first five search items returned in Google were other blogs written about this very same typo on this very same shower curtain (well, not my aunt’s shower curtain but another one just like it)! And one of the blogs was “overly harsh” (that blogger’s description, not mine) about this shower curtain, and not just because of the typo, but more about the mapping strategies and politics. And again, I wondered: why? Why the harsh reaction? What was that blogger’s motivation? It is, after all, only a shower curtain.

And that’s my short (not overly harsh) blog for the week—a look into this writer’s curious mind.

Do you, like me, see stories everywhere you look? Do you try to imagine what the people (and places) around you are all about? Can you turn off yourwriter’s curious mind?



  1. CMSmith says:

    At this stage of the game I more often have trouble turning my Writer’s mind on than off. My photographer’s eye, however, is another story altogether.

    I hope you’re having a good trip. Sounds like it.

  2. LM Preston says:

    Love the pictures! Looks like you had fun 😀

  3. This is the true beauty of BEING a writer, I think: seeing the world through a more robust lens, always looking, looking, seeking, and SEEING. I actually feel badly for non-writers. I just don’t think they get as much delight from the world as we do. Every incident, every accident, every image holds a story.

    I loved the photos and the fact that you spent time at bars with your now-21-year-old daughter. What a COOL mom you are.

    • Just like you, I agree that I feel bad for people who don’t see stories — and interestingly, after the houses, that was our NEXT conversation! I asked MEH if it bothered him that I always saw a story in everything (and then have to talk about it) and he said: “No! In fact, it makes life so much more fun!” Whew, glad he feels that way since apparently I can’t control myself. As you say, always seeing, every image holding a story! (p.s. As for being a cool mom…. thank you… would my kids agree, not sure, but I hope so! 🙂

  4. Perry Block says:

    Glad you had a great time in Philadelphia and hit on one of the very cool restaurants we have here in the city.

    You were looking for a bar? You could have come to my house. I serve well after the official curfew of 2:00 AM although I do water the drinks!

    • We had such a great time, and my daughter picked an amazing restaurant with delicious food and perfect atmosphere. As for the bar, I think the “carding” experience was the highlight for my daughter … but thanks for the invitation!

  5. Emma Pass says:

    Oh yes – all the time! It makes my OH laugh when we’re out somewhere and I try to figure out what people’s stories are. Can’t help it, though – my mind won’t switch off!

    Hope you had a lovely trip, and many happy returns to your daughter!

    • Like you, Emma, my mind won’t switch off either. It’s a constant backstory and undercurrent running through our daily lives. We did have a lovely trip, thank you, now home safe and sound. And I’ll pass your well wishes on to my daughter! (p.s. you OH?? tried to figure out the O, but can’t — maybe my story manufacturing is worn out from travels!?)

    • Emma Pass says:

      Glad you had a good trip! OH stands for Other Half… AKA Hubby! 🙂

    • Thanks, Emma!! Here I was thinking in terms of occupations (like MEH)… thank you for telling me, it would’ve driven me crazy! 🙂

  6. Sounds like you are having a wonderful time in Philly. No, I don’t think the writer mind ever turns off. Curiosity is an occupational hazard!!! 🙂

  7. I love that about being a writer…it’s an endless game of “what ifs?” Every story starts with a question, and a leap from the reality we’re presented with. Sounds like your trip was full of questions and inspiration! Glad you had a great time!

    • It’s amazing, isn’t it, how many questions and stories can evolve from almost anything? Consequently traveling (especially by car when MEH is around to chat with) is never boring. So many endless possibilities, and you say leaps from reality!

  8. Barb Riley says:

    We are like-hearts, Julia. Perhaps more apropos would be to say like-minds. I am so tracking with you on your incessant questions that inquiring minds have just GOT to find the answer to! In my cynical moments, I consider it to be more of a curse than a blessing, but at the end of the day, I think it makes life more interesting, too.

    • I agree: like-minds AND like-hearts, Barb! It definitely makes life more interesting, but I admit there are times when I feel like it’s a curse, too — like when my mind just won’t shut down! Or when I need to google every little thing I’m curious about…

  9. LOL! My mother was no where near me on my 21st birthday. And I’m sure your daughter felt a lot better the morning after than I did. She sounds like a very smart cookie!

    And I totally do the same thing when I see things or people who make me go hmmm. Making up other people’s bios is one of my favorite pastimes!

    • My mother was no where near me on my 21st b’day either, Hallie. And I should say that we were there for only a portion of the night — believe me, I could not have stayed up til the wee hours of the morning that I know they did! It was such a fun night for us!

      I know exactly what you mean about things or people that “make me go hmmm…” stories everywhere, right!?

  10. One of my writing weaknesses is that I often miss details (I love following “What I Saw” and am always amazed at Melissa’s eye for detail) because I’m lost in my head with my characters or dreaming up backstory for the person in the car next to me or imagining what happened to put the cashier at the grocery store in such a bad mood. I love your imaginings about the places and people you noticed on your night out with your daughter. And you are a very cool Mom.

    • Boy, do I know what you mean about being lost in my head… so very true. And trying to figure out why someone is in a bad mood, I do that too! Glad you enjoyed my imaginings, Shary. Can you imagine a group of writers out together in a public place? The stories we’d tell! What fun that would be! (p.s. It was a memorable night with my daughter and her friends — as for being cool? You’d have to ask my kids about that! But I do try to keep up!)

      p.s. I know what you mean about Melissa — not only does she have an amazing eye for detail, but she does an amazing job sharing that experience with her readers, too!

  11. This made me smile. Yes, I do it too. Sometimes we’ll be out and I’ll sort of zone out and my husband just knows that’s what I’m doing–puzzling things out, trying to find the story. It never ends. =)

  12. This is one of the most interesting posts I’ve read this week, Julia. First off, congrats on having a grown daughter – yes, you will get to do adult things with her now (probably have been for a while, actually, but it will get even better!) and she will be an adult female friend (AFF?) for the rest of your life. Awesome, huh?!

    Those houses with the art out front are way cool. I adore it when people do something so out there and unusual, with no concern that everyone else isn’t doing it. It’s such a pleasant jolt to the senses, and lets us know there are fearless Individuals among us.

    One of these days I’m going to break down and get an iphone—reading about you looking up the buildings as you strolled with MEH once again reminded me of the freedom of access to info anywhere they have to offer, and hey, we ARE curious writers.

    So funny about the shower curtain typo, and the strong reaction it got from the blogger. It’s important to always remember that people have unseen motivations and agendas (as you point out) – the things that drive them to say or do what they say or do, and to always take that into account. And what good advice for any writer, hey? Since our characters must have underlying motivations.

    • What a nice compliment, Cynthia! Thank you and I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. You echoed my thoughts on the house art, it really is nice to know there are people who are willing to do things differently then most. I guess that to points out that we each have our own motivations, agenda, and path in life. A good guide to character development, I agree.

      I highly recommend the iPhone. I use it probably way more than I should but I love it and it is indispensable. As for my daughter, thanks again. She is utterly amazing, and I love spending time with her. I can see what you mean… it keeps getting better!

  13. You are cracking me up….the google search resulting in posts about same shower curtain. So glad you had a great time with your daughter. We get to see our son this weekend. He’s a little antsy about mid-terms. I look forward to watching him become a man and have a relationship like you with your daughter. 🙂

    • I know… those posts coming up in the google search: a post within a post! It was pretty funny. Glad you get a chance for time with your son — those times are so precious! Here’s to wonderful relationships with our kids, no matter the age!

  14. What a fantastic story, Julia! I love it. Yes, I am just like you. I rarely switch off that curious mind. Apparently, I had it as a child too and drove my mum mad asking a continual stream of questions. I bet you were the same, Julia? My dort is too! Sometimes though, when I’m with a friend, just chatting and having girly time, I do switch off and just try and be for a while. But you can guarantee, if I’m anywhere different, I’ll be doing just as you did and wondering why and what if? Hope you had a fab time with dort – it sounds as if you did! xo

    • Yes, a fab time with dort!! It was so fun. As for growing up seeing stories? Continually. And my kids the same, too. Always some story somewhere! As for switching off, not so sure… my current WIP is the direct result of a conversation with a friend (she gave me her blessing of course). Glad you enjoyed it, Abi 🙂 xox

  15. Nina B says:

    You know–it’s interesting. . . since I’ve been more blog focused than fiction focused I find that my mind jumps on blog ideas more than fiction ideas. I think I might have untrained my nose for a good fictional story. 🙁

    • I understand exactly what you mean, Nina. Ever since I’ve been focusing primarily on my fiction, I often have trouble coming up with a topic to blog about (and it’s incredible to me that I used to post every single day — how?) 🙁

  16. Lisa Ahn says:

    I love your posts, Julia. I love how you are able to incorporate so many different details into one fabulous, coherent piece.

    I ask “what if” a lot, but my mind tends to turn towards magical realism. I wish I were better at wondering deeper into reality, if that makes sense. A goal to work towards.

    As for ponies, my daughter wants a horse and lessons . . . and you’re telling me that’s going to be an ongoing request??

    • Thank you so much, Lisa — I’m so glad you enjoy my posts (especially in light of my answer to Nina: I really grapple to come up with ideas these days as my focus is more on fiction). That’s so interesting that your fiction mind turns to magical realism — and that you wish you could wonder deeper into reality — I am the opposite! I am (almost) always rooted in reality and wish I could get more in touch with magical realism. Actually, that may be happening with my NEXT WIP, which I’m starting to plan…

      As for ponies and daughters? I can tell you only that in my experience: yes, every single birthday and gift-giving holiday, when I ask her what she wants, she answers: a pony (or horse). And I think she’s only half joking. She really did mention it to me at the bar that night!!!