Six Elements That Drive Your Personal Booklife

Your Private Booklife constitutes your core activities: the engine that drives your creative life. It has six essential pillars, or qualities:

• Curiosity
• Receptivity
• Passion
• Imagination
• Discipline
• Endurance

Try to encourage these qualities in yourself and others. Draw them out into the open if necessary, and at times allow yourself to indulge in them. In all ways be generous to yourself so that you can be generous in your work.

Although several of these qualities are useful to your Public Booklife, nowhere are they more necessary than in your Private Booklife. Let’s explore them further…

(What does this photo spark in your imagination? How does it make you curious? Image by the highly recommended Jeremy Tolbert.)


Curiosity. Nothing is more essential to a writer than an inquisitive nature—being curious about the world and the people in it. Curiosity reflects a willingness to be disappointed and an urge to understand the world. It sends out a series of queries that exist for their own sake, and gathers back into itself anything it finds, transforming it in the process. The truly curious reject received ideas and try to see everything as freshly as a child with an adult’s mind. This “gathering” of information and texture through your senses, through your questioning nature, should be non-judgmental, finding pleasure in seemingly disparate, often contradictory elements. From the fusion of these elements comes an essential aspect of creativity. Curiosity is in a sense allied with qualities such as cleverness, and thus can be impersonal–like a pack rat that accumulates buttons and bottle caps and scraps of paper without caring about the provenance of such items.

Receptivity. Openness and empathy spring from being receptive to the world and the people in it, not just being curious about them. Receptivity means allowing more than just information to come in over the transom. Eliminating barriers to other people’s emotions, predicaments, tragedies, and other aspects of the human condition is crucial to a writer, even when it hurts. You must allow yourself to be a raw nerve end that internalizes whatever it experiences in life. When you do this, you not only create a well-spring for stories, novels, and nonfiction, you also retain a sense of empathy for your fellow human beings. Putting up walls to avoid being hurt may temporarily solve problems in your life, but it may also shut you off from the source of your creativity. (The only caveat, in this age of acute connectivity? An excess of “open channels” can result in you becoming too wrapped up in the issues of other people, the weight of this overload damaging to your creativity and your sense of self.)

Passion. Cynics find it hard to be passionate about anything, and therefore passion is linked to retaining your idealism, which is in turn linked to retaining your receptivity. First you lose your curiosity, which turns off your receptivity, and then you lose your passion. If you are not passionate about what you write, no amount of effort can revive your work. It will remain inert, waiting for an infusion of new life. Passion is the blood that fills the veins of your creative self; it provides the circulatory system that allows your imagination to breathe.

Imagination. The imagination moves beyond passion: it is a lifelong relationship with the world that transforms both the world and the writer. All of the best fiction hums and purrs and sighs with the imagination, and in this way fiction mirrors the best of life. But no imagination can long survive without recourse to curiosity and receptivity as well. It needs all of this as fuel for both its serious and deeply unserious aspects. On the one hand, it is the most visible manifestation of a “soul” and on the other a quality that allows us to express the most absurd and silly aspects of play. During Medieval times, the imagination was often associated with the senses and thus thought to be one of the links between human beings and the animals. Only with the Renaissance was the imagination firmly linked to creativity and thus the intellect. The imagination defies easy measurement, even though we “know it when we see it.” It brings yet another level of uncertainty to an endeavor already supersaturated with the subjective–and yet that uncertainty is a kind of blessing. (Is it true that imagination cannot be taught? Yes. It is a brutal truth, too. But one with an escape clause. A latent imagination can be drawn out of its shell. A change of topic, focus, or even setting can also reveal in a writer an imagination not previously in evidence.)

Discipline. Without discipline, the imagination would float off, untethered, into the sky. While imagination is the ultimate expression of idealism—curious, receptive, and passionate—discipline grounds the imagination in pragmatism and structure. At the center of the essential tension between these two qualities exists the perfect writer.

Endurance. Endurance is toughness projected over time, and the perfect writer in motion rather than inert: the potential for work expressed through work. Imagination and discipline create endurance by continually replenishing creativity and giving it form.

Taken together, these pillars allow you to reach toward the perfect Private Booklife. Think of them often. They ghost through and infiltrate almost every part of that life.

>>Test this section of Booklife: Do you think receptivity is an important part of being creative? What elements not mentioned in this post do you feel also play a factor?

2 thoughts on “Six Elements That Drive Your Personal Booklife

  1. I bought your wonderful book and have begun reading it. All I can say is thank you your ideas and wisdom will help keep me sane as I get ready for the publication of my first novel in 2011. Thank you. Thank you.

  2. Oh good–I'm glad it's of use! And good luck with the novel–you've got plenty of time to plan for it.

Comments are closed.