There are so many things we don’t understand or don’t know about the world, and we’re so accustomed to seeing them and not knowing them that we forget to question them. Children ask those questions—“Why is the sky blue, dad?”—but as they grow older they almost always stop. This morning I reviewed Why Moths Hate Thomas Edison. It’s a compilation of column entries from Outside Magazine, in which people write in with the silly, everyday, weird, ridiculous, stupid, or seemingly obvious questions we all forget to ask, and the magazines editors track down the experts who can answer them.
The ability to ask questions everyone else has forgotten is an extremely valuable trait for a writer. Take a look at the review linked to above and note the types of questions asked and answered in the book. Then take a walk around your house, your workplace, your neighborhood, the woods, a business, or any other place and make a list of basic questions you don’t know the answer to. Make it as long as possible; try to at least fill up a sheet of paper.
Being able to come up with questions is, if anything, more important than answering them when trying to train your mind and eyes. However, if you want to take this a step further, answer these questions. Come up with your own creative, fictional answers, research the real ones—whatever you’d like. The former is more useful as a world-building exercise for fiction writers, while the latter makes a great exercise for nonfiction freelancers looking for inspiration for articles.