What if . . . ?

Question Everything

Question Everything

What if . . . ?

That’s a simple question and a daunting exercise. It’s the launching point for grand ideas from master storytellers including Ray Bradbury and Stephen King.

It also launched my commitment and surrender to my calling to write.

Great storytellers of all ages have worked this way. They’ve thought of a setting, a circumstance or a character and then asked themselves “what if?” And then they’ve asked it over and over and over again, dismissing the overdone, the trite, and the obvious—until something clicks.

We all have a Mt. Everest when trying to tell stories whether based in real life or conjured from our subconscious mind.

Mine is that I’m not creative enough to have an original idea. A fresh concept. A twist that hasn’t been done before.

I just finished Zen in the Art of Writing by Bradbury. Asking this seemingly simple question opened up a world of memories to him and fed decades of amazing stories enjoyed by millions.

Ray Bradbury Zen

Ray Bradbury

On King’s FAQ page on his website, he answers the age-old question: Where do you get your ideas?

I get my ideas from everywhere. But what all of my ideas boil down to is seeing maybe one thing, but in a lot of cases it’s seeing two things and having them come together in some new and interesting way, and then adding the question ‘What if?’ ‘What if’ is always the key question.

Books I love and transformative events in my life have their origins in this simple question.

A few years ago, I wrote the following in my morning pages: What if I woke up earlier each day and tried my hardest? What if I woke up each day and tried as hard as I could to write?

When I asked the question, energy flowed, answers arrived, and I’ve been writing ever since.

I decided to take a break from revising my novel over the holidays and pledged to refill my creative well. I also committed to an online course in storytelling and have been receiving daily writing prompts in my email inbox.

With 10 days off from my day-job, I recommitted to morning pages.

Before I get out of bed, I reach for my rumpled pink journal (2.99 on clearance at TJ Maxx – they have ultra-cool journals sometimes) and blue flair pen, check for the prompt in my email via my smartphone and get the ink inching across the page.

Because I’m almost fully reclined and it’s often dark, my writing resembles seismograph etchings, but somehow, I can read it just fine.

None of these vignettes or scenes are complete, though many of them hint at a good idea lurking in the scriggles. My inner critic shouts at me that these beginnings lack originality, that they’re dull.

What if I tell my inner critic to pipe down? What if I mention my doubts to a writing friend who suggests I apply the “what if” technique from two storytelling legends? What if I commit to asking this of the story starts in my morning pages during the upcoming week before my next blog post?

Hmmmm . . . what if?



4 Thoughts on “What if . . . ?

  1. Love it. What a great reminder to open your mind and let your imagination wander. Keep asking, Suzanne!

  2. What if… you become a successful Author, and gain worldwide recognition, and win awards and s*%*?? I think that’s shaping up nicely for you, dear Suzanne! 😀

    Lovely post!

    Hedgey xx

If You’re Doing This, Knock it Off!

Strong Women

Strong Women

Update: Author Kristen Lamb wrote a kick-ass blog post about this very topic. Need a nudge to take more risks and go for the big thing you really want? If so, check it out here.

Hard to believe women are still doing this, but we are and it’s affecting our success.

In one day, in a private Facebook group with many successful, published authors, I saw the following posts:

“I know it’s just a drop in the bucket compared to what you’ve all done, but I just got my first review and I’m so excited!”

 “Granted, the category is really narrow, but I just reached #1 on such-and-such list!”

“This is just a short story, an easy read.”

These achievements are impressive and should stand on their own. No misplaced modesty or qualifiers of any kind!

Each of these statements appeared in a group for women only. You don’t see a lot of this from men.

Study after study shows that men project more confidence, whether or not they have the stuff to back it up. Strangely enough, when you project confidence, success often follows.

In fact, according to this article in The Atlantic, men overestimate their abilities and performance, and women underestimate both. Even when their performances do not differ in quality.

“Study after study confirms that it is largely a female issue, one that extends through women’s entire lives. We don’t answer questions until we are totally sure of the answer, we don’t submit a report until we’ve edited it ad nauseam, and we don’t sign up for that triathlon unless we know we are faster and fitter than is required.”

The article goes on to indicate that regardless of ability, confidence breeds success.

In Submit Like a Man: How Women Writer’s Can be More Successful,  a former literary magazine editor, female, confirms that women publish less in literary journals, largely because of how they do or don’t react to editor feedback.

Yes, the title may rankle, and not all women still have this issue. But in one day, in a supportive, safe, professional group; the apologizing and qualifying were commonplace.

Let’s try something like this instead: “I wrote this. I’m proud of it. Let me know what you think.”

Slip a rubber band on your wrist and if you feel yourself downplaying an accomplishment or apologizing for having an opinion, SNAP! Resist the urge.

If you know you have a problem with confidence, check out Confidence Breeds Success– And it Can Be Taught from Forbes for a start. You might like this post on self-doubt.

Maybe raising awareness will help us all to project more confidence, and in turn increase our own chances for success.



2 Thoughts on “If You’re Doing This, Knock it Off!

  1. Awesome Suzanne. I’ve been passing around a Ted Talks video on body language with similar findings https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ks-_Mh1QhMc . Thank you for this post, it’ll be there like the rubber band to remind me of the importance of owning my value.

When Bad is Good: A New View on Your Inner Critic

Choose Your Thoughts

Several years ago, I won a free consultation from a professional home organizer. Embarrassed but desperate, I revealed the clutter in my disorganized kitchen wondering what, if anything, could be accomplished in one 30-minute session.

This domestic genius took one look around and said “Why don’t we just put this here, closer to where you use it.”

She said it about three times—it sounded more like Bibbity-Bobbity-Boo to me—and soon, papers piled on the table, spices jumbled in a crowded cabinet, and CDs splattered with orange juice, miraculously migrated to their new, logical locations.

I watched in awe and could only think Of course that belongs there. It seemed so obvious once she pointed it out.

Bibbity Bobbity Boo

So what was my problem? Why did this expert instantly see a solution where I saw only frustration and mess?

Perspective. Her view was new and different from mine.

Perspective is everything. This became crystal clear to me recently, during a discussion with a writing mentor.

Rehashing my goals one day, I confessed that I loved the attention that came with publication. How needy and pathetic, right? I even told her my best friend had once called me an attention whore.

My mentor’s reaction changed the way I react to the negative thoughts that come with writing, or any pursuit of passion in life.

“What if your craving for attention is what’s allowing you to do what you feel called to do? What if it’s that drive for affirmation that wakes you up at 5am to work on your rough draft?”

It happened again when I told her I sometimes found myself jealous of the talent of other writers. I didn’t begrudge them their success, I just coveted a smidgen of the talent I witnessed in other, more accomplished writers.

Her response: “Excellent! When we’re jealous, it shows us we’re on the right track. We know what we’re shooting for. So many people don’t have a goal in life. Congratulations, your jealousy is pointing you in the right direction.”

Hmmm . . . maybe there’s something to this. Maybe I had been looking at my negative thoughts and labels the wrong way. As long as my thoughts weren’t manifesting in undesirable actions, maybe they weren’t so bad.

“Learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience.”

~ David Foster Wallace

I decided to test my theory. In a post in one of my favorite Facebook groups, a member asked if any other writers sat down to work on their manuscripts each day, riddled with fear.

My response was “Fear is good!” Fear sent a message that what you attempted carried weight and importance in your life. When I mentioned the interaction to my mentor, she practically jumped for joy. “Yes! That’s exactly what it means.”

Of course, fear is also a life-saving emotion pointing human beings to safety and survival. But we’re talking writing here folks, not hiking in the Alps.

This is more than a lame “think positive” mantra. Changing your position and perspective takes practice. Maybe it’s all B.S. but I don’t think so. It’s worked for me.

Time and energy spent doubting abilities or fretting over perceived character defects keeps us from giving 100% to our creative projects.

Next time you’re ready to label yourself, take a minute and question the label. What are the benefits of being afraid, jealous, attention-seeking? Make a list.

Domestic Goddess Kitchen

My organized kitchen (I wish)

Fifteen years later, my spices, CDs and papers are still stored where the expert suggested, I still like attention, and I’m still not-so-secretly jealous of favorite writers. I’ve learned to question my negative thoughts and labels when they pop up.

Rethinking them has made all the difference.

Don’t be so quick to beat yourself up. Give yourself the benefit of the doubt. Don’t waste time fretting over imagined inadequacies, and instead, get down to what’s guaranteed to make us all better, no matter the endeavor: practice and hard work.