What if . . . ?
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.
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?