Wednesday, November 14, 2012


You've met the subject of today's post before. So have I. 

WhatIf has been an acquaintance, a hanger-on, and sometimes a friend of ours for years and years.  WhatIf  is the lifeblood of every writer, every child, and the first step of any pursuit. 

Walking down the street your child asks, 'WhatIf I walked on the sky and looked up at the sidewalk?'

A businessman thinks, 'WhatIf I made a product that did X instead of Y, and far more effectively, too?' 

A couch potato watches runners go by and wonders, 'WhatIf I could to that?'

WhatIf is a powerful force in our lives. It sparks the imagination, ignites ideas, and lets us see the world in a different way. It drives us to change.

Curiosity, observation, and consistent practice help us cultivate and nurture the positive side of WhatIf.

Sometimes, though, despite our best intentions, WhatIf decides to veer off the productive path and go all negative on us.

WhatIf  you can’t get your novel to come together the way you want? 
Better let it stew longer.

WhatIf you've been raising your child/cat/houseplant all wrong, and they'll be in therapy for the rest of their lives because of you?
Must scour the internet for more advice...  

WhatIf you’ve 'wasted' years of your life on something you love but it will never be recognized by the world?   
Years that could have been spent, uh, playing Tetris instead?

Remember the raven from Edgar Allen Poe, crying ‘Nevermore, nevermore?’ Well, when WhatIf gets all overbearing on me, I sometimes imagine it as one of Poe's birds, just as sinister, only slightly more batty - cerulean blue, with stork legs, rhinestone glasses and a tuft of feathers poking out from the top of its head. From its perch on my shoulder, it cranes its ungainly neck, peering out at the world and whisper-squawks in my ear, “Whatif, whatif? You'd better not try.”

I'd really rather have WhatIf as an imaginative ally than a defeatist saboteur, so here are a few things I've found that help keep it in its proper place:

Think it Through

If worry over a possible outcome is paralyzing you, give in to the evil side of WhatIf and think of the worst possible result you might face. 

True Story: You decide to make ooey-gooey homemade donuts, and because you’re the generous sort, you decide to send a dozen to the neighbors. The kids are already out the door with the plate when you realize that your neighbor’s told you (more than once) that half her family is gluten intolerant. 

The WhatIf bird starts ‘Ack, ack, acking’ on your shoulder, your palms get sweaty, your brain starts in with the ‘you’re so stupid’ routine – 

And you stop. Okay, let’s imagine this through.  

The kids get to the neighbor’s door. They ring the bell, and all smiley they hold up the plate of donuts – and the neighbor’s nostrils flare, her hand jumps to her throat. “How could you?” she shrieks. “You know that will kill half our family, don’t you? Don’t you?”

Preposterous. And you brush that WhatIf bird off your shoulder, laughing, and realize that your neighbor will probably see your good intentions, even with your little goof. And the non-gluten intolerant half of her family will be happy to have twice as many donuts to eat. 

Things are rarely as bad as WhatIf can make it out to be.

Baby Steps

As Bill Murray says in ‘What About Bob’ (one of my favorite movies), baby steps, baby steps. That WhatIf bird may have had its claws in you a long time and has probably stopped you from moving forward on a lot of things you'd really like to do. I appreciate the twelve step programs that emphasis ‘just for today.’ Or if you can’t manage that, just for this hour, or this minute.   

Get past the first page...or paragraph...or word on a project. 

Force yourself to get on that treadmill...or go stand in the exercise room...or at least put your hair in a ponytail  - because you will work up to exercising soon.

Build Momentum

Use WhatIf as a compass. The thing that's so hard for you to begin doing, may be the very thing that will bring you the most satisfaction in the end. 

So, keeping that in mind, once you’ve taken the first baby step, don’t rest. Take another step. It might not get easier (Henry Fonda threw up before every performance because of nerves - every single performance, even into his 70's) , but those steps will get you farther toward your dreams than you are now.
Put Past Performance to Good Use

WhatIf your rough draft is awful and you can never make it good enough? 

WhatIf you can't ever figure out how to solve the problem you're facing, not in a million years? 


Stop and realize that you’ve dug yourself out of messes before. Things have always, always gotten better. Why shouldn’t they this time? They will. You know they will.

I suppose my silly WhatIf bird is really anxiety in disguise. I’ve often thought of anxiety as the evil twin to depression (which Melanie talked about so eloquently here).  And I think both can be equally detrimental to writing and life. doesn't have to be that way. So tell WhatIf to pipe down and behave. You have something to offer this world that no one else can ever give it.



  1. I listen to my kids do the "what if" thing all day long, maybe it's a developmental step. :)

    I agree what ifs can be powerful either in a positive or negative way, and these are great suggestions on how to not let the negative what ifs defeat you. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I've been thinking a lot about the power of that inner voice inside me, the one that tells me what I can and can't do...this is a different spin on that whole idea, and you've given me some powerful tools here. Thanks!

  3. Whatif is also a great conversation starter. For example: "What if Legolas fought Yoda?"

    Kinda similar to the Wouldyourather's. Like, "Would you rather be a T-rex or a velociraptor?"

    1. T-rex for certain. :) great pep talk Susan. You can do it!


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