The Power of “What If?”

I know that I’ve written before about bolstering our creativity by keeping open minds concerning the direction our stories, characters, and plots can take. But in a world that can sometimes feel like a dark cloud over new ideas I think it’s important to revisit the power of a positive “What If?” in the way we approach our roadblocks.

We’ve all been in the middle of a down time in our writing and creativity. I know there are people out there that will preach that writer’s block does not really exist and you’re just procrastinating, or not wanting to put the work in.

While it is true that you’ll never write anything if you don’t actually sit down and write, trying to pour out a story (whether its 500 words or 100,000) from an overloaded, overworked, and over stimulated brain can be like trying to jam a king-sized sleeping bag into a twin sized sack. You know what I’m talking about.

There’s not enough room.

Some of the blocks taking up space may include fear (of failure and/or success), self-doubt, and perfectionism. These show up like the ghost in a Scooby Doo episode, unmasked to reveal depression, anxiety, imposter syndrome, and even ADHD.

So you’ll never hear me say that writer’s block doesn’t exist (and if I have claimed that before, I retract it). I believe that the inability to create can have very real sources that we sometimes need a dynamic team of teenage detectives in an ugly van to suss out.

Today, I’d like you to apply the two-word question to those moments of stifled creativity and see what happens.

Here’s an example:

“I have a novel, nearly complete, but you can’t figure out how to end it. It’s been on my laptop for a month and it’s driving me insane but every scenario in my head doesn’t ‘feel’ quite right, so I’m just not writing any ending at all.”

Why, that’s not a werewolf! It’s that dirty landowner PERFECTIONISM (who runs a floating crap game called FEAR).

By asking ourselves what we’re really afraid of, what’s really so hard about the situation (I don’t want to write the WRONG ending, none of the endings are GOOD ENOUGH) we can face the fear directly and start asking what if….

What if you took one hour each day to write three separate endings, for each of the different possibilities you have? Unattached to the novel, a separate document. Call it exploratory research. I would bet dimes to dollars that you’ll find one that is the BEST for your novel, and feel much more capable of completing the next project on deck.

Here’s another one.

“I haven’t written any new poems in over a week, I don’t feel creative, I don’t have any ideas. I can’t find the RIGHT words. I have submissions due, I can’t focus, and I can’t even remember how to write a good poem. I’m not a poet.”

Say, that’s not a two headed mummy! It’s the motel owner’s shady uncle ANXIETY and his henchman DEPRESSION. Your brain is overworked and can’t focus, you feel like there’s nothing new in the world to write about, or worth writing about. With a trace of PERFECTIONISM, and a dash of IMPOSTER SYNDROME, this combination puts an end to possibilities before they can even reach your brain.

What if you spent ten minutes outside? Find a tree, flowering bush, cloud, roly-poly, something not man made, and focus on it for ten solid breaths in and out. Don’t look at anything else, don’t think about anything else, don’t draw your attention away from that one object. How does it move, how is the light hitting it, how long has it been there, what color is it, does it smell, does it have a taste, what’s it made of?

Not only will being outside and remembering to breathe help you to relax and curb some of those anxious and depressive feelings, but you’ll realign yourself with the beauty of noticing the small things. And details bring poetry to life. Then sit down, in the grass, and write something, no more than a page, about what you felt, what you saw, what you took in through all of those sentences. Repeat, with anything. Human, animal, mineral, place, time, concept. The possibilities are endless.

Last one, best one.

“I can’t write a synopsis! It’s so detailed and I can’t possibly boil down my entire novel into a few pages. I wouldn’t know where to start, and what’s the point, no one will take my novel anyway!”

Oh, my little defeatist, that’s not a man-eating robot, why it’s nothing but the cranky heiress SELF-DOUBT dressed up in a spray painted, cardboard box!

Look, not every writer is birthed knowing how to write a synopsis. In fact, absolutely none of them are (I think they are, however, birthed with an extra gene carrying the appreciation of ‘old-book’ smell and a tendency towards adverb-overuse and caffeine addictions) We all had to research it, take a class on it, and put in the work including probably a dozen revisions along the way.

You can find a great resource for how to write one here:

https://blog.reedsy.com/how-to-write-a-synopsis/

If you’re an plotter, a synopsis is easier. You have it all typed up somewhere, so work off your outline and put aside a time-specific block to work on it and only it. If you’re a pantster, may God have mercy on your immortally, unorganized soul, because it is fucking hard to do. Same thing though, set aside an afternoon (or two) with a start and end time and write it out like you would a copy of Cliff Notes

Add something enjoyable to the completion (extra coffee or old books?) to make the goal a little sweeter to reach. Have someone who doesn’t know your book read the synopsis (yes, it should give away the ending, no, don’t worry if Janet in Accounting knows how it ends). They can let you know if it’s easy to follow without being overwhelming.

Self-doubt, fear, perfectionism, anxiety and depression are not final resting places for your writing (or other creative endeavors). They’re road blocks brought on by your own expectation and unrealistic standards. The best advice I can give you about “What If” is to ask yourself, in the face of rejection, frustration, and doubt…

What if you can? What if you can write that book? What if you could write three poems in an hour? What if you can send your pitch, synopsis, and novel out by the end of the week?

What If, when used properly, can be the precursor to hope.

So give yourself hope. Give yourself a choose-your-own-adventure. Give yourself a good what iffing.

That got weird. You know what I mean.

Poetry 2-24-22

Good morning. I had planned a vibrant book review. But some weeks the flow of energy is a low and staggered and we have to return to center ourselves. This week, it’s all about finding my solid ground again, being my own safe space, and casting away the self doubt that has saturated my soul.

How often are we paralyzed by the expectations we put on ourselves? By what we want to be for others, or because of others. How often are we overcome with despair when we fail to meet those expectations, to garner that acceptance, to find that love?

Here is what I know to be true–

Yours is the only heart you will have for your whole life time. From its very first beat. Until its last.

Lovers, spouses, friends, parents, even children will come and go in your life, in the natural waxing and waning of time and experience. But your heart, your soul, your presence is the only one you get to spend the entire journey with. So take care of your vessel…from the engine, to the machinery, the fuel and the fire. Take care of you. Love you. Believe in you.

And now, this.

Photo by Abdullah Ghatasheh on Pexels.com
Becoming

Was there ever such a silence as this?
sun warmed skin and the echo of
small chirping voices
amongst the barking magpie and
reverberation of holy time
etched into the sides of mountains
silent, pine needle prayer

I’ve been a complacent wanderer
following the strongest flow
eyes on wayward trails
branching
never forward, exactly
but they tempt places I yearn
to wander

and it feels
like losing my ground
or finding it.

It’s in the din of life
the marked and constant boxes
that we lose our true course
give away our feet on earth
and forget 
silent places to find
ourselves.

I miss these mountains
and cultivating space between
what I dreamed of becoming and
what I’ve become.

What have I become?

Worth for Awhile

A large part of human nature’s beauty lies in our failures and follies. Perfect people are rarely very interesting. As a writer, creating ‘perfect’ characters is a sure-fire way to distance your readers and lose their interest. Why? Because no one wants to read about someone who always gets it right. Who can share commonality with that? And yet…our reality is often ruled by what we, as actual humans, fail at.

When thinking about human frailty and my own failings I stumbled across the largest stone in my path of late; Self-Worth.

I know I’m not alone. I see you out there.

It’s more than fair to say that we are comparative beings. The media propagates it, competitive constructs in work and school demand it, and long-standing cultural threads tie our successes (and our failures) to what we’re worth in the eyes of the rest of the world.

Its the single most destructive lie we’ve ever been told.

And its easy to say that it doesn’t affect us. That we don’t care how we stand in relation to other people, that we don’t have a competitive nature, that we don’t feel the need to be anything else than what we are. I say those things all the time. And they rarely do more than offer a feeble disguise over the surface of self-doubt.

If we didn’t care, we’d cease to try. We’d stop looking for ways to improve. But something that should drive our greatness often tears us apart and we are left with shreds of the human we used to be, torn apart in an effort to create something more inspirational in the eyes of the world.

I was recently told, by a very generous soul, that my self-worth shouldn’t come from anyone but myself. That I couldn’t let the berating, criticism, or comparisons of the world let me feel any less than what I was worth. That it wasn’t the outside that should decide, but what was inside of me.

So it made me wonder; What am I worth?

In terms of chemistry, my physical make-up is probably no more than about $3.00 worth of material.

If you broke down my daily tasks and how much you’d have to pay someone else to do them, some would say I’d be worth about $140,000 a year. If you based my worth on what I contribute to the world with my writing we’re looking at a solid $50 a year. Monetarily, its not very impressive. And again, I’m basing my worth on what other’s consider useful tasks/materials.

So what am I worth? What are you worth? Sit still with yourself and ask the question:

“What do I do, what am I, that matters to me? That impacts the world? That brings me contentment?”

Deep…yes. Sometimes we gotta get past the cloak of simple thought to really understand why we matter. We have to, for the sake of our own self-preservation. After all; if you don’t see worth in yourself, you start to feel like a burden to the people you love. And all sorts of ugly outcomes arise from that train of thought…trust me, I’ve been building a scary set of tracks in that direction myself of late.

So I sat down, prompted by my friend’s words and suffering through a trough of depression, and asked myself what I was worth.

I came to the conclusion that for a long time I’ve let the words and actions of other people (in their own beautiful human imperfection) determine my self worth. If they were mad at something in our shared existence, I took it on as a fault of mine. As a problem that I didn’t fix or prevent. If comments were made about appearance, I took the darkest path of focusing on my imperfections and felt the need to correct them by any strange and unhealthy way possible.

It left me wanting and sick.

Why do I let my brain do that?

Because we’re taught to improve. To impress. To be better. To strive for more. Instead of just being what and who we are and understanding that we aren’t responsible for other people’s happiness or conforming to ideas of perfection. We must set boundaries to the information we let affect us. Even my friend’s well intentioned advice was still someone on the outside telling me what to think about my self worth. It’s not about letting someone tell me I am worth-while. Its about knowing my own worth and not letting the outside world sway that knowledge either negatively or positively.

Now there are times, when someone who loves us may come to us with good intention, and full hearts and offer us a viewpoint about something destructive they see in us. There are times when someone has honest praise to offer. With careful appreciation of the information we’re given we can chose to look at it with neutrality and see if there is helpful advice within it, and take it as an opportunity for self-reflection.

I love you guys, for all you are. Just as you are. Have a beautiful week and stretch your brains and hearts to fit the worth inside of you. It’s there.

 

“You can be the most beautiful person in the world and everybody sees light and rainbows when they look at you, but if you yourself don’t know it, all of that doesn’t even matter. Every second that you spend on doubting your worth, every moment that you use to criticize yourself; is a second of your life wasted, is a moment of your life thrown away. It’s not like you have forever, so don’t waste any of your seconds, don’t throw even one of your moments away.”
― C. JoyBell C.