Creativity's Workshop

Taming and Training Your Creativity to Write Abundantly

Leave a comment

Guest Post: Unlocking Your Story’s Potential with the Magic of “What If?”

A rubber ducky asking himself "What if I were a writer?" Well, that's what it looks like to *me* anyway.

“Rubber Ducky” by Robert Burakiewicz via Flickr

Recently we’ve been looking at the power of daydreaming, how it can improve your writing speed, and how you can direct your daydreaming with the use of questions. Now let’s see how it works in real life.

My friend and fellow writer, Amber Seah, (you may remember her previous guest post on My Life in Music — A Memoir) is going to share a snippet from her writing life. In this post she describes how she and her daughter use the question ‘what if?’ to create interesting stories and discover answers to those tricky story questions.

The other night, while washing the hair of my 6-and-¾-year-old, I was mentally composing a letter from an indignant aunt to my main character, Timothy. While my mind was two centuries and half a world away, my daughter was asking her predictable retinue of ‘what-if’ scenarios, addressing such important questions as:

“What if a person this big, (approximately the size of a grain of rice) could eat a hamburger as big as our house, and….” Wait for the punch line.

“And STILL be hungry?”

I have yet to find satisfactory answers to these puzzles. She is usually posing the next what-if without expanding the first one. Listening to her outlandish what-ifs brought to mind an article I read years ago about using ‘what if’ to overcome writers block. It suggested writing 50 or 100 what-ifs to break through the block.

I have never had occasion to use this method as writer’s block is not something I suffer from, however I do feel from time to time that my plot has become stale, laboured and predictable. If I get bored writing my novel, where does that leave the poor reader?

While I rinsed the soap from my daughter’s hair, I tried to give far-fetched, concise answers to match her scenarios; but like a rubber band left too long in the sun, my imagination does not stretch to equal the dimensions of hers.

Fortunately the brain is not a rubber band. Neuroscientists assure me lost elasticity can be regained. I began what-ifing about the letter of this aunt.

What if she threatens to cut him off? He doesn’t need her money.

What if she forbade him to marry the girl, or insisted he marry another girl? He would throw the letter on the fire.

What if the letter contained a string of insults disguised as advice? Malicious and predictable.

These what-ifs led me to think about the personality of this Aunt. Are Timothy’s beliefs about his aunt a true representation of her? As children we develop impressions of the adults around us, which in adulthood we come to realise were erroneous or at the very least warped.

Has he misjudged his aunt’s interest and intentions in the case?

So I went back to what-ifing, and before the conditioner had soaked in, it hit me.

What if she did not write a letter but came in person? What if on receiving no answer to her carefully-worded letter she followed her nephew to London? After all, she is a woman of action; she is not the sort to sit around at home twiddling her thumbs. Besides, there is always something useful to be got out of London, even if she does not succeed in protecting him from ultimate heartache.

All those what-ifs revealed to me this supporting character’s motivation and personality — a revelation I chose to share with Timothy so that he now has a new understanding and appreciation for his overbearing aunt. Their relationship has grown and hopefully so has the story.

What can what-ifing do for you?

Do you have a dull character? A lull in the action? A sticky bit in the plot?

I won’t put a number on the what-ifs, but I recommend to keep asking them until you hit upon something that stimulates you. Stretch those neurons to reach new connections and feel the exhilaration that comes when you finally hit upon a solution.

That is the magic of “what if”.

What about you? What have you discovered from asking “what if?”?
A photograph of Amber

Amber Seah has always loved the wonder of the written word – be it prose, poetry or song. She lives with her husband, daughter, dog and extensive alphabetized library of favourite books.



How Daydreaming Can Improve Your Writing Speed

A little girl looking out the window, daydreaming

“Daydreaming” by Greg Westfall via Flickr

Hi, I’m Jessica’s Creativity (you can tell because I’m writing in purple) and today I want to convince you to daydream more often.

Last week we started looking at the subject of daydreaming.


Because it’s one of those guilty pleasures, something you were told off for doing as a child and then discovered valid reasons for doing in adulthood — just like putting your elbows on the dinner table, licking your knife, and avoiding mashed potatoes (can you believe your parents didn’t realize the dangers of carbs?!).

As a child, you may have been told that daydreaming was a waste of time. I’m here today to convince you that, as a writer, you can now say that daydreaming is a legitimate part of your writing process. Not only that, it might actually save you time.

Don’t believe me?

Go listen to this interview with Hugh Howey and pay particular attention around 12:20 minutes. Before becoming a full-time writer, he did a number of other jobs. He daydreamed while he worked, writing stories in his head so when he sat down to the page he was ready to go.

Daydreaming can be used to prepare your mind, so when you finally sit down to write the words are ready to pour onto the page. 

The act of creating takes time. Sure, there’s that moment of inspiration when an idea suddenly hits you, but one idea does not a story make. (I’m sure that’s a quote from Yoda, during his years as a writing coach.) To put together a story with plot, characters, location, and descriptions, your Creativity needs time to form them.

How often have you sat yourself down in front of the page and ‘switched your Creativity on’ expecting the words to come, only to find your Creativity needs time to ‘buffer up’ before providing you with the details you need? You end up staring off into space while your Creativity meanders through the streets of your imaginary world looking for clues, playing with plot twists, planting red herrings or finding the perfect outfit for your heroine’s big scene (don’t ever rush a diva while she’s choosing stilettos).

Let’s face it, that’s technically daydreaming. Your Creativity needs that time to create, so why not start your Creativity on the task a few hours early?

Get her/him working on story details while you commute to work, wash the dishes, go for a run, do some gardening, walk your pet python, or do some other mindless task. Then when you do sit down to the page your Creativity is already ‘loaded’ and ready to go. You’ve got an image in your head of what you want to write so all that’s left is to find the words.

If you and your Creativity can work out a system of regular daydreaming, then you can potentially speed up your writing time (even if it did lead to you getting off the train two stops too late, breaking your daughter’s favorite mug, getting yourself completely lost while exercising, mowing your petunias, and losing your pet snake down a storm drain). The inspiration and creation has already happened. When it comes time to write you become a scribe, recording all the progress you’ve already thought up, while your Creativity adds in extra details here and there as needed.

Now I know what you’re thinking. What if I forget the stuff I’ve daydreamed? The answer is relatively simple. Make quick notes about the things you’re thinking about and then make sure you have a regular writing schedule in place (daily would be ideal) so you can get those words down on the page as quickly as possible. The longer you leave the images in your head, the more flaky and stale they become…rather like pastries. So get those ideas onto the page while they’re still piping hot!

There you have it. If you want to speed up your writing, spend more time staring out into space daydreaming. It’s very simple really.

How do you use daydreaming to speed up your writing?


P.S. In case you haven’t heard, The Red Umbrella (my latest short story) is now available on Amazon. If you didn’t get the news, then sign up to my author mailing list for regular updates or check out my author blog.

1 Comment

You Too? Do You Daydream?

A woman looking into the distance, daydreaming about what she is going to write.

Image Credit: Microsoft Clip Art

Welcome to another You Too? post, where each month we discuss a writing-related question. I particularly want to know your thoughts on the subject, so please weigh in by leaving a comment below.

This week I’m talking about daydreaming.

To start with, let’s define daydreaming. For the purposes of this post, we’re referring to that situation where your mind is wandering from the present, flitting off to greener imaginary pastures where idea fodder flows freely and stories materialize before your eyes. It may happen while sitting at your desk, commuting to work, sitting in a waiting room, having a shower, or washing the dishes.

Sound familiar?

Just about everyone daydreams from time to time. But as writers, daydreams may be more use than just a distraction from the present.

A ‘daydream’ could be an opportunity to flesh out a storyline, learn more about our characters, or play out scenarios in our head. What might be considered unexceptionable behavior in some circumstances (like the classroom) may be considered essential practice in others (like at your writing desk).

With that in mind, I’d love to know your thoughts on the following questions. You don’t have to answer them all. Just pick a couple that appeal to you and add your comment to the discussion below.

  • Do you daydream?
  • Do you call it ‘daydreaming’ or do you prefer to use another term?
  • Where/when do you daydream?
  • Do you feel it helps your writing?
  • Do you have any daydreaming tips or tricks?

I look forward to reading your thoughts!