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Overcoming writer's block. A writer's two best friends: "What If?"

Updated on January 16, 2015

Writer's Block

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A Writer's Two Best Friends: What If?

How do you overcome writer's block? Get a little help from your friends "What" and "If"!

I believe that a writer's two best friends are the words, "What If?" Just like in real life, in writing we can rely on our friends to get us through the hard times. And who do we rely on and trust the most but our best friends? With the help of these two small, but powerful, friends, you can be writing again in no time.

Ask yourself this question about your writing life: What if I never had writer's block again?

Writing Help

A Simple Idea:

Take a simple idea and start asking "What If?" questions about it.

Start off with a simple idea. Now, I'm not talking about an award-winning, blockbuster, best-selling list type of idea. Thinking in these terms while in a rut will probably only add to your distress. All you are looking for at this stage is a simple idea to put down on paper (or on your computer screen) so that you can tell yourself that you wrote something. It doesn't even have to be good.

For example: "A boy slapped his neck." Not a very mind-blowing idea. In its current form, it's not even a story idea, is it? But watch what happens if we start asking "What If" questions about this idea:

"What if the boy is sitting on an anthill?"

"What if the boy is angry?"

"What if the boy is lost?"

"What if the boy ran away?"

"What if the boy has a computer chip in his neck?"

"What if the boy's father is the President of the United States of America?"

"What if the boy just found out that he is adopted?"

"What if there was a UFO hovering miles above the boy's head?

As you can see, the "What If" questions don't all have to be about the boy's neck. They can be about him, his surroundings, his situation in life, his family, and anything else related to him. The "What If" questions can be vague and general or narrow and specific.

A List Of Materials:

Now, of course, you're writing these questions down. So, in effect, you are making a list of unanswered questions about this boy. Where will they lead?

Continue to add to these questions until you feel you have made yourself a list of materials from which you could possibly build a story idea. In time, some of these questions will become the first building blocks of your story.

Keep up-front in your mind the idea that you can ask even the zaniest of questions. You are free to let your imagination roam because you don't have to write your story about all of these questions. In fact, it would probably end up looking pretty silly if you did. You are not confined to anything. The idea is to kick-start your mind and then to keep it running. Good ideas will come with the bad. You can sort out what you've written later.

Two Best Friends

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Continue Your Curiosity:

Now comes the exciting part! Take a look through your list of "What If" questions and ask yourself "What If" questions about them! For example:

"What if the anthill was sitting on top of a toxic waste dump?"

"What if the ants were mutating?"

"What if the boy gets psychotic when he is angry?"

"What if the boy gains some type of powers when he is angry?"

"What if the computer chip was an experimental government-made chip for a secret, mind-control project?"

"What if the chip was a tracking device implanted by aliens?"

"What if the chip was a new weapon implanted by terrorists?"

"What if the lost boy is being watched by a predator?"

"What if the lost boy is the only one who can save someone who is in trouble or whose life is in danger?" (The same questions apply to the boy if he is a runaway).

"What if the President's son is without his Secret Service Escort?"

"What if the President's son holds the key to his father's success or failure in office?"

"What if the adopted boy is really an alien?"

"What if the aliens who lost him are looking for him?"

"What if the UFO above his head was about to abduct him?"

"What if the UFO above his head was piloted by the alien boy's real parents, but the boy would be better off with his adopted parents here on Earth?"

As you can see, some of the previous questions can actually fit together in this stage. And, as you may have noticed, this process of questioning the questions can go as deep as you would like them to go. When you are satisfied with where this process has taken you, it will be time to home in on your idea. That is where your next group of friends come in!

Other Friends:

Your best friends have helped you quite a bit. But you have another group of friends who want to help you out. Their names are "Who," "What," "When," "Where," "Why" and "How." They have seen how far you have gotten and are excited about what you are working on. They want to help you decide which ideas are the best and find out more about them. Let's see what happens when they lend a hand:

"Who is this boy?" Time to decide if he is the President's son, an alien, or both! "Who will this boy interact with in this story?" "Is the villain watching him from behind a building or that nearby UFO?" Also, it's about time you picked a name for your character.

"What situation is he in?" "Is he lost or did he run away?" "Is he in danger or is he a danger to others?" Now is also the time to find out things like: "What does he want?" "What does he plan to do to get what he wants?" "What could go wrong to keep him from getting what he wants?" "What can he do about the challenges he is about to face?" If he has super powers now is the time to ask "What kind of super powers does he have?"

"Where is the boy?" "Is he on an anthill?" "Is that anthill on top of a toxic waste dump?" "Where else is he?" "Is he on Earth or on another planet?" "Where specifically is he (for instance, which country, which city, which part of the city)?"

"When does this story take place?" "Is it present day? The past? The future?" More specifically, "What time of day is it?" This might become very important for a lost or runaway boy who doesn't know where he is going to sleep.

"Why is he in this situation?" "Did he run away because he was being abused?" "Is he angry at a bully?" "Does he miss his home planet?" And for crying out loud, "Why did he slap his neck?" "Is there really a tracking chip or a weaponized device inside?"

"How will this story be resolved?" "Will it be a happy ending or a sad one?" "Will the boy succeed or fail?" "Will this boy grow through his experience?"

I hope you have already noticed that these specific questions can go very deep into the boy's situation. In combination with your "What If?" questions, they can decide the plot, setting, characterization, meaning, and every other detail of your story. Spend some time and develop your story and its characters. With such eager friends willing to help, there is no stopping you!

Other Friends

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What are you most likely to do when experiencing writer's block?

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Building A Roadmap:

Pick the most interesting answers and start assembling them into a story idea. This is the step where you get to choose what you like from your questions and from all the information you have gathered.

You now have a wealth of ideas for your story and the excitement and enthusiasm that come with them. Seeing the story laid out in front of you, you now know where you are going and are ready to get started with the actual writing!

To show where this can lead, here is only one of many possible story ideas that can come out of this list of questions and answers:

Story Idea:

Adam Jackson is the son of the President of the United States of America. At least that is what everyone on Earth believes. In reality, Adam is an alien whose real parents are, at this very moment, hovering in a space ship high above the planet. Implanted in Adam's neck is a micro-computer device capable of recording and uploading to his ship all the world's most sensitive information. From the building blocks of human DNA, to the world's most advanced offensive and defensive weapons, the device in Adam's neck is ready to provide an alien race with all they need to take over the Earth. Only one thing stands in the way of the total conquest and enslavement of the human race: Adam Jackson loves his new parents and their way of life. He does not approve of what his real parents are planning to do to his new home. Adam Jackson is a very capable being. And, Adam Jackson is mad!

That's the basic story idea. This is the step where that idea gets outlined to form the skeleton of a complete story with a beginning, middle, and end. This skeleton will be further fleshed out with other details found in the answers to the list of questions that have been asked.

Full Circle:

Begin writing your story! Start with the part you are most excited about. Not every story has to be written in order from beginning to end, just start writing!

And remember, if you get stuck, or if you want to change direction, you have nothing to worry about. Your friends won't let you down. Just ask more questions!

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to start writing a story about a boy who slapped his neck.

Writing Away!

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Another Method For Writing

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    • Bernard Preston profile image

      Bernard Preston 5 years ago from South Africa and the Netherlands

      Thanks Eric, nice little piece. I'm not running out of ideas but these little friends of yours help in other directions: What if Bernard Preston got off his butt and got his book into the Kindle format? What if Bernard Preston started seriously building his FB and Twitter friends. What if he actually finished his sixth book!

      Thanks, you've been a friend too!

      Bernie

    • barbergirl28 profile image

      Stacy Harris 5 years ago from Hemet, Ca

      This was an outstanding hub on how to break out of writer's block. For me - I have a tendency to procastinate. And it isn't always that I don't have anything to write... just sometimes I have too many things going through my head that I can't organize my thoughts. I love your take and you make it sound so easy. And even better - the pictures that you took really added to this.

      This is a great read for any writer. Sharing this on Facebook for my writer friends and sharing it with my followers. Awesome job!

    • BlissfulWriter profile image

      BlissfulWriter 5 years ago

      Alternatively, go to the Answers section and see what questions people are asking and write a hub that answers those.

    • Fozia Arif profile image

      Fozia Arif 5 years ago from Pakistan

      Hmm.Really interesting and useful

    • ekstrom002 profile image

      ekstrom002 5 years ago

      There is a technique for when you are blocked, write the same word over and over again. It works for some people, doing this is supposed to get your creative juices flowing

    • Eric Calderwood profile image
      Author

      Eric Calderwood 5 years ago from USA

      Bernard, thanks for the kind words. I'm going to have to look into Kindle publishing myself. Good luck on your sixth book!

    • Eric Calderwood profile image
      Author

      Eric Calderwood 5 years ago from USA

      Barbergirl28, thank you so much! The pictures were fun to make, I'm glad you liked them. And thank you for sharing my hub with your friends!

    • Eric Calderwood profile image
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      Eric Calderwood 5 years ago from USA

      BlissfulWriter, Good point. In fact this hub was inspired by the answer I was writing to a question in the Answers section.

    • Eric Calderwood profile image
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      Eric Calderwood 5 years ago from USA

      Thank you, Fozia!

    • Eric Calderwood profile image
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      Eric Calderwood 5 years ago from USA

      ekestrom002, I have never heard of that technique before. It makes sense though. Anything to get yourself actually writing instead of staring at a blank page or screen has got to be helpful. Thanks for dropping by.

    • profile image

      Motown2Chitown 5 years ago

      Eric, this is awesome! I've bookmarked it and plan to refer to it for the next few days as I power through my own writer's block.

      Thanks! :D

    • Eric Calderwood profile image
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      Eric Calderwood 5 years ago from USA

      Motown2Chitown, thank you! Good luck in your writing endeavors.

    • jbosh1972 profile image

      Jason 5 years ago from Indianapolis, IN. USA

      I deeply appreciate this help. Sometimes I struggle when I want to write about art or science. Sometimes I take a general concept and break it down into its smaller components for ideas. For example( a painted sculpture_acrylic medium,pigments, spray painting, sculpting techniques.

      But now you give me perspective that allows me branch outward instead of breaking down what I already have. This will add to my ideas for sure!

    • prairieprincess profile image

      Sharilee Swaity 5 years ago from Canada

      What an excellent idea. This technique would be great to share with a class of high school English. Great hub! I am sharing and bookmarking for myself.

    • Eric Calderwood profile image
      Author

      Eric Calderwood 5 years ago from USA

      jbosh1972, I'm glad this hub is helpful. I wish you the very best in all your writing projects.

    • Eric Calderwood profile image
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      Eric Calderwood 5 years ago from USA

      prairieprincess, thank you! I wish my high school English teachers would have taken the time to make writing more interesting for us. Writing is too much fun to be a chore.

    • cashmere profile image

      cashmere 5 years ago from India

      Amazing! Love the way the story idea flew out of the two little words, "What If!"

    • Eric Calderwood profile image
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      Eric Calderwood 5 years ago from USA

      Thank you, cashmere! They certainly are two powerful little words.

    • Ciel Clark profile image

      Ciel Clark 5 years ago from USA

      I like it. I'm more of a "Why?" person myself, but I definitely see the power of "What if?" I will try it next time I get the block-- although my main blocks usually have to do with kids, school, and home. What if I could put the clock on freeze when I wanted to work on my own stuff?

      Yes, I like your question. Thank you.

    • Eric Calderwood profile image
      Author

      Eric Calderwood 5 years ago from USA

      That is a great "What if" question you have asked, Ciel. It sounds like a story idea in itself. You should run with it! Thank you for your kind words.

    • hi friend profile image

      hi friend 5 years ago from India

      It is really useful and interesting topic

    • Eric Calderwood profile image
      Author

      Eric Calderwood 5 years ago from USA

      Thank you, friend. I'm starting to use "What If" a lot more lately and it has really helped.

    • TrainingMan profile image

      TrainingMan 5 years ago from Rochester, NY

      Good suggestions and fun photos! I usually walk away from the computer, leave the laptop, grab a notebook, and sit by the lake or in a park. I find that when I change my location and atmosphere, inspiration hits like lightning.

    • Eric Calderwood profile image
      Author

      Eric Calderwood 5 years ago from USA

      Sounds like a great idea as well. I carry my notebook and a pen with me almost everywhere I go.

    • Bernard Preston profile image

      Bernard Preston 5 years ago from South Africa and the Netherlands

      I like that notebook idea. What if I carried one! Ever had the experience of the twist in a new book that was evading you being unravelled by the lake, and by the time you got home it was lost again?

      Ever heard of "every writers five Ds?" And don't you hate the way the web has killed our little apostrophe? Still these five D's have been an inspiration to me.

      Bernie Preston

    • Eric Calderwood profile image
      Author

      Eric Calderwood 5 years ago from USA

      Bernard, I've had the experience of coming up with an Idea on a long drive home and having to memorize it, playing it over and over in my mind. But even then, I couldn't develop the idea because I had to keep going over the main idea to keep from forgetting it. I can't stand it when I don't have something to write down ideas on. I just looked up the five D's and agree that they are motivational. I hadn't heard about the apostrophe being not liked by web crawlers. I'll have to decide what I'm going to do about that. Thanks!

    • Rosemay50 profile image

      Rosemary Sadler 5 years ago from Hawkes Bay - NewZealand

      This is an awesome hub and these ideas are great. I enjoy writing short stories but I do have a problem coming up with ideas. I will be trying your suggestions on using these friends.

      Thank you for sharing

    • Eric Calderwood profile image
      Author

      Eric Calderwood 5 years ago from USA

      Thank you, Rosemay50! I hope this strategy works for you.

    • Olde Cashmere profile image

      Olde Cashmere 5 years ago from Michigan, United States

      This was such a fun and helpful hub to read. Your brilliant creative side came through in spades and I loved your passion to help other writers. Voted up, shared, useful, and awesome :)

    • Claudia Tello profile image

      Claudia Tello 5 years ago from Mexico

      What a funny and clever idea to solve the problem of writer’s block. I usually just take a break from it and come back whenever I feel like writing again, and inspiration has come back to me; I guess that is not the most productive way to be a writer (in fact, I have written just 55 hubs). I want to produce much more in less time and I could use some of your tips, thanks :)

    • Eric Calderwood profile image
      Author

      Eric Calderwood 5 years ago from USA

      Thank you, Olde Cashmere! I appreciate your kind comments and your sharing of my hub.

    • Eric Calderwood profile image
      Author

      Eric Calderwood 5 years ago from USA

      Claudia Tello, you are much more prolific than I am. I have a way to go before I will have published over 50 hubs. Thank you for stopping by and for your kind words!

    • profile image

      hi friends 5 years ago

      useful hub

    • Eric Calderwood profile image
      Author

      Eric Calderwood 5 years ago from USA

      Hi friends, thank you!

    • MelChi profile image

      Melanie Chisnall 5 years ago from Cape Town, South Africa

      This is excellent advice - I never looked at it this way, thanks! Voted up and awesome!

    • Eric Calderwood profile image
      Author

      Eric Calderwood 5 years ago from USA

      Thank you! I find it is also a lot of fun. Hope you think so as well.

    • Karanda profile image

      Karen Wilton 5 years ago from Australia

      What if a man named Eric sat at his desk in Ohio and wrote a Hub about writer's block? Wouldn't it be great if his book about a boy who slapped his neck went on to become the next best-selling novel? Really good tips on moving through writer's block.

    • Eric Calderwood profile image
      Author

      Eric Calderwood 5 years ago from USA

      Thank you Karanda! I love your wit. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • hi friend profile image

      hi friend 5 years ago from India

      very good ideas you cordinated to pop up this interesting hub.

      Vote up

    • Eric Calderwood profile image
      Author

      Eric Calderwood 5 years ago from USA

      Thank you! I appreciate your taking the time to read and comment.

    • Suzie HQ profile image

      Suzanne Ridgeway 5 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

      Great hub Eric, Really found interesting and will be very useful for me as I have a tendency to have too many ideas or thoughts sometimes! What If is a great tool .. Thanks so much Eric, will be following with interest!! Voting Up!

    • Eric Calderwood profile image
      Author

      Eric Calderwood 5 years ago from USA

      Thank you Suzie HQ! I love those two words, they've helped me out a lot.

    • rajan jolly profile image

      Rajan Singh Jolly 5 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

      This is an amazing hub. These little friends can be a source of great ideas and together clump to form a great hub.

      Excellently inspiring hub.

      Voted up and all across.

      Shared too. Pinned too.

    • Eric Calderwood profile image
      Author

      Eric Calderwood 5 years ago from USA

      Thank you Rajan! I wish you well on your writing endeavors. I enjoy your hubs on the health benefits of foods and I appreciate your stopping by to read and comment. Thanks for sharing as well. I'm just about to share your walnut hub on Facebook.

    • MarleneB profile image

      Marlene Bertrand 3 years ago from Northern California, USA

      Thank you for sharing such a profound method of breaking through writer's block. After reading your hub, I tried it out on a few ideas and it worked so well. It was actually really fun.

    • Eric Calderwood profile image
      Author

      Eric Calderwood 3 years ago from USA

      Wonderful! I'm so glad to hear it!

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