Can A Writer Ever Stop Wondering, What If?

I know writers read differently. We can’t NOT read like a writer. Barring any typos or bad sentence structure, we are more attuned to development of the plot, how the twists are woven within the storyline, how the story moves along, etc. Each book gets some sort of mental critique. I’ve touched on it in a past blog post at some point but this post really isn’t about what we read.

This blog post is about what we, as writers, see and the stimulus it can have on the imagination: movies, television, and, that biggest picture of all: Life.

imagination_einsteinEveryone has an imagination. ESPECIALLY writers. My imagination runs on high most of the time. Great if you’re thinking about a story, horrible if you’re trying to make a decision. Too many pros, cons, and what ifs pop into my head resulting in me either writing them down on a list so that I can have a visual focus, or, failing that, to call on a trusted friend and talk it out.

Then you add to the fact that writers are observers. To be honest, I hate shopping. I’m a make my list, point me in the right direction, pick it up and go type of person. And malls? Forget it. Once in a while though, one, or several, of my friends will talk me into going with them “only to grab a couple of things” which, to my amazement can take HOURS. I acquiesce but then as we pass the Starbucks kiosk, they understand as I wave goodbye and send them off to “pick up their couple of things” as I go and sit, making myself comfortable in the seating area. I’ll have my Frappuccino in hand, sipping to avoid a brain freeze, and just — watch. Love, LOVE doing that. Observing is fuel for an imagination.

The only time I can say my imagination is quiet is at the movies. Last weekend, I sat in the movie theatre waiting for the premiere show to begin. Commercials and previews passed across the screen; still I couldn’t help but look around, surveying the people and surroundings. But, once the movie starts, I’m absorbed by the sights and sounds which capture and hold every particle of my senses. If you’re home watching movies or television shows, the mind wanders and wonders. Too many distractions: The dog needs to go out, the phone rings, notifications from Facebook or Twitter, or even random conversation from the person sitting next to me. Only at the theatres can I shut it all off.

So, what silences or sparks your imagination; is there anything that ever puts it on pause where you accept the story for what it’s worth – no, “what ifs”?

What writers really doAs writers, our minds work differently. We feel and look at things differently; we can change the course of imagined events in an instant in our heads. Isn’t it great? I can’t think of any other profession I’d rather be in. And, no one can understand us any better than another writer. Writing sometimes pushes me to 3:00 or 4:00 a.m., then I grab a few hours’ sleep before I head out to my day job at 8:30. There’s not too many moments when my mind isn’t on writing or marketing. My friends, family, they hear me say that and I get the “what is wrong with you” stare. Say that to another writer and it’s “yea, I pulled one of those the other night.” 

So, what if? Gosh, don’t you just love that phrase? What better defines imagination? 

When you look at a mountain, do you see just a mountain? Wonder who the people were that have traversed that mountain over time. What if you saw a plume of smoke coming from the trees, not a steady plume but one that looks to be a signal? What if you saw the treetops begin to shake one by one on a downward path? What if at the peak of the mountain there is an overhang? How many souls have stood there in awe at the wonder of our beautiful planet; leapt off in agony over a lost love; or, pushed off by a villain? What If…?

Artists may say a picture is worth a thousand words. I say a picture is worth a thousand stories. 


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18 Responses to Can A Writer Ever Stop Wondering, What If?

  1. Sometimes I find when I write, music helps to get me in the frame of mind for a scene, others I need silence to think.

    • Gail Gentry says:

      I usually need, or want, total quiet. That’s why it’s so great to write late at night. However, with that said, there is one exception in that I do find that I write the best love scenes while listening to music. Guess it’s a mood thing LOL 🙂

  2. Daryl Devore says:

    Great post. I also love to sit and watch the world – so many fascinating character to put into my books.

  3. Jack Durish says:

    And I watch the people at Starbucks wondering “…what if I treated them to good coffee? How badly would they feel having spent so much for bad coffee made with burnt beans?”

    • Gail Gentry says:

      Well, you peaked my curiosity as to where you get that good cup of coffee – so share 🙂 As far as Starbucks – notice I said “Frap” and not necessarily a cup of coffee. I do enjoy the atmosphere there or any coffee house for that matter. Just something about the smell and cozy feeling you get.

  4. A picture is worth a thousand stories. I love that. Brilliant, and so, so true. Some of my favorite times writing, where it just flowed like a creative river, was in classes where out of the blue the instructor would give you a picture or an object and tell you to write a drama or a comedy or romance centered around it. There’s a story behind everything that was, is, and ever will be. You know what I say. “Lovers quarrel. Enemies plot. Warriors succumb. Heroes rise. Life endures. Death stalks. And writers tell the tale.” Why be one when you can be them all? 😉

    Great blog!

    • Gail Gentry says:

      It is so ironic you mentioned that about your instructor giving you a picture or object to write about. Instead of the last paragraph about the mountain here, I came “this close – in fact already had it written” to instead read “stop what you’re doing and look to your right and pick an object…then go what-if”. Too cool. Your quotes are some of the best I’ve ever read and the one you mentioned is one of my particular favorites. Then, to add “why be one when you can be them all?” Pure awesomeness. Why not, indeed. Wonderful comment.

  5. Maybe it depends on the writer, but I can’t. But then I work with alternative history. It seems like just about everything that I encounter I wonder what if. Even the Bible. A noted Bible Teacher (A.B. Simpson) posited that everything that happened in the Bible to a character was “Training”. (ie Moses had to kill the Egyptian, flee to the desert, etc.) Even there I’m thinking what if he didn’t. I guess if you can rewrite the Bible with what if’s you would do it just about anywhere.

    • Gail Gentry says:

      Wow. It sounds like you have an awesome occupation, Christopher. I think I’d get a what-if, overload doing that. Just your comment has left me thinking, hmmm 🙂

  6. Christina Carson says:

    I’ve never been one for “what ifs” but I usually just start making the scene or character into something as if it were already so, and then, like a potter with his clay on the wheel,. put some pressure here or there and see what pops out.

  7. Margaret Taylor says:

    Oh Gail…welcome to my world! My favorite T-Shirt says, “I hear voices and they don’t like you.” That tell you anything?

    I love this post. Only another writer gets it, truly. Just to give you an example. The other day at work, I was at lunch and pulled up CNN. (This was before Boston/Texas, mind you) and there was a story about a guy that does Metal Detecting. He’d found an inscribed ring from the Civil War era and had taken the last 7 years to track down the descendants of the soldier to which it had belonged…yeah, I went there and by the time I left the office, you guessed it, I had the beginnings of yet another…*sighs* What if?!?!

    I slapped myself though, to get it out of my head, but not before making notes!…*grumbles at my own brain and it’s penchant for putting ideas in my head!* (I say that b/c I have at least six works that need the stuff with the things with the stuff before I could even dream of getting to this…)

  8. Great post. I have a hard time seeing a grassy hill without picturing men with guns sliding down it, or a drop of rain without a biblical level flood soon to follow. It’s hard to explain to non-writers why I love airports so much.
    One day they’ll figure out how to project our thoughts and share them as short films, and that’s the day folks like us (to include several other commenters) will be locked up. I just hope they leave me my netbook and serve coffee in the mornings.

  9. So many of the thoughts in this post are thoughts that I have thought before. Lots of people have fantastic imaginations, but writers have so much more than that – we couldn’t do what we do unless we have the patience to go from daydreams to firm ideas to rough draft to first edit to final edit. I don’t know if non-writers understand that we don’t just have creativity, we also have a special kind of discipline. Writers have well-disciplined wild imaginations.

    As for Starbucks, I don’t much care for the coffee either. I like the tropical green tea.

  10. Laura Hedgecock says:

    Great post. I’m guilty. Even seeing a list of names, I wonder what their stories were, where their journeys took them, who loved them.

    Laura Hedgecock

  11. Tamar Hela says:

    I LOVED this post! I can relate to just about everything written. 🙂

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