Donald Miller wrote a blog post recently titled The Single Most Powerful Question You Can Ask. He started out by explaining that novelists, to write an interesting story, must ask themselves What if?
What if a boy and a runaway slave floated down the Mississippi? for instance.
Throughout the story, the writer must continue to ask the question any time the plot stalls. What if they found themselves in the middle of a feud? What if they met up with some con men? What if Tom Sawyer showed up?
"But I'm not writing a novel," you say. (Lucky!) "Why are you telling me this?"
Well, Donald Miller's assertion is that, as with plotting a story, asking What if? is just the thing to add excitement to your real life. Things gotten stagnant? Advance your own plot. Ask yourself What if?
Not the What if?s of the past though. Flashbacks don't move characters forward. Dwelling on how things might be had you only... or had you only not... isn't going to accomplish anything.
You must ask yourself the What if?s that are under your control. Alas, wondering What if George Clooney showed up on my doorstep? or What if my students were perfectly behaved? won't make one bit of difference. Or What if it were possible to teleport anywhere in the world? Entirely theoretical What if?s are verboten in this exercise.
Donald Miller challenged people to brainstorm five What if?s in his comments. He suggested that commenters do it quickly. Take it seriously, but don't overthink. See what comes out. What came out was everything from What if I planned that trip for this summer? to What if I actually stopped drinking? A lot of people wondered what if they made a move - career, relationship, or physical move to a new city/state/country. What if they treated people differently, better?
I have my own ideas on some What if?s that could get my life moving. But I'd like to hear yours first. Five What if?s. Do it quickly. Take it seriously, but don't overthink. See what comes out.
What if you did it now?