Two magic words that can change EVERYTHING

Memorial Day commercial production. Voiceover business marketing. Children’s book manuscript submissions. Poetry anthology submissions. Church council meetings. And the responsibilities that come with being a stay-at-home dad to a 4-year-old and a 9-month old. A guy can only do so much and still have time to perform 18 physical therapy exercises each day to rehabilitate his knee following arthroscopic ACL surgery.

(And still be a loving and supportive hubby, too!)

Life continues to fly along at lightning speed – and for someone who’s still only moving at half his normal speed, I find myself falling behind quite a bit. So today, I’m dusting off a little something I shared in my early blogging days. This post originally appeared on August 20, 2012. It was one of my first blog posts, having just created the blog a couple of weeks prior, and I thought it was worth bringing back, for all the folks who’ve joined my blog community over the past year. I hope you enjoy it!


It’s a question author/futurist Arthur C. Clarke, civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., and Apple co-founder Steve Jobs probably asked themselves all the time.

It’s a question we often ask ourselves when learning something new, like a computer program or video game.

And it’s a question subconsciously uttered in the mind of a 2-year-old, discovering how his or her world works.

Two words…that not only help us in our day-to-day lives, but can help us create anything from a groundbreaking piece of technology to a children’s poem.  Two words that might steel our resolve – or completely change our perspective.

What if?”

How many times have you tried to get your smartphone to do what you want, or couldn’t figure out why your spouse’s laptop keeps doing that annoying ‘thing?’  You experiment, you troubleshoot.  You think to yourself, “What if…I press Shift-Alt-Ctrl-Tab-Insert?”  And when that doesn’t work, you think, “What if…I just walk away and act like this never happened?”  We’re constantly debating choices day in and day out.

“What if Obama loses?”

“What if I take the ‘A’ train instead of the ‘B’ train?”

“What if we run out of hamburger buns?”

We ask ourselves this question all the time, so I’m really not telling you anything you don’t already know.  But ask yourself another question:  when was the last time you used these two words to help you create?

What if…you changed your story?

Certainly, the concept of asking this question can be used in any environment, whether you are an inventor, politician, or salesperson.  Where it gets really cool – at least from my vantage point – is in the realm of creation; specifically, creative writing.

Asking this question, especially when you get stuck on a character, a rhyme or a plot detail, opens up worlds (notice the plural!) of possibilities…

“What if…my main character was the opposite sex?”

“What if…this story was set in another time?”

“What if…I juxtaposed these two lines/stanzas/paragraphs?”

“What if…I could see things from a different viewpoint?”

Ask yourself all kinds of ‘what if” questions, and don’t just think about the answers…write them down!  It doesn’t matter whether you plan to use your ‘what if’ scenario or not; writing down a few lines or even a few paragraphs can help you see things from a different persepective, and that’s what you want.  How many times has a person reading your material suggested to you an idea you never thought of?  Quite often?  That’s because it’s being viewed in a different light; this ‘what if’ exercise can help you critique, inspire, or edit yourself.

Even if you have no intention of turning Lucinda, your novel’s half-human, half-lizard bisexual alien heroine, into a half-human, half-nematode bisexual alien heroine, go ahead and get those thoughts on paper; play it out and see where it goes!  Odds are, it’ll go nowhere – but there’s a good chance that you’ll learn something about your character, his/her situation, or how to develop them.

Perhaps you’ll come up with another plot.

Perhaps you’ll come up with an idea for an entirely different project!

But without questioning yourself on these things, you’ll never know.  Heck, Marvel Comics even created an entire series based on this premise!

WARNING:  Moralizing tone ahead!

Well, ok, hopefully it won’t be too moralizing – that’s not my intention – but it just occurred to me how many of the problems we face in this country (and this world, for that matter) could be solved or at least be addressed in a meaningful way if we all asked that two-word question more often:

“What if…that person has a legitimate medical condition?”

“What if…one of the people in this checkout line suddenly needed me?

“What if…that guy who cut me off just lost his father?”

Did one of those questions catch you off-guard?  Would you be able to ask yourself a question like one of these if the situation presented itself?  Asking “What if” not only opens up that wide world of a different perspective, but can help stop us from jumping into defense mode as soon as something we don’t like pops up.  It’s all about thinking outside of yourself.  By considering the feelings, circumstances, and history of others, we’re slower to anger and quicker to understanding.

Final question:

“What if…I gave everyone a second chance?”

I’ll let you think about that one on your own.


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11 thoughts on “Two magic words that can change EVERYTHING

  1. Kathy Brodsky

    Hi, Matt,

    Your blog is really, really great! Your “what if” could be a book – or an article at least. You make one grammatical error and if you’d like me to tell you I will. It’s very common and people do it all the time – and if it weren’t for my wonderful high school teacher Mr. Turner, I’d continue to make it as well. Soooo, let me know if you’d like to know.

    In any case, I love your blog! Kathy

    Kathy Brodsky (603) 668-1975

    Quoted in the Wall St. Journal:; My Bent Tree &The Inside Story honorable mention Green Book Festival 2010; The Winner Is & Stover Creative Child Preferred Choice Award 2011; A Horse Named Special – Creative Child Magazine 2012 Picture Book of the Year Award.


    1. Thanks, Kathy! I appreciate you taking the time to read it and respond. If you’re talking about me ending a sentence with a preposition, I’m way ahead of you…the line, “an idea you never thought of,” if written grammatically, should read, “an idea of which you never thought.” I usually try to follow this rule, but sometimes it just sounds way too awkward, and that’s how I felt in this case; I don’t want to sound like I’m getting too far above my raisin’!

      Of course, if this ISN’T the grammar error you’re talking about…then I’m stumped! Please let me know here, so we can all learn from it!

      Oh, and by the way…you made a grammar error in your comment. 😉 Tell me mine, and I’ll tell you yours!


      1. As an editor and grammar geek, I am here to tell you that the “rule” about not ending a sentence with a preposition is now officially hogwash. No one follows that so stringently anymore, so be confident when you tell people they don’t know what they’re talking about (see how I did that?). Kathy is missing four commas, by the way. Some might say five, but I say four. 🙂 Besides one typo (perspective) and some really nitpicky stuff, your grammar is fine. Carry on!

        That aside…great post! The two words that immediately popped into my head were “What’s next?” That’s what I seem to ask myself more than “What if?” since I’m always thinking about where to go from here. But you’re right — it just may be the “what if” that gets me to my next “what’s next.” Thanks for the pep talk. 🙂


      2. I noticed that misspelling, too, Renee – I’m thinking it’a spell-check mistake, as the first time I use that word it’s correct! Still trying to figure this blog-formatting stuff out. (I’m bummed that I can’t format all my poems properly…still working on that, too!) And there IS a gramamr error in Kathy’s post – sorry, Kathy, I’m not trying to put you in the spotlight! – but I’m waiting to see if anyone gets it. It’s a hugely common mistake that folks make all the time – so I’m waiting to see if anyone gets it!


  2. Holy cow, I wouldn’t have even noticed that, Renee! You ARE good. What I was thinking was the use of the term ‘grammatical error.’ The word ‘grammatical’ means ‘following the rules of the proper use of grammar,’ so if it’s grammatical (ie, correct)…it can’t be an error! Everyone I know seems to make this mistake, which is very common.

    Again, Kathy, I hope we didn’t offend you…I just thought this could be a learning opportunity – for me as well as anyone else who happens along!


  3. Pingback: Two magic words that can change EVERYTHING | Vo...

  4. Pingback: “What if…? Then We…” Blog Tour arrives! – Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme

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