WHAT IF... This article/blog post previously appeared as a guest blog on a publisher site & in an RWA newsletter. Copywrite - Rhonda Leah, 2010

What if...

What if dragonflies were human size? What if your neighbor was an undertaker? What if Santa Clause divorced Ms. Clause?

The ‘what if’ factor opens up a world possibilities to us as writers. In fact, it’s what gave me the motivation to start writing. I love the idea of ‘what if’. It is an inspiration on a blank page.

When you ask ‘what if…’ and your imagination takes off it is the most inspiring feeling. It doesn’t matter if you are starting a new story or opening up a work in progress. ‘What if’ can get you rolling when nothing else seems to help. Daydreams are made up from the answers to ‘what if’. Whole novels are written in answer to the very simple question of ‘what if…’ If you type ‘what if’ into the search bar of Google it will give you billions of results. There are entire websites devoted to ‘what if’. There are companies named ‘What if’.

These are two powerful words when we put them together and challenge ourselves as writers. Give it a try and see where ‘what if’ will take you. Challenge yourself with “what if…” the next time you are surfing the web instead of working on your current work in progress. What if I opened my WIP and starting writing a few sentences to answer ‘what if’ __________ happened next. You might come up with a breakthrough in the story you’ve been waiting for - or you might end up with a whole new idea.

The next time you sit down to the computer for a quick computer game - before you start writing - challenge yourself to a specific amount of time to play while thinking about the answer to ‘what if’ _________ happens next in my story. Heck, set a kitchen timer and when it goes off, open your WIP and start writing. Use ‘what if…’ as a way to get motivate each time you sit at the computer or take a pen to paper. The possibilities are limitless.

Answering ‘what if’ gives me the motivation to keep me writing.

This article/blog post previously appeared as a guest blog on a review site.
Copywrite - Rhonda Leah, 2010

I’m a real estate appraiser by day, romance writer every other second I can squeeze in. I never considered the two had anything in common until recently. Someone recently made a comment about having a light bulb moment while judging a contest. About the same time, I was doing a “Review Appraisal”. They’re not my favorite things in the world, just like I know judging writing contest isn’t a favorite for many of us. But sometimes it’s doing things that take us a little out of our comfort zone that we need to do most. Yes – sometimes what takes us out of our comfort zone is we need the most.

Why? Am I into self-torture? No. Let me try to explain. What I have discovered both by judging contest and by doing review appraisals is sometimes it is so much easier to see a flaw in someone’s work. It’s easy to pick out things we might be guilty of in our own work.

I truly believe it is next to impossible to see and recognize certain things in our own writing…at times. I’ll be the first to raise my hand and say - I know what it’s supposed to say. I know what it’s supposed to accomplish. I know why the scene is here and what it is supposed to do for the plot or pace. Do I see what I actually wrote? That I used the word ‘said’ or ‘that’ twenty times? In a word – no.

But give me a contest entry that tells instead of showing? Wham, I’m all over it. Used ‘that’ twelve times in two pages? Got that too. Sharp change of pace/or scene? I’m giving them hell (well in my head I am). And the list could go on.

But let me read the same three pages I wrote twenty times - can I ‘see’ or ‘hear’ (if I am reading out loud) where I’m telling and not showing? No, sadly I can’t. It’s hard for me to catch. But at times I can see flaws in my writing much more clearly after judging a contest or doing a critique.

Which brings me to – What hat am I wearing? This where Appraising and Writing turn similar for me. Doing a Review Appraisal is a whole like editing my writing. A few things they have in common…

Watch what you say and how you say it - In appraising there are words we don’t use and there are words we do use. Appear is a word we like. The storage shed can appear to be approximately 12x12. NOT, The storage shed is 12x12. In writing there are certain words considered to be ‘junk’ words (and boy do I love them!). So I keep a list and look out for my junk words.

Was the best _______ used? In appraising it has to do with data/comparables/etc. In writing it has to do with everything. If you’ve judged a contest think of the things you look for while reading the entries and keep it in mind as you go over your own writing. Try to look at your work from a distance, try to become detached. This is what I do when I do “review appraisals” and now I can see it is what I need to do when “editing”.

Disclosure? In appraising it’s a big deal. In writing think of things like– did I get my point across? Did I show enough emotion? Did this move the plot forward?

Know your market! In Appraising it’s a must. I could not pick and go out of town and do the same job I do in my immediate market – where I work in daily. In writing we’ve all heard KNOW YOUR MARKET! It’s imperative to know where your writing fits. You must know what genre(s) you are writing and what publishers accept those genres and/or what agents to query.

And the list could go on, but I’m wrapping it up.

Keeping this in mind, I plan to read my work wearing a different hat from now on. And in a way it’s a lot like what I do in my day job. I step away from each appraisal and go back over it before it goes out. Distance is the key. In our rushed society we sometimes don’t have the time to give ourselves the distance we might need.

In closing, I say put when you sit down to work on your manuscript, know which hat you need to pull out. Wear your creative writing hat when you open your file to write. Wear your editor/judge hat when you edit. And I wish you the best no matter which hat you choose.