What If?

blue maps

May 2, 2014  •  Exercise #1

This first exercise gives you a series or words and phrases to work with. I suggest printing the text below on a sheet of lined paper or typing it onto a fresh electronic page. Once you’ve finished that, start your 10-minute times and fill in the blanks with a short sentence, phrase, or single word.

If you are working on fiction, you can write from the point of view of one of your characters. If you are working on memoir, you can write in your own voice at any age. If you are writing poetry, this structure make lend itself well to list poem.

A few tips: Write quickly.  Don’t over-think. If you are stuck, move on. (Remember, this won’t be graded!) Experiment. Break the mold or build on it. (More on that later.)  Write for ten minutes.


How This Prompt Can Strengthen Your Writing

  1. The word “if” invites you to consider possibilities and gives you permission to dream.
  2. The fill-in-the-blank format encourages brevity and the strengths that come with it.
  3. It can help you build rhythm into your writing.


If I were ____________________________________________________________________
I would _____________________________________________________________________

If I were _____________________________________________________________________
I would not  ___________________________________________________________________

What if I _____________________________________________________________________
What if you____________________________________________________________________

What if I _____________________________________________________________________
What if  you___________________________________________________________________
What if we ____________________________________________________________________

If  instead ______________________________________________________________________

If instead ______________________________________________________________________

What if ________________________________________________________________________

If you hadn’t ____________________________________________________________________
I would ________________________________________________________________________

If I hadn’t ______________________________________________________________________
you would [not] ___________________________________________________________________

If only _________________________________________________________________________
If only_________________________________________________________________________

If  ____________________________________________________________________________


Next Steps

Was ten minutes enough time?  Did you keep going? If you felt engaged with this exercise, here are two follow-ups:

  • Choose one sentence or phrase from the set and expand it on it. Turn it into a full paragraph, a narrative poem, or a flash fiction piece.
  • Read what you have written out loud. Can you hear a rhythm or pattern in your words? Does a word or phrase feel out of place or less lyrical?  If so, try writing it another way.

Tips for Writing Groups

  • Read your work out loud to see how others worked with the prompt. Do any of their approaches inspire you?
  • As a next step, choose a phrase or sentence from one of your group members and write it on the top of new sheet of paper. Then write for 10 to 20 more minutes in response to it. After, if you feel so inclined, share your work again.

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