The “What if?” Syndrome by Marie Lavender

If you are an avid follower of this blog, then you know there is a plethora of information, advice to offer.  Guest authors have offered tips on writing from the time the blog first began to grow into what it has become today.  Most aspiring writers know that to look for writing tips on a specific topic (point of view, research, any story elements), it is as simple as doing an internet search.  The world is at our fingertips.  

Unfortunately, for some writers, all of that information can look overwhelming.  What advice did I give in my last article, “What Should I Do Next (in Writing or Publishing”? I said something along the lines of “Just write!”  Just do it and worry about the finer points later (grammar or anything else that needs improvement).  Just write.

It’s just not that easy for some writers.  I have a friend, an aspiring writer, with these great ideas in his head.  He keeps saying, “I really need to write my story.”  I agree.  I encourage him as much as I can.  I try to be supportive and offer advice that might propel him to move forward.  It isn’t fear, though, that blocks him.  It is what I call the “What if?” syndrome.

What if?

Most of the time, we think of those two words as the epitome of being a worrywart.  What if my story is stupid?  What if everyone hates it?  What if I crash and burn?  No, my friend doesn’t lack confidence.  If that were that case, I would say, “Write for yourself.  Write for the love of writing because you’re getting way ahead of yourself.  Readers come later.  You have to love what you write first.  You have to create a story and characters that make you so excited, you have trouble tearing yourself away.”   That’s not bad advice, right?

But, it’s not that issue for this writer.  He has “What if?” syndrome.  Sounds a bit ominous, I know.  Let me explain.  He knows the characters, the plot and story.  They are all in his head.  So, what’s stopping this writer if he seems to have it all together?  The problem is that he can see different avenues, so many directions the story could take and he can’t decide on one to save his life.

Say you have the basic premise of a man walking down the street.  Or at least the sidewalk.  He’s carrying a briefcase, and his gait is a little stiff from an old injury.  He is a polished gentleman in his attire, but let’s add in a habit of readjusting his tie when he’s nervous.  He also tends to sweat a lot.  He is sweating more today as he ambles along.  He has a lot on his mind.  Why?  He just had a disturbing phone call.  We’re creating quite a picture, right?  Any fiction writer could expand on this premise and keep going.  But, to make things more exciting, we’ll add in some possibilities:

What if he entered a nearby apartment building?  Who would he visit?

What if he used the elevator and it got stuck?

What if he was still walking down that street and a bike messenger clipped him?  What would he do?

What if a car drove by and splashed through puddles made by that morning’s rain and he got drenched?

What if the moment he steps into the street to cross the road, he gets hit?  Then he wakes up two days later, not knowing who he is or anything about that disturbing phone call.

The list can go on and on.  So many possibilities, right?  This is the writer’s dilemma, my friend’s problem.  The premise I just mentioned has nothing to do with his story at all.  It’s just an example.  

One day, the writer in question told me all the different routes his story could take and I was unimpressed.  Why?  It wasn’t that any of the ideas were bad.  They were great.  It wasn’t that they weren’t feasible.  Sure, each one covered a different genre, but you can go in any direction with fiction.  It wasn’t even that I was frustrated by my friend’s inability to pick a scenario and run with it.  

You see, I remembered the way he spoke about the story originally.  I recalled the “spark” in it, the excitement in the way he described it.   

And even though it was kind of the same with the other ideas, it wasn’t the same at all.  He already had this golden nugget, this genius seed of an idea forming, and he didn’t even know it.  He knew, for the most part, what would happen in the story; he didn’t have some of the finer details, but I digress.  What bothered me about these proposed changes was just a simple matter, but something we authors have to rely on at every turn.


“Huh?  Marie, have you lost it again?”

LOL.  No, but I will explain.  To write a good story, you not only have to trust your own instincts, you have to trust your characters and your vision for the story.  Deep down, you know what’s right, what direction to go.  Sometimes it’s the story telling you.  Sometimes the characters are running the show.  It should naturally progress.  It doesn’t matter what project you’re working on; you will encounter this dilemma at some point.  

Am I ever plagued by “What if?” scenarios during a story’s composition?  Sure.  I’ll run into roadblocks where I think, “So what happens next?”   

A bunch of ideas go through my head, most of them at odds with each other.  I step away and give myself a pep talk.  When I come back to it later, I have a better perspective.  Sometimes one of those scenarios is really good and it works; most of the time they don’t work.  

See, we like to think we’re in control as writers.  We’re not.  Sometimes I am just the conduit.  No, I’m not crazy.  The story, the characters take control.  You can exercise some control over certain details, but the story usually tells itself.  That’s what I have to tell myself in the “What if?” situations.

“How do you know all of this, Marie?”

Because I’ve been there many times.  For example, when I was writing the manuscript for Upon Your Honor, I had half-convinced myself to make drastic changes (I won’t go into details) because I thought it would satisfy readers who were used to the genre.  In the end, the characters decided for me and none of it would have seemed right if I hadn’t listened to them and to what the story was telling me.

Always trust your original vision for a story.  Try to be true to it as much as you can.  Your characters will tell you what comes next.  The story will feel like it’s writing itself when you’re really into it.  During revisions and editing, then you can look at the whole picture and see if those other “scenarios” would even fit at that point.   

The “What if?” questions are a way to second guess your instincts.  

Trust yourself as a writer.  Trust your instincts.  They will never lead you astray.  Never.  As for the “What if” syndrome?  File those scenarios away for future use.  They might come in handy for another story.  Or, just be amused and move on.  Your story will tell you what to do next.

What Should I Do Next? (in Writing or Publishing) by Marie Lavender

Since some of our guest authors are away for a bit, I wanted to come in and talk about a specific topic.  I get so many people, mostly aspiring writers, reaching out to me for advice and the one question I see the most is…

“What should I do next?”

In other words, the writers believe they have exhausted their options.  Or maybe they simply haven’t read up on that particular subject.  But, there is a moment, I think, in every writer’s career in which you don’t know what to do next, what steps to take.  This is usually the moment I become a sponge; I try to absorb every article around and glean every tidbit I can from other writers who have been through the process.

Nothing…I repeat, nothing prepares you for the writing or publishing journey like making mistakes and learning from them.  Is it a hard road?  Definitely.  Will I offer up some advice anyway?  Of course.  That’s what Writing in the Modern Age is all about.

So, what am I really discussing today?  Well, it’s that moment when you throw up your hands and ask yourself if the process is worth it.  I’ll never encourage anyone to give up, but we all have to decide if we’re willing to put forth the effort.  If you have the determination to keep going, then you can survive in this crazy business.  And that’s not to say that all writers have to be published.  Some are totally content with using writing as a hobby, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  You do what makes you happy.

Let’s talk about writing for a minute.  You’ve poured your heart out onto a manuscript, fallen in love with your characters (or maybe not in the case of non-fiction, but you at least believe in your subject) and made that story or novel the best you can.  Do you do it for the joy of writing?  Or because you want a quick path to money?  Maybe you want more than anything to see your name in print or to see the proof of your work in the best form possible.  A bookstore?  

So, what are your motivations?  Figure that out first because this road isn’t easy and having that goal in mind will help you through so much.  For myself, I do it because I love to write, because I can’t imagine doing anything else.  Seeing my name in print?  Well, that’s just a bonus.  I don’t do it for money.  If that was my real motivation, I think it would be an empty journey.  But, I digress.

Writing should be a fun process.  Is it full of work?  Sure.  Research is work.  Though it’s fascinating, it can occasionally be hard to find the right information.  And when you’re designing your story, it can be challenging if you encounter a character that is particularly difficult or a plot element that requires some finesse.  Despite the random obstacles, you should love this process if you love writing at all.

I get questions related to writing such as “I have an idea for a story or book, but I don’t know what to do next.  What do I do?”  My advice?  Write.   

“Yeah, that’s pretty obvious, Marie.”  

Look, I know you think it’s a challenge because of all those articles out there telling you how to write a perfect scene or what words NOT to use.  But, believe me, that is something you can worry about later.  You think you have an idea for the next Great American novel?  That’s wonderful.  Stop talking about it and write.  Even if you only write a paragraph or a chapter, you’ve made progress.  You don’t have time?  Believe me, I understand.  But, it is feasible.  Read Matty Millard’s article on the blog here.  He explains how you can fit writing into your crazy life.  I’ve said it time and time again.  The only person disappointed in the fact that you’re not writing is you.  Well, unless you already have books out and then you’re just making your readers antsy.  LOL.  But, if you’re an aspiring writer, all you have to do is try.  

There is no perfect way to start writing.  If you have trouble getting there, maybe you need to break through that clutter in your brain.  

We carry so much responsibility, so much worry, so much junk in our heads that it’s sometimes necessary to bypass it.  How do you break through that clutter?  Try brainstorming or journaling.  Or, just freewrite for ten minutes about whatever comes into your mind.  Break through that block and get to the heart of what matters.  Your story.  

Think all of that brainstorming/journaling/freewriting is useless?  It’s not.  I have written poems from entire passages when I went back and read them months later.  I have started great stories based on one random line of text.  Never think that any effort is stupid.  It’s not.  You just have to be open-minded enough to use it.  

So start writing.  Get down a paragraph or a chapter.  Even just a scene would be an excellent start.  Maybe you know more about your characters than what’s going to happen in the story.  Great!  Do a character worksheet.  Here are some good questions to answer.  I did a guest blog post on it once.  Any effort, even the smallest ones, will get you closer to the goal.  “What goal is that?” you ask.  Well, in this case, it’s finishing that short story or book.  Just write.  You can worry about the technical stuff later.

“What should I do next?”

Yes, what do you do after your book is written?  Do you look for a publisher?  Nope.  The real work begins now.

Become an editor.  What?  Isn’t that what editors are for?  Hmm…yes, in a way, but don’t be arrogant enough to think that someone else will do the work for you.  This is your story, which means the final call is yours now and you have to make the changes.  When I say “become an editor”, you don’t have to go to school for it.  By now, if you are a writer, maybe you’ve taken a Creative Writing class.  And if you haven’t, we’ve certainly had English classes in school, telling us the correct ways to use grammar.  Apply what you’ve learned.  I imagine some of you get annoyed when you see a typo in the newspaper or even in a published book.  Have you ever read something that didn’t sound quite right, but you didn’t know why?  It was most likely awkward wording and it could have been improved.  So, if any of this sounds familiar, you are quickly on your way to becoming a writer-editor.  That’s not a word, Marie.  Yes, I know.  Thanks.  Now I’m talking to myself, but I digress.

You need to be both writer and editor in this business.  You MUST edit your own work.  I recommend that you take a break from your manuscript for awhile, at least a couple of weeks or longer, before you try.  If you do it sooner than that, you probably will overlook most errors because you’re too close to the text.  One way to brush up on your editing skills is to offer to become a beta reader or critique partner for another writer.  You’ll see more glaring errors in someone else’s work first.  We are just naturally wired that way.  In Creative Writing classes, workshops are done with this very thing in mind.  It is also not a bad idea to start reading and bookmarking articles about how to edit your own work.  I find C.S. Lakin (or Susanne Lakin) to be an invaluable resource in this regard.  Subscribe to her blog/newsletter and you’ll get an email several times a week.  Subscribe to other blogs that provide this kind of help.  

Also, take some time to read books by other authors.  Maybe that is just the key to stepping away from your own work for a bit.  Pay attention to the story and the way it reads.  It is always good to get an idea of voice and particular techniques other writers use.  You may even find your internal editor waking up, ready to chomp at the bit.  Enjoy the book, but also ask questions.  “Why did this author decide to use first person point of view?” Or, “should the writer be switching point of view so much?”  All good questions.  There are, of course, lots of story elements to wonder about.  Examine techniques used, but don’t necessarily mimic them.  

You want to be true to yourself, but be open to fixing mistakes in your work.  And prepare yourself.  In the beginning, there will probably be a LOT of mistakes.  That’s normal.  You’ll receive feedback from people and you’ll quickly see the merits of this system.  After you’ve gained some much needed space from your manuscript, you can go back to it with an editor’s approach.  If you have to, picture the editor on your shoulder as that stern teacher you had in grade school, the one that was willing to smack your knuckles with a ruler if you stepped out of line.  Okay, maybe she wasn’t that bad, but we all had a stern one.  In any case, this perspective keeps you from straying too far away from editor mode.  You may have moments in which you think, “Oh, that line is good!  Did I really write that?”  It might not happen often, but it could.  Okay, bask in it for a moment, then move on.  Don’t let yourself fall in love with the story as it is.  Now is not the time.  You have to look at the manuscript with an eagle eye.

I usually do three rounds of self-editing with some time between before I let anyone else look at my work.  I don’t like to send out a total rough draft; that’s just me.  But, it is courteous to get the major errors that you can find corrected before foisting your work on anyone else.  And it will make you feel better too.

Where do you find critique partners or beta readers?  There are some groups on Yahoo!  There are also plenty of writer discussion groups on Facebook and LinkedIn where you can put out requests.  Give a brief description of your work, the length and anything else you think they might need to know.  Offer to proof or beta read someone else’s work.  People usually want something in exchange for their time.  However, I have had just as many betas happy enough to read a story.  Writing classes are also great resources if you have the money.  Most of the time, you won’t be able to offer an entire manuscript in those, but you can get part of it looked at.  There are also some places out there that help you find local writing groups.

After you have edited your work as much as you can and made the suggested corrections, I would recommend sending that final draft to a proofreader or professional editor.  There will always be something you missed.  Oh, one final thing.  You are not going to agree with every suggestion from betas or critique partners.  You will be asked to make drastic changes, and some will make you want to scream.  If you come upon this dilemma, weigh the change carefully to see if it will really alter the story’s vision or not.  Perhaps it will improve the manuscript.  Who knows?  Just keep an open mind.


“What should I do next?”

What, you thought the real work was over?  Nah.  It gets more interesting.  Now, you have to decide whether you’ll make a go of traditional publishing or opt for self-publishing.  They are completely different animals.  Maybe you want to try traditional and use self-publishing as back-up plan.  If you’re going to try traditional publishing, two invaluable resources are Preditors & Editors (or P&E) and QueryTracker.  And if you’re going to self-publish, finding a great cover is key.  I have seen some very affordable options on GoOnWrite.  They offer pre-designed covers.  Of course, there are tons of other options.  It’s likely I have confused you now.  “What are you talking about, Marie?  What are all these sites?”  For more details about traditional and self-publishing, you can look at this article I did on Linda Lee Williams’ blog about the “big choice” and what to do in both cases.  I would go into more detail here, but I am running out of time and space.  

I hope I have helped you cut through some of those “What should I do next?” questions.  As always, happy writing and I’m so glad you got to visit the blog today!  :)

International Authors' Day plus a Giveaway

If you haven't noticed yet, I was taking a bit of a hiatus this month from the blog.  Obviously, that didn't really happen.  LOL.  At least not entirely.  Here I am, coming back to recognize a very important day.  Keep in mind, this is not an official holiday and not even one of those bizarre holidays I like to mention in my author newsletters.

International Authors' Day is coming up (July 18th), and through the Bookish Indulgences with Book Reviews site, I have agreed to do a post here and I will explain why.  As an author myself, I am well aware that not all authors, or even writers, get a lot of acknowledgement for that major feat of being published.  I'm sure you've probably seen those signs up on Facebook, Google+ or Twitter, urging you to write a review.  

And why not?  Reviews are important, an author’s livelihood.  They give us recognition and some honest feedback.  I’m not going into the million reasons why reviews are important; I just believe that authors deserve recognition now and then.  We put these words out on paper (or on a laptop) and somehow we get that out to the masses.  So why shouldn’t our favorite authors be recognized?  And why shouldn’t I write a post about it?  Writing in the Modern Age was designed to be a place for authors and writers to showcase their work, to offer tips to aspiring writers, and a place where readers can find a new author to follow.  This is my opportunity to give back to all of the authors that offer to spotlight themselves on the blog.

Also, for the first time in the history of Writing in the Modern Age, I'm going to throw my own work into the pot.  What?  That's right.  I'm offering a giveaway, and I will select a random winner from anyone who posts a comment to this blog post this week.  The only catch is that you must provide a way to contact you like an email in case you win.  I promise I don't collect emails and throw them into a mailing list pile.  This is simply for contact purposes in the case that you are the random winner.  As always, I welcome all comments on the blog and I try to respond accordingly.

Now, for the real reason why we’re here.  Authors and books!  I love books, the texture, the play of words over the page or screen.  I love the ingenuity it takes for a writer to make a world come alive for a reader.  I am utterly grateful to the hundreds of authors that inspired me to be who I am today.  To be fair, I will name some of them.  Max Erhmann, Emily Dickinson, T.S. Eliot, Aphra Behn, Charlotte Bronte, Jane Austen, Rosemary Rogers, Catherine Coulter, Nora Roberts, Jennifer Blake, Nicholas Sparks, J.R. Ward, Kerrelyn Sparks, P.C. Cast, Emma Wildes, Tessa Dare, Chloe Neill and Kris Tualla.  Of course, there are many more than that.  I simply wanted to say that past and present authors have shaped me as the writer I am now.  I sincerely believe that books influence us, our ways of thinking, the ways we live our lives.  So, I have to give thanks for those wonderful authors.

I also want to thank our Writing in the Modern Age authors and writers.  Let’s give a shout out to those wonderful, talented people who give us excerpts to read and tell us about their experiences in writing and publishing.  I am so grateful to you all for visiting us every week.  And our readers as well!  So, in order to show our unfailing gratitude, I thought it might be a fun thing to have a list of our authors along with their locations in the world.  I will also include a link their Amazon author page or website/blog so that you can check them all out.  International Authors’ Day is coming soon, you know.

Where in the world are our...Writing in the Modern Age Authors?

Stefan Vucak - Australia
Laura Graham - Italy

K.C. Sprayberry - Georgia, USA
DJ Swykert - Kentucky, USA
Friday Abumere - Nigeria

 Gail Picado - California, USA
Jaime Martínez-Tolentino - Puerto Rico
KateMarie Collins - Washington, USA
CJ Heck - Florida, USA
Nancy Wood  - California, USA
AndyRuffett -  Canada
T.J. Banks -  Connecticut, USA
Robin Leigh Morgan - New York, USA
Sarah Baethge - Texas, USA
Rebecca L. Frencl - Illinois, USA
Penny Estelle - Arizona, USA
Branka Cubrilo - Australia
Pam Handa - India & the U.K.
Sally Carpenter - California, USA
Jessica Tornese - Florida, USA
Robert Fanshaw - England
Paula Hrbacek - Florida, USA
Susan MacNicol - England
Steve Christie - Scotland
Elaine C. Pereira - Michigan, USA
Rosemary Richings - Canada
Pallavi Pissay - India
Aubrey Brown - Utah, USA

Mira Prabhu - India
Lois W. Stern - New York, USA
Linda Lee Williams - Colorado, USA
Michele Harvey - Colorado, USA
Jeffrey Gonell - New York, USA

Ann Morris - Iowa, USA
Edie Hart - Illinois, USA
Lance Sheridan - Maryland, USA
Nina Soden - Alabama, USA
Rita Plush - New York, USA
Shannon MacLeod - South Carolina, USA
Adra Young - Michigan, USA
Marianne Petit - New York, USA
R.S. Novelle/Renee Novelle - Florida, USA
Lannah Sawers-Diggins - Australia
L. Anne Carrington - Pennsylvia & Florida, USA
Maxine Flam - California, USA
Murray Alfredson - Australia
Mark Conte - Florida, USA
Kenneth D. Maness - Texas, USA
Caryl McAdoo - Texas, USA

 C.N. Bring - Montana, USA
Margo Bond Collins - Texas, USA
S.C. Rhyne - New York, USA
L E Barrett - Maine, USA
Jean Erhardt - Oregon, USA
Liza O'Connor - New Jersey, USA
Jane Dougherty - France
Laura Vosika - Minnesota, USA
Belinda Y. Hughes - Louisiana, USA
Annie Edmonds - New Jersey, USA
Doug Bolton - Oregon, USA
Gary Krinberg - Virginia, USA
Devika Fernando - Germany
LaRae Parry - Utah, USA
coming soon!

Matty Millard - England
Olga Núñez Miret - England
P. I. Barrington - California, USA
Bill Joiner - Texas, USA
Debra L. Hartmann - North Carolina, USA
Carole McKee - Florida, USA
James McAllister - New York, USA
Dianne Hartsock - Oregon, USA
Brandon J. Hall - Michigan, USA
Jim Anders - New Jersey, USA
Joseph M. Rinaldo - Tennessee, USA
Mika Jolie
- New Jersey, USA 
coming soon!


I just wanted to comment here that as I was building this post, it was so exciting to see how far our author friends have come since their interviews or guest blogs on Writing in the Modern Age.  I'm so proud of you all!  

And, readers, please feel free to check back through the archives if you missed any interviews or posts by these wonderful authors.

Now for the giveaway portion of this post.  The instructions are simple.  Just leave a comment, your email address and your book preference.  Some of my recent books are listed below, and as for my other books, there is a link to my website on the side of the blog where it says “Marie’s Other Books”.  For a direct list of all my books, you can click here.  From the comments, I will pick a random winner for the ebook prize.  Who knows?  I may give out two prizes.  I am a pretty generous gal after all.  LOL. 

The Heiresses in Love Series (historical romance, Victorian, some suspense) 

Paranormal Romance/Romance with Fantasy Elements

Romantic Suspense
Happy hunting, and I hope we’ve given you a list of wonderful new authors to choose from.  Happy International Authors’ Day!  And don’t forget to thank your favorite author by giving a review.  Thanks for stopping by!  :)



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