Michael's Musings

Writer Wednesday: Rules for Writers #3

(Writer Wednesday is a weekly feature I’ll be doing where I discuss my current projects, writing hurdles, and my process in general.)

I’m going to talk a bit more today about my Four Rules for Writers presentation I do at schools for kids and parents. I’ve already written about Rule #1 and Rule #2. So you might be able to guess what rule I’ll share today.

Rule #3: Imagine

If last week’s rule was about investigation, this week’s rule is about invention. When I share this rule with kids, I explain that the imagination is like a muscle — it gets stronger with exercise. A writer should be inventing as often as possible, asking themselves the simple (and terrifically useful) question: What If?

What if a tornado picked up a Kansan girl’s house? What if a mischievous boy got hold of an incredibly realistic fake mustache? What if a bullied kid became pen pals with a soldier?

Imagine is my favorite of my four rules to practice. Why? Because you can only Read what’s been written. You can only Listen to what actually exists. But Imagine is boundless. The only wrong way to do it is not to.

One thing I particularly enjoy when I do school visits is play the “What If?” game live with the audience. The “What If?” game is played like so:

1) Say the words “What if?”
2) Follow it up with something out of the ordinary — because that’s at the heart of every story, even the “ordinary” ones.
3) Try to answer the question you’ve concocted in as interesting a way as you can.
4) Follow it up with “What next?”

So at a school, I have the kids throw me a “What if?” question, and it’s my job to make up an answer on the spot and essentially spin a yarn from their prompt, which I sometimes even act out as I go. It’s great fun for me and the kids tend to enjoy watching a grownup get goofy for their amusement — and (at least I hope) it helps to excite kids about using their own imaginations.

Anyhow, that’s Rule #3. Next week I’ll write about the final rule, which isn’t as much fun as this one, but is probably the most essential piece of advice I can give. Hope you’ll tune in!

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