The Dangerous What-Ifs


I’m a writer. Have been most of my life.

I also suffer from anxiety, and have a great deal for the last 10+ years.

The two, in fact, feed into one another quite well.

As a writer, I ask an all important, all encompassing question that always gives birth to my stories: What if?

Suffering from anxiety, that same question, ‘What if?’, can cause terrible damage. Most of my anxiety encompasses that question, and most of my fears are based around it.

What if?

What if my apartment catches fire? What if I’m robbed at the bank? What if my wife gets into a car accident? What if a nuclear bomb is dropped on our country? What if I develop a mysterious lump?

If these all seem negative to you, it’s because it is their nature. As a writer, I ask the What-ifs to develop conflict in my stories. The very nature of the What-If is to cause trouble, calamity, to create problems for my characters or to explore the multiple roads of possibility.

In regards to my anxiety, I can sometimes do nothing but think about the negative. I am in constant battle with my mind to veer back onto the road of healthy, faith-filled thinking.

But there are lines that always need to be crossed.

In order to delve into the true nature of my writing, in order to explore what is behind those forbidden doors, to peer down the dark roads, I have face the What-Ifs. But to do so feeds my anxiety, feeds the beast of worry and terror.

It’s a balancing act. It’s like using a super power that hurts the user, but helps those who experience the power. Self-sacrifice, in a sense.

I’ll never stop asking, ‘What-If?’. But I must always temper it. My What-Ifs must be released onto the page, free from my mind. Of all the infinite possibilities that a What-If can spawn, each time I release one onto the page, I take away the What-If’s power and weaken the beast of my anxiety.

But there are still so many possibilities. So many roads, so many doors.

Writing becomes the catalyst and the antidote.

Do you struggle with the What-Ifs? Do you find yourself with anxiety and new stories in the same hand most of the time? Let’s discuss it together. The beast of What-If will always be there, but as writers, we must slay it when we can. Little by little.


  • Charity

    I struggle with anxiety as well, and the best thing I ever did was to stop reading or watching the news. I hear about events secondhand and don’t feel that surge of anxiousness that I did when watching or listening to others turn it into a catastrophic event. Clarity comes with distance.

    Writing is one of the few places I feel “safe” from anxiety, because the only anxiety I face therein is, “Can I wrap up all my plot lines this time?” Yes, I remind myself; you’ve done it before, you can do it again. And then I get lost in the writing, and the world is sunshine and rainbows.

    • David N. Alderman

      I agree with you, Charity, about not watching the news. I severely limit my news watching to the weather and maybe traffic. That’s about it. To my detriment, I end up spending more time on Social Media – which is almost worse than the news.

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