A Strange and Useful Word

by Nancy Casey

The word if. We say it all the time. When we do, we are experimenting with an idea that isn’t quite real. Although dwelling constantly in a state of unreality is never recommended, a bit of if-thinking about what’s not real can give us insight into what is real.

Sometimes we say if to speculate about the future and perhaps express our hopes or concerns. If it rains tomorrow… If everything goes as planned… If I can’t sleep tonight… In cases like that, the word if allows us to make plans and consider alternatives.

We can use if to contemplate the impossible.  If I had enough money… If I was on vacation now… If it was summer and not winter… Using if in this way gives us a chance to imagine the world the way we wish it was. This kind of thinking can often help us clarify what we want.

If can also be a word that allows us to contemplate our regrets, to look at the past and wish it was different. If my friend was still alive… If I had done better on that test… If I had remembered my keys… We are advised not to wallow in this kind of if, but these types of statements help us express grief and understand problems.

Sometimes we look at the past with relief, not regret. If helps us do that, too. If that car had hit me… If I hadn’t found a job… If I hadn’t arrived on time… In cases like that, if  helps us appreciate our good fortune.

Today, in your writing, use the word if as much as you can. Before you begin writing, draw a line at the top of your page where your title will go. Set aside some space for illustration or doodling if you like.

Get your writing started, by putting down the word If, and continue on with whatever pops into your mind next. Explain it as much as your care to, and then continue and write another statement that begins with If. If you find yourself making a long explanation of an ifideamaybe you can insert an if-statement into the explanation of the if-statement that you started with.

Don’t worry too much about reality or organization. Instead, as you write the page, try to use the word if as many times as you can.

When your page has filled up, look back over your work. Pause to add illustration or decoration if you like. Do your ideas form any kind of a pattern? Do they seem to be about a bigger idea that you hadn’t really planned on writing about? If they do, maybe you can use that insight to think up a title. If they don’t, make up some kind of a title anyway and write it at the top of the page.

Put your initials or a signature on the page, too. And write the date on it. Here is just one example of what someone could write.

You can share your work by posting it as a comment below. You can type it in, or take a photo of it and upload the image.


Nancy Casey has lived in Latah County for many years. You can find more of her work here. If you would like some help with your writing, contact Nancy or the Latah Recovery Center. In-person Write-for You classes have been suspended for now, but when Covid recedes, they will return.

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