Sunday, March 22, 2020

2020 Post #8 -- If

by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater

Sometimes the most difficult part of writing is revising. Sometimes the most difficult part of writing is feeling brave enough to share one’s own words with another. And sometimes the most difficult part of writing is getting started.

Try beginning a poem draft with one word -- the word "if." For when these two letters combine in this order -- i and then f -- worlds shift and change. We can lead with an if tied to a wonder...or an if clinging to a hope. We can write about our lived lives or imagined worlds. We can write about history or about today or about a future near or far from now. We can write about serious subjects and about lighthearted subjects. An if poem can include one if or many.

If you and I had never met…

If my mother was a koala bear…

If he found a rock and if the rock could talk…

If forgiveness was easy...

If someday our grandchildren live on the moon…

If you helped build the pyramids…

Starting a draft with this wee word, we can then choose to write in the first person (I or we), the second person (you), or the third person (he/she/they). Each choice matters.

The first three stanzas of Truth - from my newest book, WRITE! WRITE! WRITE!, beautifully illustrated by Ryan O’Rourke - leads with "if."

From Write, Write, Write! by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, 2020, linked below. 

In my poem Like Windowpanes, I use the word only once, to invite a reader in.

In his famous poem titled "If," Rudyard Kipling repeats this gem of a word again and again, each time layering its meaning with more love and possibility, as the kinetic typography video below demonstrates well:

Read the whole poem HERE

It can be lovely to be handed a beginning. “Start here,” a friend says. And somehow, with a trusted soul holding this literary door for us, we do.

Further Reading: 

Amy Ludwig VanDerwater is author of several books for children including FOREST HAS A SONG, EVERY DAY BIRDS, READ! READ! READ!, DREAMING OF YOU, WITH MY HANDS: POEMS ABOUT MAKING THINGS, and her most recent WRITE! WRITE! WRITE! She is also author of the professional book POEMS ARE TEACHERS: HOW STUDYING POETRY STRENGTHENS WRITING IN ALL GENRES. Amy lives in an old farmhouse in Western New York, and blogs poetry and lessons at

P. S.
Boyds Mills & Kane will generously offer a copy of Write, Write, Write! to a commenter on this post. Be sure to include your Twitter handle or email address so that Brett can contact you. Winner announced 3/24/20 on Twitter. 


  1. This post is great. Perfect for the poetry unit I’m starting next week! @mrscbonnell

  2. I will definitely be using this with my students. We might still be teaching/learning from home, but I have lots of ideas of ways students can share their poems. The word "if" offers so many possibilities, and I've always loved Kipling's poem, (had to memorize it in 6th grade many years ago). And I love your opening statements about the most difficult part(s) of writing. All are true, and the most difficult part can vary depending upon the task at hand. This book will be added to my library, and I can't wait to read all your posts about poetry and writing. @lorim3711

  3. Amy Ludwig VanderWater always inspires me to write. Now I want to try out an "if" piece.

  4. Love love love this. Thank you so much for sharing and giving us a direction to go. @tofubeth

  5. Thank you for this! It's beautiful. @tofubeth