Can Acting As If You’re a Writer Make You a Writer?

coffee smile
My barista gave me a smile. Photo by Carleen Brice

I got an e-reader from Santa. The first book I read on it was Help Thanks Wow by Anne Lamott. At one point she talks about giving advice to someone to act as if they had a belief in a higher power. That phrase “act as if” is big in 12 Step circles. Not feeling like being sober right now? Act like you are–go to a meeting, call your sponsor, etc.

Studies back up the idea that if you want a quality, you should act as if you already have it. Smiling before you feel happy can make you feel happy. Acting like you’re in love with someone could very well make you fall in love him or her (explaining countless on-set romances).

Laura Schenck, M.A. writes on her “Mindfulness Muse” blog:

“If you are having trouble with getting started on a project, be it cleaning out the closet or finishing a major presentation for work, act as if you are truly interested in the task at hand. Make the behavioral choice to force yourself to spend ‘just a few minutes’ on the project that you have been avoiding. It is likely that simply getting going in this way will give you the push that you need to spend more time getting things done.”

Which helps explain why Barbara O’Neal’s 20-minute win is so effective. Besides combating procrastination, how might writers benefit from acting as if? In “2,000 to 10,000: How to Write Faster, Write Better, and Write More of What You Love” Rachel Aaron says she has more productive, more enjoyable writing days when she takes five minutes to jot down notes about what she plans to write about that day. Not only to give her a brain an outline to follow but to get her enthusiasm going. To make her feel excited about writing. “Every day…I would play the scene through in my mind and try to get excited about it,” she writes.

That’s not quite acting as if. But could smiling while you write help you feel more enthused about that day’s work? Could acting like you love your work help you get in touch with what you do really love about it?

I used Aaron’s suggestions (which I first learned about here on Writer Unboxed thanks to Ann Aguirre) and they helped me increase my output and got me back feeling like I knew what the hell I was doing. Taking a few minutes to stop fretting about what I don’t like in my story and focusing on what I do like helps me fix what’s wrong with it faster.

When I decided to blog about this topic, I Googled images for “as if” and wouldn’t you know it—there’s a brand spanking new book called The As If Principle by Richard Wiseman. As this article in The Guardian illustrates, Wiseman is big on actions rather than thinking. So, as Schenck pointed out, starting the project you were procrastinating on is actually better than “thinking positive” about it. The action of smiling leads to the happier emotion.I wonder if this is part of why some writers like to set up in a coffee shop–it makes them feel more like a real writer. You might not fool this author, but maybe you can fool yourself into thinking you’re a real writer with your laptop in a coffee house? I’m fascinated by the idea, and plan to read Wiseman’s book. I also plan to do some more “acting as if” in other areas of my life.

I wonder what actions could help writers feel more confident and enthusiastic about our craft and/or the business? Do you have any “acting as if” tricks that help you write better or more? If you have any suggestions, please share them in the comments.

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About Carleen Brice

Carleen Brice writes nonfiction and fiction. Her most recent books are the novels Orange Mint and Honey, which was made into a Lifetime television movie called “Sins of the Mother,” and Children of the Waters. She’s currently at work on a novel called Every Good Wish.

Comments

  1. says

    Great post, Carleen. As a young soul who has to make every mistake once before she believes she knows how to do anything,
    I’d be nowhere if not for ‘behave as if.’

    It works in any pressure situation (of course, it helps to be prepared as well) public speaking, signings, pitching — and that’s just in my writing life!

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  2. says

    I’m grateful for this, Carleen. I’ve felt a lot of stress lately, but today I am going to smile my way through the work.

    How about this one? Act like you care enough about yourself to make the tough choices you know in your gut are right, even if they’re difficult choices to make. Too heavy?

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    • says

      Therese, wow. You nailed it. I had a similar a-ha at the end of last year, when it hit me I was putting a lot of things in last place I wanted to be first – or higher – on the list and that can be tough to rearrange.

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  3. says

    As someone who makes my living writing, there’s always that frisson of what “has” to get done and what “wants” to get done.

    I have to have outlines — juggling multiple projects, I couldn’t keep them all straight otherwise. It’s a bit like having the list for the day — it allows me to drop into that world without hesitation.

    That took me awhile to enjoy, because I started out as a blank-pager.

    The most important thing is to show up every day and do the work, whether you “feel like it” or not. You can’t wait for the Muse to visit – you have to be there in order for her to find you.

    Starting every day thinking how lucky you are to be able to go to your desk and work helps. Also, I find that writing my first 1K of the day very first thing takes a lot of pressure off me — no matter what else happens during the day, you’ve still got that 1K.

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  4. says

    I love this post! I started using this philosophy when I was fresh out of college, and 22-year-old me was teaching high school English. I was so green and young and my students were tough an street-wise. Each day and each period my survival required the “fake it ’til you make it” approach. I had to feign self-assuredness, confidence and authority.

    The same is true for writing. Heck, the same is true for everything! That unlovable person in my life whom I can’t avoid? Act as if I love her. When I am feeling impatient and crabby with my kids? Act as if I am Mother Teresa.

    And yes, act as if I am a writer? Yes, I will get off of WU’s site and WRITE. Because that’s just what writers do.

    Great post!

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    • says

      I loved this Sarah. I bet every new parent (and maybe even not so new) has had to act as if, too. Hope you had a great writing day…because I know you’re not checking back here until much later. :)

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  5. says

    Carleen,
    I needed to hear this today as I just wrote my to-dos for the day and felt a pit in my stomach at a few of them. So, smiling and gulping down coffee. THANK YOU!

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  6. says

    Nice post … I found that “as if” experience not so much in getting words on a page, but on getting enough words on enough pages to justify calling myself a writer. It was a lesson I learned from sailing … you can’t control the wind and currents, so you just have to head where you think you want to go, and keep trimming your sails until you get there. When I didn’t know what to write or which thing to write first, I just started writing something … and eventually it worked.

    Thanks for a nice blog!

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    • says

      “you can’t control the wind and currents, so you just have to head where you think you want to go, and keep trimming your sails until you get there.” Love this!

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  7. says

    It reminds me of the advice my mom used to give me about choosing our attitude. I think there’s a lot to be said about providing our mind and emotions the right framework to be productive and confident.

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  8. Janie Fox says

    Great article, Carleen.

    This might sound crazy, but I have recently found that when I eat honey or sweet potatoes (or both) at night, I am much more creative and write much better the next day. This really puzzled me and since I have no medical training, I researched them on the Internet to find out why.

    Both foods contain neurochemicals, which feed the brain. Honey has tryptophan, which functions as serotonin and makes you causes restorative sleep. Sweet potatoes increase both serotonin and dopamine, which regulates motivation and pleasure.

    Now, maybe these two foods simply make me think I am more creative and write better after eating them, but it seems to be working, so I thought I’d pass it along! :)

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  9. Carmel says

    I know for a fact this “as if” stuff works. Four years ago, I was in the throes of fibromyalgia and feeling *@%&$*! One day I needed to fix supper, but I was feeling so nauseated and yucky. I went into the kitchen and told myself, “I’m going to act as if I’m feeling good.” I did, and it worked!! I never thought about applying it to writing, but I think I’ll start acting “as if” I have all those good words in mind and ready to flow out through my fingers. Thanks for the reminder!

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  10. says

    Carleen,

    I’ve found lately that telling people I am a writer is helpful, because when i say it, I am forced to evaluate that statement and realize “Yes, I am a writer, not a wannabe.” This puts things in perspective – that my hard work (even if it feels like dry heaves at times) is purposeful. I engage in a lot of self-prodding: “A REAL writer would actually start writing, Jillian. Write 500 words, then eat some chocolate. Then write 500 more words.”

    It does come down to just STARTING, and once I’m in the middle of the day’s story-work, I don’t want to get out… kind of like how a feisty kid does not want to go into the bath or the pool because the water is “too cold.” But once said kid gets into the bath or pool and his or her body adapts to that temperature, leaving is conceivable.

    Thanks for such a thoughtful post today! Now for some chocolate… with 500 words attached. :)

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  11. says

    After reading this post I realize that many of my action are “as if” attitudes. I don’t have to respond to my emotions in the typical fashion. I allow my emotions to run their course, acknowledge them, and then attempt to respond in manner that’s fitting for the situation.
    Example, I really don’t feel like a writer, and I really don’t’ feel like I belong on Writer Unboxed, because I’m constantly in awe of everyone else’s experiences and dialogue. If I submit to those thoughts- I will never learn from all of you wonderful writers, so I acknowledge my feelings, continue my developing, and participate anyway. I know my feelings will eventually catch up to my actions.

    My palms are sweating as I type.

    It’s that fear thing again, but I’m still typing.

    The title BKnovelist is part of my “as if” attitude. I display it where ever I can.

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  12. says

    Every once in a while, I’ll throw my hands in the air and yell TA-DAHHH!!

    Yes, of course I do this when the house is EMPTY!

    The rush of silent applause and the image of roaring crowds is enough to erase the holy-cow-I’m-glad-no-one-saw-that feeling and the rush to sit down and write something, anything, that is better than the meh stuff I’m trying to escape.

    Yeah, it’s a bit out there, but …well…it’s cheaper than therapy.

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  13. says

    I’m a writer because I write! Paid or not, career or not I keep at it. I give myself deadlines for my blog and pledge to post at least three times a week. I connect and get advice from other writers and seek writing positions. Loved the article!

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  14. says

    Love this principle, Carleen. It makes me think you’d enjoy the book by Robert Mauer. (One Small Step Can Change Your Life: the Kaizen Way.)

    It’s easier to act as-if when the steps are miniscule. e.g. Spend 5 minutes brainstorming a title. Work for 5 minutes on the scary letter. Write one paragraph of the WIP.

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  15. says

    One of the best pieces of advice I’ve received for writing = Tell people you’re a writer. The more you say it, the more you actually believe it. I’ve been amazed at the response and it makes me excited to write because I AM A WRITER!

    Sounds strange but it fits into the “as if” principle. It’s hard to say at first, but it does train the mind=)

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    • says

      I agree completely. Owning the job title “writer” was a huge step and took me years. Now I must visualize (and hopefully eventually own) “writer whose writing pays the bills.”

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  16. Larkin Warren says

    So many good, good ideas, thank you.
    If I act “as if” I love a project–from closet-cleaning to deadline-meeting, or so many words a day no matter what–it turns into truth, and I fall in love with it. I love this book. I love this outline. I love this sidewalk full of steel-hard-snow I should’ve shoveled when the snow was softer. I love the cold and will love it even more in August when it’s hot and humid. Parents absolutely think like this when the baby’s projectile-vomiting or the teenager’s being a jerk (and/or the puppy’s doing that horrific thing puppies sometimes do), it’s the only way to get through the hard days. Putting my arms around the very thing that’s driving me crazy gives me ownership of that thing, makes it mine, and that makes it not an obstacle. The fear? Mine. The closet and the kid? Mine. The ms pgs that need revising? Completely mine.

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  17. says

    Love this post. It’s really true that your mind can change how you feel and act about any number of things and writing is no different. Believe in yourself and go for it. The only way to get there.
    Thanks so much for the post.

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  18. says

    Thanks everyone for your comments! I had some trouble posting yesterday. Congratulations to all you who are embracing calling yourselves writers! And Brian, please don’t be nervous to join us here at WU. Welcome! Jan, thanks for the book suggestion. I’m adding it to my TBR list now.

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  19. says

    I have experienced ‘as if’ behavior in other aspects of my life, and agree it’s the behavior not the thought that makes a difference. (I’ve tried it both ways.) Sitting my butt down in front of the keyboard and writing–that makes me a writer. Writing regularly, even if only for a short time–that makes me a writer. I’m a believer.

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