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

coffee smile [1]
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 [2] 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 [3] can make you feel happy. Acting like you’re in love [4] 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 [5]:

“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 [6] 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 [7]” 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 [8] 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 [9] 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 [10], 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.

About Carleen Brice [11]

Carleen Brice [12] writes nonfiction and fiction. Her most recent books are the novels Orange Mint and Honey [13], which was made into a Lifetime television movie called “Sins of the Mother [14],” and Children of the Waters [15]. She’s currently at work on a novel called Every Good Wish.