Thursday, August 11th, 2011

Make-Believe Until You Make It


You know the old saying, “Fake it ’til you make it?”

I’ve gotten distracted by the three million other things I have to do each day, along with temptations like lounging with a good book or summer television, or just the sheer bliss of sitting on the couch with my dog and my knitting. Because, of course, one of the “advantages” of making my living with a day job is that while I might be tired when I get home at the end of the day, it affords me the luxury of not having to write–and therefore making goofing off far too easy. If I were depending on my writing to pay rent and food, I’d have more incentive for diligent behavior.

But all the while I’m sitting there happily curled up with a good book (written by someone else and therefore stress-free), my conscience is nagging me.

“You can’t be a writer if you don’t write.”

What do you do when you don’t FEEL like writing?

Do you know the trick to getting a good photo of yourself? You don’t just smile with your lips, you smile with your eyes. If your eyes don’t have that certain warmth, that indefinable twinkle, your smile is going to look fake, as if it had been plastered on. So what you do is, as the photographer is aiming the camera, you think of something that makes you want to laugh. Or you remember what it feels like to want to chuckle–your eyelids crinkle, your lips twitch with a smile, and your cheeks lift ever so slightly. Most important, everything about your face warms, lightens, brightens.

The best part is that you can fake this. If someone is pointing a camera at you in one of those forced moments where you have to stand next to someone else and smile for posterity–trick yourself into believing you’re happy to be there. Think about making your eyes look warm, happy, friendly and there you go … suddenly YOU look warm, happy and friendly. It’s all in the eyes. And in the convincing yourself that at that moment, you’re happy.

You have to convince yourself to act the way you want to be.

When I was a kid, this was easy. Nothing easier! I pretended things constantly, all day long. I didn’t just ride my bike–I was actually riding a beautiful stallion with a flowing mane and smooth gait. (Side-saddle, naturally, like a princess. I got remarkably good at riding my bike side-saddle, pedalling with only my left foot, using the toe to help pull the pedals upward.) I had imaginary friends keep me company in boring classes. They’d even walk up to the teacher’s desk during tests and peek at the answers for me. I didn’t just go for walks, I went on adventures like Frodo Baggins.

I was very seldom just my own, mundane self when I was a kid. Everything had more savor when I brought my imagination along. It was a life-saver during boring things like grocery shopping with Mom or stupid assemblies at school. And if I pretended I had magic powers to help me clean my room? It made the cleaning that much more fun.

So, why not pretend to be a “real” writer?

I finally decided that I was going to need to take extreme measures. I was going to have to take definitive, mature action and force myself to write.

I was going to have to Pretend.

What, I asked myself, would a “real” writer be doing? Would she be coming home from work and goofing off? Or would her computer be pulling her toward it constantly, like a planet pulling its satellites? During her boring day at the office, would she be browsing the internet looking for distraction? Or would she be taking every possible minute of spare time to surreptitiously type away at her article?

I decided that I was going to Pretend, just like when I was a kid, but this time I was going to pretend that I was a dedicated, driven, diligent writer. How could I let myself be distracted if a Real Writer wouldn’t? She wouldn’t have time to goof around, so why should I?

In other words, I was going to make-believe I was everything I already want to be … just, without the publishing credits I don’t have yet.

Fantasy and reality have more in common than you think.

The amazing thing? It worked. It turns out that, unlike a child pretending to play piano and just generating dissonant noise, it’s hard to pretend to type without actually producing, well, words. And producing words is what writing is, isn’t it? The more that I pretended to be this successful writer who just happened to have an inconvenient day job, the more I found myself wanting to write. Like a kid playing Detective who stumbles across a real mystery (one of my favorite kinds of books when I was younger), I found myself stumbling across interesting phrases, intriguing ideas. The characters in my novel sat up, yawning, and suddenly started calling out ideas about what they wanted to do next. My non-fiction became more engrossing and invigorating.

The best part? This little trick works for all sorts of thing. If you fake something convincingly enough, you might just find yourself doing it for real.

Oh, and while I was at it? I pretended that my Real Writer had great handwriting and perfect posture, too. I mean, why not? You never know.

One Comment on “Make-Believe Until You Make It”

  1. Elias Dorneles

    Thanks for sharing your trick, I want to try it myself! :)

    I’d think that it has something to do with that thing they say it helps you to achieve a goal: for example, instead of imagining yourself as an accomplished guitarist, you should imagine yourself playing and practicing a lot on your own. That way you would become more and more avid to do it, and more focused on doing the work than trying to be something. I think I read about it in “The Upside of Irrationality”, but I’m not sure.

    Cheers!
    Elias