Acting As If You’re a Writer

The concept of acting as if posits that if you behave as if something you desire has already occurred, eventually your desire will catch up with you and become reality. In conducting some rudimentary research on the topic, it is not easy to pinpoint where the term and concept originated. I would imagine it has been around in one guise or other for millennia. In 1911, a German philosopher named Hans Vaihinger published a book called The Philosophy of ‘As If’: A System of the Theoretical, Practical and Religious Fictions of Mankind. The psychotherapist Alfred Adler developed the concept of acting as if as a therapeutic technique in the 1920s. If you conduct an Internet search nowadays, the first several pages of results are mainly self-help and New Age websites touting that if you act as if you have whatever you desire, it will only be a matter of time before you have it in fact. Some of these claims seem far-fetched, while others are thoughtful, nuanced, and genuinely helpful. Acting as if is used in psychological, medical, spiritual, and practical situations to assist people in getting beyond their inhibitions and phobias so that they can make progress toward achieving their goals.

I recently came across the acting as if concept in a book I was reading, and immediately considered how I could use it to assist me with one of the great dilemmas in my life: How can I have published almost thirty books and still feel that I have fallen so short of my career goals? When I look at this issue objectively, I realize that there is a simple answer, which is that some of the criteria by which I define success are not directly related to writing at all. How many editors purchase and publish my stories and how much money I make have nothing to do with the writing itself or even the quality of what I produce. Sometimes, maybe, but not always. My former Clarion West workshop instructor Harlan Ellison once said, “If they’re not buying your stories, write better stories.” That’s good advice up to a point; we should always strive for improvement. However, what if you’re writing the best stories of which you are capable but they’re still not buying them? Editors reject stories for all sorts of reasons, and not all of those reasons have to do with quality. More than once I have had editors of top magazines send me notes about particular stories telling me that they love the stories – even, in one instance, listing in detail all the things they particularly enjoyed – but then telling me that they still weren’t going to buy them. One of those stories dealt with a controversial topic, while the other may have been too stylistically experimental.

Money and fame do not make you a writer. Writing does. When editors and publishers accept your work and pay you for it, these are business transactions, and they have to do with decisions that others make, not you. If an editor has rejected your story, acting as if won’t cause the editor to reverse the decision, although it may give you the impetus to send it out to another market. Acting as if your writing has already made you rich and famous will simply turn you into a pompous ass.

Let’s assume that you are a person of integrity and that your primary goal is to become the best writer of which you are capable. This is a worthwhile goal. Remember that this goal has nothing to do with the talents of others. Your aim should not be to become as good a writer as so-and-so, because you are not so-and-so. You do not have their background, education, or genes. You are you; that’s the raw material you have to work with. You can absorb knowledge, you can learn techniques, you can avail yourself of mentors, but it all still come down to you and nobody else.

So what makes you a writer? You write. You don’t think about writing; you don’t daydream about how someday it would be so nice to sit down and write that novel or memoir you’ve been thinking about. You write. That’s what acting as if is all about. You want to be a writer? Write. I suggest a daily word count. You can adjust the quota depending upon circumstances. These days I write five hundred words a day, seven days a week. If I miss a day here or there, usually because I finish a piece of writing and I am deciding what to work on next, I don’t fret – but generally that’s the standard. In the past, I have sometimes gone up to one thousand words a day when I have the time and I’m in the middle of a lengthy novel. When I was full-time teaching I took it down to two hundred words a day because that was all I could manage. The point is that you write a certain amount of words every day. Some days, especially when I am beginning a new project, it takes me longer; other days, usually when I am in the middle of something, it’s like opening a spigot. The words pour out as fast as I can type them.

A few final thoughts. You are bound to get better the more you practice. You’ll never be perfect; you’ll keep practicing and improving for the rest of your life. At some point, editors will probably start buying your work; however, as I mentioned above, there are many reasons that editors reject writing and not all of them have to do with quality. If you are convinced that you are doing good work, nowadays there is always the option of self-publishing. The learning curve is fairly easy, and it is a viable way of getting your writing to potential readers.

Above all, always remember that acting as if you are a writer means that you write. That’s what writers do.

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2 Responses to Acting As If You’re a Writer

  1. I like the blunt message that writers simply write, because we tend to do anything but, and this is a great reminder for us to go back to the basics.

    And yeah, totally agreed that rejections aren’t always due to quality, and the only thing we can do is keep soldiering on. Anyway, thanks for this post!

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