Writing “As If” Can Change “Faking Success” Into “Raking Success” by Bryan E. Robinson, Ph.D
“I believe the way to write a good play is to convince yourself it is easy to do, then go ahead and do it with ease”—playwright Tennessee Williams
Raise your hand if you’ve ever been unsure which direction to take with your writing, if self-doubt has nipped at your heels, or you’ve landed in the clutches of writer’s block or “second book syndrome.”
I thought so.
Writing rejections and disappointments nibble away at us like torture from half a million cuts. After a while, it feels as if we can’t tolerate one more slash. Statistics show more of us have the stamina to continue to take safety risks after a car crash than continue after a series of psychological writing defeats. Writers often throw in the towel so they don’t have to continue feeling disappointment. Attempts to bring quick relief to the misery of defeat rob us of knowing what missed opportunities lay beyond the barrier. This impulsive reaction—scientists call it the what-the-hell effect—is a way out: permission to give up. Adding insult to injury, we seek comfort in the very thing we’re trying to conquer: writing failure.
Most of us who’ve written for any length of time have gotten stuck somewhere along the way. But there’s good news. Twelve Step programs have batted around a phrase for years called “acting as if.” This strategy can help us get through periods of writing paralysis.
What does it mean to act as if? It’s a simple, yet powerful tool that says we can create better circumstances by acting as if they’re already true. We give ourselves to a certain performance as if it’s how we feel. When we act as if, the mood we pretend becomes a reality. Suppose you have difficulty getting words on the page, but instead of fighting tooth and nail, you convince yourself it’s easy, write as if it’s easy, and tackle the difficulty with ease. Authors of all genres have used this method to jumpstart their writing mojo. In addition to Tennessee Williams, screenwriter Steven Pressfield uses the “as if” approach: “You and I as writers must write as if we were highly paid, even though we may not be. We must write as if we were top-shelf literary professionals, even though we may not (yet) be.” And author Dani Shapiro swears by it: “Act as if you’re a writer. Sit down and begin. Act as if you might just create something beautiful, and by beautiful I mean something authentic and universal.” I, too, have used this method in my fiction and nonfiction work, writing as if my books will be on the shelves beside Lee Child or J. K. Rowling, as if Steven Spielberg will beat down my door to sign me for the screenplay. I’m still waiting for Hollywood to call, but I can testify to the effectiveness of this strategy after writing 40-plus books.
Here’s the science behind why it works. When we act “as if,” the rest of us follows suit. It’s based on the science of the mind-body connection. The cells of our bodies constantly eavesdrop on our thoughts from the wings of our minds. When we’re doubtful or disappointed about our writing, our bodies go with the downturn of our feelings, making us feel worse. Hunching our heads or slumping when we walk contributes to our insecurity and lack of confidence. On the other hand, if we change our body posture, breathing patterns, muscle tension, facial expressions, gestures, movements, words, or vocal tonality, it releases a surge of chemicals and changes our internal state. For example, making the facial expression of a smile can make us happy. Neuroscientists confirm that the act of smiling tricks your mind into confidence, simply by how you move your facial muscles. We feel bad not just because facial expressions reflect how we feel, but they contribute to how we feel. Plus, standing tall, shoulders back, not only makes us look confident, but also makes us feel more confident and optimistic.
Training the body to position itself the way you want to think and feel about yourself as a writer adjusts your thoughts and feelings to the way you want them to be. Making body adjustments—pulling your shoulders back, standing or sitting up straight, walking in a more expansive way—can pull you out of self-doubt, disappointment, or any other self-defeating emotion that blocks your creativity. When your mind and body proceeds with the way you want to be (as if), your attitude navigates you with easy sailing through choppy writing storms. This tool can salvage a bad writing day, repair or prevent a squabble with a fellow author, or kick-start a marathon in front of a blank screen turning dread into enthusiasm and ultimately success.
So let’s convince ourselves that a writing challenge is actually a piece of cake, act as if it’s true, then notice the ease with which an obstacle becomes a cinch to work through. To say we write “as if” is another way of saying we’re resilient warriors on a literary path, determined to persevere over the long haul.
Bryan E. Robinson is a licensed psychotherapist and author of two novels and 40 nonfiction books. He applies his experiences to crafting insightful nonfiction self-help books and psychological thrillers. His multi-award winning southern noir murder mystery, Limestone Gumption, won the New Apple Book Medal for best psychological suspense, the Silver IPPY Award for outstanding mystery of the year, the Bronze Foreword Review INDIEFAB Book Award for best mystery, and the 2015 USA Regional Excellence Book Award for best fiction in the Southeast.
His most recent release is Daily Writing Resilience: 365 Meditations and Inspirations for Writers (Llewellyn Worldwide, 2018). He has written for Psychology Today, First for Women, and Natural Health, and his blogs and columns for writers appear in Southern Writer’s Magazine. He is a consulting editor for The Big Thrill, the online magazine for International Thriller Writers. His long-selling book, Chained to the Desk, is now in its 3rd Edition (New York University Press, 1998, 2007, 2014). His books have been translated into thirteen languages, and he has appeared on every major television network: 20/20, Good Morning America, ABC’s World News Tonight, NBC Nightly News, NBC Universal, The CBS Early Show, CNBC’s The Big Idea. He hosted the PBS documentary, Overdoing It: How to Slow Down and Take Care of Yourself.