Kurt Vonnegut - AI image - pretending quote

Positive Pretending – Robb’s Rule #3

“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be very careful what we pretend to be.”

Kurt Vonnegut, Mother Night

We know that fiction writers create their worlds by pretending to be something they’re not. But the reality is, at some point, all writers have to pretend.

“Once upon a time” starts all of our stories, because writers are made and not born. Yes, we’re all born storytellers. But you have to give yourself permission to call yourself a writer.

And that’s my point. You have to pretend you know what you’re doing, or at least not care if your inner-bully is calling you out.

Yes. I get it. I’ve overcome this only to wake up and find that thug smirking at me from my footboard.

Yes. There’s often that nagging doubt whether you’ll be found out. My friend John Vorhaus talks about this in his classes and workshops. I’m looking back at my notes, and I can see that he told us up front that no one would be hauled out of his UCLA classroom by the fraud police.

Laughter, nervous laughter, filled the room.

Sure. It can be hard to find the time to write. So much gets in the way, and there are books on that. I’d recommend Cathy Yardley’s fine Rock Your Writing series. But even more than finding the time, there’s entering the headspace where you see yourself as a writer. Trust me on this, if you don’t give yourself permission to say this about yourself, no one else will.

This idea was driven home to me at my very first writers conference in San Francisco. The SFWC holds a special place in my heart, and you’ll hear me talk about them more than once in these pages. But at the outset, during my first session–their welcome and orientation—then Director spend the $20 to get business cards and start giving them to our peers and potential professional contacts. He noted, quite correctly, that many of us there hoped to seek representation for our books. If we wanted to be seen as professionals, Mike said, we needed to see ourselves in that way, and act accordingly.

Which brings me back to the idea of positive pretending.

For many of us, it’s hard to feel like a writer if we haven’t sold anything. I’m a bit lucky in this regard as I worked for several years as a print-reporter and then transitioned into teaching. But then came that long slog of writing and sending things out, to agents and writing contests, and hearing only silence. It was years before I sold my first humor-piece for money. Yep. I could blog and write for free to my heart’s content, but in my heart, that didn’t seem to count.

And why not?

Let’s be honest. It’s hard to sell your stuff, and downright nearly impossible to “quit your day job” if you want to live on your scribblings. Sorry if I’m bursting your bubble or pouring sand into your keyboard. But, really, should money matter? Getting paid gigs has been hard since the golden days of the pulp magazines. Back in the 1940s-1950s, a newbie writer could earn, in today’s money, thousands of bucks for a well-crafted article. This is detailed in a recent book on Kurt Vonnegut’s life and work. Before he was famous, he taught at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, and he cautioned his students about the need to have ways of supplementing their writing income. He knew this all too well. He sold Saabs and scrambled to make the monthly budget. As an aside, I can say he was lucky to be married to a woman who believed in his writing enough to endure this sort of hardship

Spoiler alert. It’s not gotten any easier.

Only a miniscule number of writers, our 1%, do well enough to be free of worries about money. Keep in mind that when it comes to these concerns, you are in the majority and in good company.  So, if not money, then, what does it take to be considered a writer? Wait for it….

You write.

End of story. Of course, you can try to make money. I do. And should you conduct yourself in a goal-driven and professional manner?

Absolutely. I sometimes do that, too.

But the thing is, you are a writer because you write, and on some level, it needs to feed your soul and help you grow as a person. The Vonnegut book talks about this in ways that are honest but still motivating. And there are corollary benefits. You might even make some friends who share this compulsion. They can help you share the joys and sorrows of the small victories you’ll have if you persist.

There’s power in numbers, especially in the sheer number of words you type in a day, a week, a year or a lifetime. And that’s the end game. Persistence, patience, and productivity that comes from positive pretending.

Yep, you counted five “p”s in the preceding paragraph. Good for you, you noticed, you writer, you. And you’re free to revise. That’s another thing we do, but that’s also another part of the process, another story if you will. More on that later.

For now, take out your writer’s business card and stick it up where you can see it while you’re writing, maybe even another by your bedside so you can see it at the beginning and end of each day.

Don’t have a card? Really? You didn’t stop in the middle of this piece and get online to buy some? Thanks, I guess, for being a dedicated reader. But it’s more important that you be a dedicated writer.

So, get the damn cards already, and keep on tending to your profession by pre-tending.

Write. Revise. Submit. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. You. Writer. You.

You’re welcome.


Author, educator, humorist, entrepreneur, astronaut - one of these isn't true. :)

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