How to Fake it Till You Make it as a Writer

I was listening to an interesting story on NPR not long ago. In it, a schlubby nobody wanted to find out what it feels like to be famous. He got some friends and strangers to pose as bodyguards, an assistant, and paparazzi. They walked through midtown Manhattan, treating him like the star he wasn’t, and guess what? People believed it. Gawkers gawked, girls swarmed. They imagined he was someone famous they had seen on TV or in a movie. For a short time, he faked his way into celebrity.

Most writers suffer from self-doubt. Voices scream in our heads, You’re a fake, a loser, a hack. You’ll never be a success, and if you are, the next book will bomb. I firmly believe that’s why Harper Lee never wrote a second book and why many writers turn to drink.

But we can change those negative messages and turn our writing, and our lives around.

I was recently struggling through a period when everything I wrote was terrible. The story, the characters, and the dialogue in my new book felt like bile I was throwing up on the page. I started avoiding writing, distracting myself with unpleasant household chores.

But after hearing the NPR story, I decided that if I couldn’t be a good writer, I could at least pretend to be one. Every morning I woke up, looked in the mirror, and repeated a phrase I had learned from author Julia Cameron: “You are a brilliant and prolific writer.”

It was so simple, but it worked. After giving myself a positive message, I more eager to sit down at my laptop, and the pages started to flow. I felt like Popeye after gulping down a can of spinach. The negative voices were subdued, and I became a “brilliant and prolific writer,” at least for the day.

Faking it till you make it can work in social situations too. Suppose you heard that an agent you thought would be perfect to represent you was going to be at a writing conference. You sign up. Now imagine two scenarios:

Scenario 1: You spot the agent across the room, surrounded by other wannabe authors. You tell yourself, Why would she be interested in me? My stuff isn’t good. I’ve already been rejected by 50 agents. Even if she agreed to read my manuscript, it would probably end up in the trash.

I’m sure you can imagine what you might do after all those negative messages. You’d probably end up at the cash bar, hiding your face in shame.

But what if, instead, you decided to fake it.

Scenario 2: You spot the agent across the room, surrounded by wannabe authors. But that’s not you. You’re already successful. You’ve had 10 books on the best seller list. You already have an agent, but perhaps would be in the market for a new one if she was right for you.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not telling you to lie to the agent. You’d be found out pretty quickly. I’m telling you to lie to yourself. Play the role of the successful author. Approach the agent with confidence. Introduce yourself and make firm eye contact. Invite her to read your latest manuscript. You might just end up at the cash bar sharing a drink with her.

I know this sounds fake. It is. You’re playing a part for yourself. Remember the guy who pretended to be a celebrity? He never told anyone he was famous. He just played the part and they came to their own conclusions.

Many years ago, I read about another way to fake it till you make. I don’t recall the title of the self-help book, but its premise was, Act like it was impossible to fail.

We all know failure is a fact of life for writers. I have the rejection letters to prove it. Again, this isn’t about telling yourself that you can’t fail. You’ll know you’re lying. It means to act like you can’t fail. What would you do if you acted like the novel you were planning couldn’t fail? What if you acted like it was destined to be a Harry Potter-like hit and buy you a French chateau? Would you put it off, or would  you get down to some serious writing?

Try this for a day, a week, a month. Try it the next time you write a query letter or go to a conference. Try it the next time you meet a hot guy at a party.

“What do you do?” he asks.

“I’m a writer,” you reply without apology or hesitation.

Best wishes,

Kelee

 

How Long Should My Book Be?

When I was a screenwriter, I knew hitting the right page count was an essential part of the writing process. No agent or producer was going to read your 200-page epic movie script, no matter how good you thought it was. (And any unproduced screenwriter naive enough to submit a 200-page script probably doesn’t have the experience to make it good.) Most new screenwriters continue to believe conventional wisdom that a script should be about 120 pages, but even that is inaccurate. In today’s market, 100-110 pages is the rule, unless you’re Christopher Nolan.

When I became a romance writer, I knew that word count was probably important to literary agents and publishers too. It turns out I was right. Few agents will even consider a very long manuscript. (Sci-fi being the exception.) Unless you’re already a best selling author, a fat book is risky because it’s more expensive to print. But a thin novel can get lost on bookshelves and readers might think it’s not worth the money.

When I began writing GoddessI read on a blog that the average romance novel is 76,031 words. I’m not sure where that figure came from, but it turned out to be pretty accurate. Romance novels can be somewhat shorter (perhaps 60,000 words) or longer (90,000), but you shouldn’t get too far out of that range or most agents won’t request the manuscript.

I didn’t have much of an issue with Goddess. I always try to cut unnecessary words and sentences as I write each draft, and when all was said and done, I ended up with a submission-ready manuscript of about 77,500 words. Perfect.

Of course, I ended up self-publishing Goddess, where page count isn’t as much of an issue. (Though I personally wouldn’t buy or agree to review a 100,000 word romance novel. They are rarely good enough to invest that much of my time.)

However, when I finished the first draft of my new comedic romance novel, Anywhere’s Better Than Here,  I discovered I had a word count problem. It came in at about 53,000 words. Much of this had to do with its origin as a screenplay, where brevity and tight pacing in a romantic comedy was a necessity. I liked what I had written, but I knew marketing such a short book to agents would be even more of a challenge than usual.

The first draft was a breeze, but the second draft has been painful. I’ve found places where I need more character development, and my b-story needed a little more beefing up. I’ve also found spots where transitional scenes would make the story feel not quite so rushed. (Though I do want it to be fast paced.) But overall, I’m surprised at how difficult it is for me to add to a story, rather than take away from it.

“Kill your babies” was the maxim I learned as a screenwriter. Don’t be afraid to cut favorite scenes or lines of dialogue if it’s necessary for pacing. But now, it seems, I need to birth a few more children. It’s challenging, but if writing isn’t difficult at times, then it’s usually because it isn’t very good.

So I return to my manuscript, redoubling my efforts, on a quest to make it as perfect as I can before it goes out to beta readers. Wish me luck!

Best wishes,

Kelee