Writing Excuses 8.13: Fake It Till You Make it

What does it mean to “fake it till you make it?” For this episode we talk about the things that we do, or that we have done, that help us (or helped us) feel professional. Howard explains the origin of his legendary online buffer, and how eight years later he changed his wardrobe. Mary tells us the story of the omitted first line of Glamour in Glass, and how her reaction to it was destined to shape (or solidify) the image she wanted others to have. Brandon talks about his first time on the NYT Best-Sellers List.

Obviously the thing we should all be doing, first and foremost, is writing, but there are professional behaviors you can engage in that will help you feel more like a professional writer.

But! There is a logical fallacy to avoid, however. “Affirming the consequent” is when we look at the things our favorite authors do, and do them without realizing that those are consequences of being professionals rather than precursors. We talk about some of the consequences that we, as authors-aspirant, might find ourselves affirming.

Finally, we talk about “imposter syndrome,” and there’s good news on that front: even many full-time, award-winning professionals suffer from it.


This is a submission prompt! Submit a story to a high-level market that you think you’ll never sell to.

A History of Warfare, by John Keegan, narrated by Ian Stuart

28 thoughts on “Writing Excuses 8.13: Fake It Till You Make it”

  1. WE Panel –

    Great cast. Not something I really had thought of for a topic, but I’m so glad you did it. I had to look up what Imposter Syndrome was, but took care of it. I think this is a great one as advice for all of us out there who just need to shut up, sit down, and write. That’s what it really comes down to. There’s a lot of fantasizing about the writerly life, but, as you so shortly put it again, non of it happens until there’s something down on paper with your name on it.
    Brandon, always love your story of how you write 13 before the last one was published. And Dan – great advice about the New York Times BS list. Howard, you’re the man.
    Mary – the greatest writing prompt ever.
    Well done. All of you. Thanks again.

  2. Thanks for the podcast. Even though my creative drive isn’t solely in writing, I have loved Writing Excuses, and have been able to apply the topics discussed towards other creative pursuits.

  3. Excellent podcast. I think this topic is the most important aspect of writing. What you are really doing is giving yourself permission to do the things you don’t feel you deserve. If you have this permission that for some reason we as humans seem to need then you can write with abandon and not worry if it is right for the market you want or if you are good enough to sit on this panel or if you are deserving enough of having someone pay money for your book. Once you give yourself permission to feel ok with all of these then the sky is the limit. And even then give yourself permission to bust through the sky and reach beyond.

  4. I found this episode related a great deal to where I am in life, not just as a writer, but on all professional levels.

    Currently, I’m pitching one of my novels and working on a pair of short stories that I hope will be picked up in some anthologies. I’ve been calling myself a writer for some time because I know that as long as I’m active and pursuing the craft in one way or another, I am still a writer, even if I haven’t hit the big levels of success.

    Best of luck to all those who are pitching their work through any avenue. It’s tough, but you can get there with persistence. Acting a professional helps a great deal as well.

  5. I love this podcast! I started calling myself a writer when I finished the first draft of my first novel and it did totally change the way I looked at myself and my writing.

    I really liked “The War of Art” by Stephan Pressfield where he talks a lot about this idea of thinking like a professional and of making yourself think of art as a job. So much of that applies here as well.

  6. I needed this podcast more than I realized. I’ve been hiding from two novels, one I need to complete and another I need to edit a great deal, leading to nothing getting done towards my advancement as a writer, skill wise or in any other meaningful way. So I sat down after listening to this, opened Scrivener, and started writing.

    Thank you for that :).

  7. One of the impressive things about Writing Excuses is how often you all talk about the very thing I need to hear. This is all the more impressive given that some of the things I needed to hear in 2013 are the things you said back in 2008 (I’m listening back through the series… again). Clearly, there’s a precognitive sense of timing going on!

    I particularly liked Howard’s comments about professional behaviors he adopted. Unfortunately for many years I felt like I didn’t have to write every day, because I wasn’t a professional yet. Daily writing was for the people who have made it. If only I had been “faking it” years ago, I might have made it by now.

  8. Another great episode, as always.

    I’d just like to add one thing to your discussions about social media. You quite strongly emphasized that some things, like how many followers a person has, are products of being a professional, and I agree completely. I do, however, think that you should follow the professionals that you aspire to be like, and emulate their behavior – what do they tweet/blog about, what kind of a persona do they display, that kind of thing.

    Now I’m off again to be a fake, hoping to make it some day. It’s nice to know that I’m not the only person who fakes it, and thanks again for the podcast.

  9. Another great podcast – I listened to it twice on the way to work today.

    I’m definitely guilty of pre-apologizing. Despite having had some success publishing stories and non-fiction I still feel guilty/embarrassed if I admit that I’m a writer. I’m gradually working past it but it’s taking me a long time.

  10. This was a great podcast. For the last 6-8 months I’ve been learning about my weaknesses as a fiction writer — and I’ve come to realize I have a great many. Especially in terms of plot and description. Seeing those weaknesses day after day gets to be very discouraging, and I haven’t felt much like a professional anything (even though I’ve sold 1 non-fiction book, and a second is at a publisher for consideration). I’m beginning to refine some of my weaknesses (I’m getting better at description) but plot is still a bugger for me, and I sometimes imagine that no one else has this problem. So hearing this podcast, remind me to act like a professional is a great thing — and the note that so many other writers have been there, is also a good thing. Thanks again for another inspiring podcast.

  11. “Submit a story to a high-level market that you think you’ll never sell to.”

    I do that all the time! And the last two I subbed to just gave me very personal rejections, for the first time ever, on two different stories. So, you know, that’s progress, of a kind, and I’ll take it.

  12. Thanks for another great ‘cast, all. As a young person trying to establish a career, I find this advice works well outside of creative pursuits, too.

  13. Great podcast, and of course now I wonder if the folks at Asimov’s/Clarkesworld/etc will suddenly experience a bump in their submissions this round ;)

  14. Funny how Howard’s core idea of professionalism as a webcomic artist is so rare. Of all the webcomics I read regularly (most of which have artists who make a living on the proceeds thereof), Schlock Mercenary is pretty much the only one I can reasonably expect to be up exactly on time on every update day. (That said, I’ve never been able to figure out what “on time” means for Wondermark or Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, so they might be reliable and just scheduled to release during the period that sleep is a higher priority than amusement)

  15. One thing I’ve noticed is that there are a great many people with dreams of a creative venture of some sort or other, writer, artist, musician, interpretive kangaroo dance choreography instructor, etc. who don’t follow those dreams because they’ve been told to “grow up” by somebody and listened to that voice instead of the dreamer in their own head. They are amazed that someone dares to seek out the dreams that the “grownups” say are out of their reach.

    After years of being patronized and politely shut down for having dreams by well intentioned small minded people, that external voice eventually creeps inside and begins to sound like the artist’s own voice. The trick is to dare to chase the dream. Many want to but few actually do it. I didn’t dare for the longest time.

    I still feel like a fake but I try to tell myself that fakes don’t finish books (and I have finished). Having met all four of you WE people, I can say, you’re just as (ab)normal as the rest of us. What sets the professionals apart is that they’re just fakers that didn’t give up on their dream. The biggest lesson I’ve learned from each successful writer I’ve seen is that they didn’t quit and they worked their butts off (not that I actually studied any of their behinds as part of my research).

  16. @Rashkavar (and Howard too)

    I was inspired by Howard to start writing a webcomic (warning: somewhat offensive humour) and to never miss an update (albeit only twice a week). Very nearly four years and counting!

  17. @Ed and Howard

    That is quite an accomplishment and very professional of both of you. Congratulations! I have become frustrated with several promising webcomics and stopped reading them because of inconsistent updates. Way to set yourselves apart from the herd!

  18. To play devil’s advocate for the whole idea of projecting a “professional writer image” via business casual attire…

    I think of folks like Nick Mamatas (who openly scoffs at the idea of dressing business casual to cons), or Caitlin Kiernan (who has an avant-garde style all her own). I don’t think there’s any connection between the success (or set-backs) in their careers and the way they dress.

    Sure…I get the whole “don’t cosplay” thing. (Not a hard commandment to follow…I”ve never had any interest in it). But I wonder if the “”dress for success” mantra might be a wee bit over-stated.

  19. What a great podcast. I often remind myself to fake it until you “are” it. My memoir, Breaking the Code, was published in 2011. For me the fake it part comes down to self confidence in all of the activities, appearances and so forth that come after a book is published. Suddenly, I was in a very uncomfortable position – public speaking, running workshops etc…Yikes! But I have to say that when you fake it, ei: go forth with confidence, that confidence becomes real at some point.

  20. I appreciate the word of support that you “have been there.”
    No. No, you haven’t.
    Some are less energetic, confident, organized than others.
    I have had it better than some. Looking at all of the panelists CVs and reading between the lines, I would say they have seen better circumstances than most.
    Is there a better way of conveying sympathy and support than “been there”? I ask so that I may pass that along to others as well.

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