Write As If…

as if 1

This is not me. But I’m getting there…

I have a problem with inversion. I’ve never been able to do a cartwheel, a handstand, or a headstand. On my high school swim team, I was consigned to the backstroke because I couldn’t dive off the blocks.

(I balk, I panic, I freak out, I fail. It might be some instinct for self-preservation, or perhaps I wasn’t swung by the toes enough as a child.)

Over the past ten years, I’ve developed an otherwise dedicated and intense yoga practice that happens to include curling up in a little ball whenever people start balancing upside down.

And then a few weeks ago, my Ashtanga teacher said something so weirdly profound that at first I dismissed it as yoga-patchouli-lemongrass speak. “Don’t just try to do a headstand,” she said. “Do a headstand as if you already knew how.”

This was so different from the usual advice (Strong core! Straight legs!) that I decided to try. It would require a mental leap, but then mental leaps are what writers do best. It was more acting than yoga: I am a person who loves headstands. What’s my motivation? Upside-downness.

I was so into my role that I wasn’t even shocked when my legs started floating up, when my body locked into a balance that felt as familiar as bike-balance, as walking-up-stairs-with-a-coffee balance.

I started thinking that night about the writing students I’ve seen struggle with confidence in their projects and their own skills. They’ll often stop and examine their insecurities, as if dissection and analysis might get them past the fear that they’re writing the whole thing wrong. I wonder, though, if there isn’t a more expedient solution.

This is what I’m going to tell them from now on, what I’m going to wish for them:

Write as if you knew what you were doing.

Write as if you loved this project as much now as the day you started it.

Write as if you had all the answers.

Write as if you knew a revelation would be hiding behind the next sentence.

Write as if no one had ever messed with your confidence.

Write as if no one will ever be allowed to judge what you write.

Write as if you were seven feet tall.

Write as if every decision you made were guaranteed to be the right decision.

Write as if all your failures happened in another lifetime.

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And for my next trick…

Write as if you hadn’t been allowed to write a word for the past decade, and you’re finally free.

Write as if you had no other obligations in the world, as if nothing else mattered.

Write as if a reliable psychic promised you’d win the Pulitzer for this.

Write as if the only reason you narrowly avoided that head-on collision when you were seventeen was so that you could live to tell this story, because the world needs it.

Write as if it it’s the last story you’ll ever get to tell.

(As indeed it might be.)

Write as if there were someone out there whose happiness depended on reading this brilliant thing you wrote.

(Stranger things are true.)

Write as if your life depended on it.

(Don’t you remember? It does.)

Then turn around and edit like the most critical bitch in the world.



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About Rebecca Makkai

Rebecca Makkai's second novel, THE HUNDRED-YEAR HOUSE, has been called "stunning: ambitious, readable, and intriguing" by Library Journal. She is also the author of THE BORROWER (Viking, 2011) and numerous short stories, four of which have been anthologized in THE BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES series. She teaches at Lake Forest College, Sierra Nevada College, and StoryStudio Chicago, and is the recipient of a 2014 Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. Her website is http://www.rebeccamakkai.com, and she tweets at @rebeccamakkai.
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11 Responses to Write As If…

  1. Jill says:

    I love this advice. I, too, suffer from a lifelong fear of inversion (I really don’t like when my feet aren’t on solid ground) and play a similar game when in yoga class. I like to think that someday I will be able to master the headstand. Baby steps.

    I like the parallel to writing as well–it’s so often our own mental blocks that get in the way or our writing. Writing past it is the only way to move forward.

  2. I loved this post so much. Such a great reminder–I’ll definitely be re-reading this many times in the future. I once had a writing teacher ask me:

    What would happen if every decision you made in your writing was the right one?

    And I realized how much time I’d wasted second guessing myself. I also love the notion of a writer being one who experiences the world upside-down. Thanks so much.

  3. Susan Crane says:

    Great advice! I was deeply in love with every line until you frightened me with that scary bitch editor. Don’t you just hate that bitch?

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  5. I remember hearing a version of this idea in a college psychology class — something like, “if you’re in a crappy mood, smile and you’ll actually become happy.” Amazingly, it worked! Thanks so much for the reminder that this strategy applies broadly. I’m embarking on new project, unlike anything I’ve ever written before . . . will act as if I’m on game and see what happens.

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  10. Deanna says:

    Enjoyed your post! Especially loved “Write as if a reliable psychic promised you’d win the Pulitzer for this.” :)