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The Mystery of the Mask

Crossposted to the Deadline Dames. Check us out!

Let’s talk about magic.

Plenty of magic[1] is the utilization of more-or-less psychological principles to effect a change in the practitioner. Where there’s belief, there’s a sword to be used. Swinging it effectively takes practice and self-knowledge. The things you believe about yourself and how the world works, especially those core beliefs you hold on a unconscious level, affect your daily (and indeed, the rest of your) life to an incredible degree.

This does not have to be a bad thing. There are thousands of tools for uncovering, reshaping, and altering those beliefs. Some of them are self-help, some of them are psychological theory, some of them are occult, some of them are just plain common sense. You’re bound to find something that works somewhere. The key is to practice consistently enough, to not fall prey to the ersatz jolt of accomplishment that simply learning about a principle provides. You also have to use the principle for a long enough period of time to discover if it works for you.

There are a few principles, however, that are as close to guaranteed as you can get with a tool meant to affect complicated human beings. One of them is the principle of the mask.

A very wise man once told me, “Beware what you pretend to be, because if you pretend long enough, you’ll become it.” It’s one of those cliches built around a grain of truth. The longer you wear a mask, the more it becomes your real face. It’s just one of those things about the way we’re wired. It is also an invaluable tool.

Say you want to write for publication. The best thing to do is to start treating your writing like you’re already published.

Note: I do NOT mean that you slack off, or think that you’re God’s gift to the written word and no editor shalt touch thy purple…prose. That’s a fast track to Never Getting Published, also known as Being Such A Speshul Snowflake You Shoot Thine Self In Thine Own Foot.

No, what I advocate is practicing behaviors that get authors published and keep them finding new work. Here’s a (by no means comprehensive) list, to show you what I mean:

* Act as if writing is a priority, and make time for it.

* Act as if you are open to revision, whether it comes in the form of a rejection letter or a (gasp!) personalized rejection letter[2].

* Act as if some part of your income depends on you being professional, pleasant, and well-informed about writing for publication.

* Act as if your writing time is precious and meant for writing, not for checking email, playing video games, or talking about writing.

* Act as if you already have a professional relationship to lose when you interact with other professionals. (Don’t know what I mean? Read this.)

* Act as if editors, agents, and publishers are your fellow soldiers, in this to make money from providing quality, just like you are.

* Act as if your fellow writers are colleagues, not enemies or ladder rungs. Colleagues are not buddies and they are not enemies, they are people you are in a professional relationship with.

* Act as if it is your JOB to WRITE. I can’t say this enough. So many times I see “writers” who don’t make it a priority to get the words out. This is not professional behavior. And guess what? Not writing is a really sure way to not get published.

Notice any trends?

Do I guarantee that you will get published if you start acting this way? No. I do, however, guarantee that your chances of getting something published will rise exponentially, if not astronomically. I do guarantee that making writing a priority will force you to produce more, which is one of the only sure ways to learn enough to start producing quality. I do guarantee that treating your writing career as an arena where you have a professional reputation to lose will help you avoid a few mistakes, not to mention some pain and grief.

A funny thing starts happening once you start this kind of pretending. There’s a few months where it feels like ill-fitting shoes–not quite natural. Then it becomes habit, which is your best of servants or worst of masters. The mask begins to feel natural, and it’s then that the magic occurs. It’s subtle at first, but it gathers strength the longer you practice and the more ingrained it becomes. Your chances of getting published, and getting published again (which is the trick to producing an income stream) go up to the point where you can start taking advantage and playing those odds effectively.

The mask, the pretense, becomes your real face.

Of all the metaphors I use to belabor the point that writing makes a writer, this is the one the majority of my students has found most useful. Like all useful tools, it isn’t as complex–or as simple–as it appears. What you get out of it is in direct proportion to how much effort you put into it. I cannot guarantee you publication, but I can tell you that this is a way to maximize your chances most effectively.

I like my magic to have a practical side.

So, Happy New Year to you, dear Readers and fellow writers. What mask do you want to wear this year? I suggest you make it one you like.

Now, if you’ll pardon me, I have some writing to do. Over and out.

[1] I am not talking about conjuring tricks here.
[2] A personalized rejection letter, or one with a personal note about what was wrong with the story, is one of the last wickets before acceptance. Oddly, it is also one of the wickets where a majority of people get discouraged and stop trying.

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