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My drug of choice is writing--writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Friday, February 22, 2013

Leela Bruce Kung Fu Fights "Fake It Till You Make It"

[I have returned from my sojourn with our new guest bloggers--a trio of sisters who like to point out how things that are about non-writing subjects can apply to writing.  I hope you'll all join me this weekend in welcoming The Pointer Sisters to Writing About Writing.]

Like schoolyard bullies, bad advice isn't evil for evil's sake--it just had a bad upbringing.  It got lost along the way.  It may have been important at one level (so people know there will be social sanctions on antisocial behavior and don't pick their nose in public, for example) but in its modern extremes it falls to pieces.  Advice is the same way.  It is a product of bad parenting and neglect.  It wants to be loved.  It doesn't always know the long term damage it does or understand its social implications.  It just wants to feel good.  Advice might actually be complex, subtle, nuanced, even good advice when viewed holistically, but when it gets out into the world it is seen only as a stereotype.  And while there is some truly sociopath advice out there hurting people just because it wants to watch the world burn, most of it goes home and cries at night that no one cares.   A pithy, rhyming meme, that slams like a ham-hock fist into the heads of innocents all around it doesn't think it's really hurting anyone.

It might even think it's helping in a twisted sort of way.  It may even think it's right.

But good intentions and misunderstood implications do not mean that bad advice doesn't just need the crap kicked out of it once in a while.  And just like anyone (who hadn't played Command and Conquer: Red Alert) would try to kill Hitler if they somehow went back in time.....EVEN knowing his sad upbringing led to who he was, I will be kicking the crap out of this advice even though I know it's monstrous harm isn't really its fault.

And one such bit of advice is "Fake it till you make it."

A long time ago, in the fires of the great wisdom forge, this advice came to life.  It went forth helping people succeed by showing them how to have self confidence and faith in the fact that a professional was just an amateur who didn't quit.  But back then they knew that it was really about hard work leading to results in a situation where sometimes there was a frustrating delay between the work and the result.  Back then "fake it" meant you did the work without getting the rewards, not that you demanded the rewards without doing the work.

"Fake it" meant that even though you weren't making money (or lots of money) or fame or other accolades, you kept working hard at what you want to be doing until success happened.  If you were faking it in writing, you keep writing like you were a writer--a lot, regularly, with as much skill as you could muster. It was about having faith in a few artistic truths: that you will get better with (lots of) practice, that there would be (because there always are) people out there who will like what you are doing if they're exposed to you, and that pretending you have confidence in yourself as an artist will lead to a more genuine confidence in yourself as an artist.

And in this context, this advice is still good today.  A.A. uses it as a simplified slogan of Aristotle's idea that acting virtuous can make someone actually virtuous.

However, what you see today is actually an act of subterfuge and fraud.  Instead of working like a real artist even though there's no "lifestyle of success" people have begun to live the lifestyle of success even though there's no work.

Artists (and writers in particular), take the idea of "fake it till you make it" to mean, "Pretend you already are a success" and hope that you trick someone important. Its not about confidence, not about the idea that you just need exposure for those who like the sort of art you are doing to find you.  It's certainly not about practice.  No they treat it like a ruse or a con job--literally behaving as if success has already come and that people are foolish not to acknowledge it.  This idea may have worked in 80's mistaken identity comedies.  It's not so awesome in real life though.

In real life, this strategy works out to look more like
"Fake it till SWAT arrives to arrest you."
Thus enter the legions of the pretentious.  Most are only guilty of a conceit based in artifice, and maybe some light chicanery. But honestly, they never really do anything more harmful than spending hundreds of hours learning the intricate ins and outs of the publishing business before they've even submitted a single story, or worry about how they're networking and marketing is going, having drinks and rubbing elbows with industry names and making sure they have a "label image" before they've actually written anything more than a manuscript draft and a couple of short stories.  And for these people who are worried more about monetizing their product before they have an actual product to monetize, the worst society might think about them is that they are probably putting the cart before the horse and maybe need to get their heads out of the clouds.

But there is a darker manifestation of faking it that involves outright dishonesty.  People who simply lie about how far along their book deal is or which publishers have picked up their rights and talk about their success more like pathological liars.  You'd think Google would have slowed down the number of people who insist that they have written a book that "you just haven't heard of," but it just leads to more spectacular delusions.  Yep, I've met several of these people--usually JUST on the cusp of their book being published by a big six.

This isn't "faking it."  This is being a fraud.  And any advice that recommends fraud needs it's teeth kicked in a little.

Of course this level of pretentiousness has become a cliche in Hollywood and in the music industry as well.  The person who pretends to be friends with stars they've met once...in front of the back stage door.  The person who has met EVERYONE at some party.  The person who says their script is being read at top levels.  The actor who got passed over for a major role because "Vin Diesel broke up with his girlfriend and ended up being available after all..."  We've all seen and heard this shit enough that it's actually pretty funny.  Observe:



But in the writing/publishing world these folks aren't quite so transparent, or maybe it's just that writer world's bullshit detectors aren't as sensitive as Hollywood's, I'm not sure.  Either way, people who outright lie about how far along their publishing career is seem to be a little less easy to ferret out in the writing world.  Just remember that and keep your sham shields at maximum even if your bullshit sniffing torpedos and phasers of truth aren't even loaded.

Back in the before time of "fake it till you make it," no one ever meant "lie about your accomplishments" or "just act successful but don't actually do any work" or even "imagine your career is about two years (of hard work) beyond where it really is."  When they turned Aristotle's philosophy into a pithy rhyme they just thought they were making it easier to remember.  And thus "fake it till you make it" has slipped into the Bad Advice column not because it meant to be cruel, not even due to its own failings, but because it lost its way.

That means it's ass kicking time.

~fade to asskick montage~

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