Act As If
By Tobias Ball, Dissertation Editor
Cliché advice can get people into trouble, but I have decided to apply at least one such overused idiom to my own writing practices: Act as if…
I am not a published novelist. Not yet. But when I sit down at my desk to write, I act as if I am that novelist. I scratch in my notebook or type on my computer as if I am composing the next great American novel. I act as if what I am writing will be a candidate for the National Book Award, will win the Pulitzer Prize, and will finally give this country its next Nobel Laureate. I act as if there are a host of readers lined up outside of their local bookstore, waiting to get the first printing of this book because, clearly, there will be later editions and this is the one that the collectors will want. When I write, I act as if.
Although there is probably a novel in all doctoral students (I see a mystery set in the dark halls of a library or a romance that blossoms at an academic residency or a horror story where the committee members are actually vampires, werewolves, or more likely zombies who have trouble returning e-mails), most are spending more time writing their dissertation. Students often ask for advice about writing their manuscript. My advice is act as if.
Creswell (everybody reads Creswell) offered some great advice about establishing writing habits. He suggested setting aside a regular time, writing while feeling fresh, writing in small amounts, sharing the writing, and trying to work on multiple projects at the same time. These are excellent tips and apply to fiction, nonfiction, and academic writing. Take his advice, and at the same time act as if.
When you set aside regular time to write, act as if this time is what is eventually going to lead to a social science breakthrough. Act as if although you are feeling fresh and alert, when the writing time is complete, you are going to be emotionally, intellectually, and physically exhausted. When writing a small amount, act as if it is a struggle to leave the computer behind. Act as if you are energized by the topic when sharing with others (by the way, the more you talk about a topic, the better able you are to conceptualize it and then write about it in a more economic way). When working on multiple topics (course papers, discussion posts, articles for publication), act as if you have been lucky enough to discover that your research is not only your passion, but also your profession.
Right this second, I am acting as if every single Walden student is going to read this blog post and find inspiration. I am acting as if this writing exercise is going to lead to a productive day of poetry and prose. I am acting as if I am a writer, an editor, an academic, an intellectual, and someone who everyday works with students so that they can complete their own manuscripts.