5 Things Writers Can Learn From Models

“What’s past is prologue.” — William Shakespeare

I’m a big fan of living in the now and not dwelling on the past, but I also think that our pasts are excellent teachers. This is poignantly true for writers; virtually every experience we’ve ever had can become research. If nothing else, our past experiences led us to where we are. For most writers I know, this is an insanely fabulous thing.

passion quote

Modeling and writing may not seem very comparable—other than the fact that in both, one can arrive to work in PJs—but my years in fashion did prep me for writing in numerous ways. In addition to providing endless fodder for my blog posts and fiction, here are five of my favorite takeaways:

1. Self-doubt shows. (And it’s often best to ignore the audience.) The first time I tried walking on a runway before my agents and other models, it was as though my legs were foreign creatures I’d never before utilized. Every part of me wobbled awkwardly, more so the harder I tried to force grace. The same can happen in our writing. The more we think, “Please don’t let this suck,” or “I hope they like it!” we’re pulled from the page, and words we use routinely can seem difficult to maneuver. It’s normal to have some level of insecurity about our work, but fixating there, instead of on our craft and stories, can keep us from falling off the runway producing our best work.

2. “No” is part of the deal. I’ve joked that I could hold an honorary Master’s degree in rejection because I’ve dealt with it hundreds, perhaps thousands, of times. After my first casting, after which I waited longingly for the phone to ring (it never did), I learned that my job was to simply to show up and bring my best game. When I booked five to 10 percent of the jobs I was up for, I knew I was doing well. As writers, pleasing a small percent of readers is pretty darn awesome! We can’t make everyone happy, but we can satisfy the heck out of some. And each negative response from a publisher, agent, editor and reader is one “no” closer to a positive.

3. It’s not personal. When I was transitioning from modeling to acting, I auditioned for many roles that specifically called for models (who could “handle dialogue” LOL). I studied my BUTT off for a lead in an oh-so-Shakespearean piece entitled Zombie Strippers. I came close to booking it when a celebrity entered the equation and POOF! Gone were my half-naked zombie dreams… *sigh* Maybe the celeb had some serious acting chops, but regardless, I knew the decision wasn’t personal. She would draw in far more cash than a no-name actress. Many decisions affecting writers function similarly. Harsh feedback often has very little to do with us, and critical feedback can help us grow if we let it.

4. Fake (some of) it until you make it. When I was in the thick of the high-fashion world—New York, Paris, etc.—I knew extremely few confident models. The industry attracts women with insecurities. But we could all fake it. We had to, or we’d never book a job. Over time, most of us could “turn it on” when necessary. I believe that we’re writers the second we decide to be and start writing. (Forget “aspiring.” I’d rather perspire. And more importantly, WRITE.) I’m not suggesting dishonesty, but I do think that we occasionally have to believe that we’re stronger and more capable than we realize. Very likely, we are.

5. Writers are damn lucky! A fellow approached me at the gym the other day and asked what I was working on.  (As usual, my elliptical machine dashboard was a mess of pages and pens.) I explained that I was editing. “Oh, you’re a writer. You really missed the boat. You could’ve been a model or actress.” He probably meant it as a compliment, but honestly, writing is many steps up from modeling and always has been. Models are seldom praised for who they are and what they do. Dependent on others, they’re like canvases on which others’ art appears. That’s fun and all, but as writers, we’re artists! How incredibly cool is that? Artists change the world, man. I don’t care if I sound like a weed-smoking cheese ball; it’s true. (I’ve never smoked weed, Mom. Don’t worry!) When we cherish what we do, we’re better able to make the most of it.

What do you think? Do any of these lessons resonate with you? How has your past career prepared you for writing?

Leave a comment

33 Comments

  1. What a great post! this truly resonated with me, having been a “sometimes” actor (never a model…) and also developing that alligator-thick skin as a result of rejection. It’s hard not to take rejection personally. Writing, though, liberates because we have control and the only “no” comes from our inner critic (shut UP!!!). So yes, fake it if you need to and dare to take risks. Now…gotta go follow that advice myself. 🙂

    Reply
  2. I love this blog! One of the things that has always stuck with me was an interview I read about a cameraman who said that the successful models were the women who showed up. On bad days, on rainy days, on days they had cramps…they put on a swimsuit and smiled. So going with your theme, showing up and doing the work is the only way to make it to the next level. 🙂

    Reply
    • I’m touched, Rebecca. Thanks! And you’re so right about showing up, come cramp-y days, pimples or what have you. Being prompt, also a plus! 🙂

      Reply
  3. Regarding “no,” when people are impressed with my 20+ published novels I mention–sometimes even show them–the huge box of rejection slips I’ve collected. Along those lines, Hall of Fame baseball player Tony Gwynn, when once asked about his incredible 3,100+ career hits, reminded the questioner that he made out over 6,000 times! Failure is a large part of success.

    Reply
  4. Great blog August. I was surprised by the “could’ve been an actress..” comment. Most people I talk to think it’s cool that I’m a writer. Then again, I don’t have your looks.

    Enjoy this job. It’s such a great life.

    Reply
    • I’d much rather be complimented for my writing, CJ — luckily, many folks do find it cool. So glad you’re one of them! Thanks for weighing in. 🙂

      Reply
  5. I love this line, “And each negative response from a publisher, agent, editor and reader is one “no” closer to a positive.” It’s so true! For every agent or editor who passes, it just means they weren’t the right one for your book. It still sucks, but it’s not about you, it’s about sales.

    I also love Rebecca’s comment above. Showing up every day is over half the battle.

    Great post, August and great inspiration.

    Reply
  6. Great post, August. I’ve come to expect no less from you.

    Reply
  7. Soooooooo much truth here, August. Great job, as always!

    Reply
  8. Catherine Johnson

     /  September 6, 2013

    Love this!

    Reply
  9. Another great post, August. I haven’t held many jobs that put me outside of books or the literary field, but Mathair has worked in law enforcement most of her life which definitely helped us with the novel that we’re currently editing. We loved this post because we’ve always said that things happen for a reason and much like lumps of clay life experiences help mold us and each new experience adds to our forms. Of course, there is always the lazy man’s version, which is just taking advice from people much smarter than yourself. And much like the rest of your posts, we will take your pearls of wisdom and apply. 🙂

    Reply
    • I’m so touched by both of your support. I love the clay analogy!

      Keep up the awesome work. Seems as though you two live happiness and growth-filled lives. 🙂

      Reply
  10. Kourtney Heintz

     /  September 6, 2013

    All great lessons August! The fake it til you make it one can apply to everything in life. I’ve finally made peace with no being a big part of the deal. From queries to promotion, no is a constant part of every process. 🙂

    Reply
  11. Great post…#5 sounds like a whole very different post all its own. I’m sure he meant it as a compliment, but it’s a *suuuuuuuper* sexist one. “Oh, you’re using your brain? But you’re a woman who shouldn’t have to!! Appreciate me for telling you you look too good to have any other value!” (*I* know those professions take brains, of course, but that’s how I interpret that comment.) That’s just so…grr. Ape-like brother reflex rising. Good thing I don’t really have time these days or I might write my on post on that. With all of the swears. 🙂

    Reply
    • LOL Big bro protectiveness accepted! Yes, it was pretty ignorant — and not the first time I’ve heard such a remark… It says a lot about the sayer, that’s for sure. He’d likely benefit from reading a few books, or even one. (Equivalent to your swears??) I feel sorry for people so misguided.

      Reply
  12. Love your lessons! Of course I’m big on the remembering the past so that I’m not doomed to repeat it. 😉 Fake it till you make it is probably the most resonant with me…especially when I don’t “feel” like writing or “inspired”.

    Reply
    • I’m so with you there, Kitt. Bumps are tough enough the first time! And the muse muscle gets stronger, the more we forge on. (Though breaks are important–not my natural strength, but I’m learning. :)) Keep up the awesomeness, beauty!

      Reply
  13. “Forget “aspiring.” I’d rather perspire.” Love that line August. How true. Your comparison between writing and modeling is spot on. Great analogy to take away with me today. 🙂

    Reply
  14. Raani York

     /  September 7, 2013

    This is one of your very perceptive and thoughtful posts I love so much! What did my past teach me that I could take for writing?
    That I rather write than do any other kind work and that I’m much stronger than I think – but still can’t take critics. I’m going to have a hard life as a writer once my first book is published. LOL

    Reply
    • Aw. You’ll do great, Raani! You’ll gain much more kudos than otherwise, and there’s always that little close-screen button when less happy reviews crop up. 😉 Thanks so much for the encouragement.

      Reply
  15. Thank you for this perspective! I feel that writing can always learn so much from other professions, and can be tied into just about anything. It’s very versatile that way. 🙂 I especially like Number 1 and 2. I’m just starting to realize how much my own self doubt has affected my writing, and I’m just starting to shed that. I wrote a similar article about what writing can learn from nursing. Would love to have you take a look! http://kristaquintana.blogspot.com/2013/08/diagnosing-problem.html

    Reply
  16. Great post – and so true! Writing is the sum of all the writer’s experiences. It’s what makes every writer different – which is such a wonderful thing, because variety is the spice of life in the field. I guess the question is whether one career sets authors up better than another. Probably not, though I think anything in the arts (including acting, modelling) is rehearsal for the inevitable rejection as writer.

    I still recall the day I fronted up in a New Zealand Forest Service office looking for work, as a student. ‘Are you prepared to drive bulldozers and rip out treestumps’? “Sure,’ I said. ‘I can do anything…and I need a job,’ What they actually needed was a historian, so I never did get to drive that bulldozer. I’d just graduated. And so it began. I’ve done a heap of other jobs since, including working for a trucking company, and all of has been grist to the mill.

    Reply
  17. When you’re a writer, even the crappiest, most ugliest portions of your life can be useful, and bring you future happiness. Ironic but awesome!

    Reply
  18. All five of these observations strike home. Self doubt does show. No is part of the deal. A writer on twitter recommended a book called “Go for No” about marketing. I haven’t read it yet, but the principle seems sound. You have to take risks and jump in the arena. And I know it’s not personal, but rejection and bad–or even mediocre–reviews always hurt more than they should. I know some really talented people who were affraid to use their talents. So sad.

    I’m sorry you didn’t get the part for Zombie Strippers LOL. You’ll have to be a best selling author super blogger instead.

    Reply
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