Yesterday I sat for a headshot photo shoot. It’s been 11 years since I last did this. The last time I had my photo taken, professionally, I had a book deal in hand. I was living the dream – getting headshots done because I needed them for a book jacket, for posters advertising my launch, for my agent’s website (as well as my own).
Getting my headshots done felt like a marker that I had “made it” on my publishing journey. I had entered into the next stage of my writing life where I was a “real” writer because I had a book for sale in bookstores. I told myself I would get new headshots done when my next book was signed on somewhere and ready for release.
Well. That’s not happening. At least not yet.
I don’t know why I treated headshots like some kind of candy I’d only allow myself when I accomplished a goal. Guess what? Publishing goals are not the same as writing goals and they are often out of our control. The only result of my headshot situation was that 11 years on all I had were 11-year-old headshots. And as much as I’d like to think I haven’t changed one bit… well, it was time.
So there I sat, smiling at the camera, chatting with this great young photographer (who is also an actor) about what we do workwise to fuel and support our passions. The whole time leading up to the session I kept telling myself that I was only faking it, this author thing. What do I need a headshot for if I don’t have a book jacket to put it on? What do a need this new website for if I don’t have a new book to promote?
But a funny thing happened while I was sitting there, talking and smiling. I stopped feeling like I was faking it and I started taking myself seriously. I looked at the shots she was snapping and found myself saying things like, “Yes, I will need this kind of shot for book reading adverts;” or “I’d like this for my more corporate work.” The need for these headshots was already there—I was just letting my own insecurities stop me from seeing that.
As a writer, I’m faking it every time I sit down at my computer. Whenever I’m trying a new story with a new character, I am jumping into an unknown and I have no idea where I will land. But I have to trust the process that I will land, that there will be a story, that even if I have no idea what I’m doing, I will figure it out.
In Judaism there is a saying, Na’aseh v’nishma. It means “Do and you will understand.” Jewish practice focuses on doing first and understanding through action, rather than understanding and only then practicing. It’s the same with writing. I can’t know ahead of time what I’m going to say, because the story only takes shape when I give into my imagination and trust in the process. Sometimes that means I’m going to feel like I have no idea what I’m doing. But funny, when I look at my smiling, crisp headshots, I see someone else: she looks confident. Seasoned. A writer who is earning her craft.
So maybe I am faking it. Who cares? I can’t keep waiting for someone else, or some experience, to validate who I am as a writer. That’s all up to me.