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Self-Sabotage and the Writer

Self-Sabotage and the Writer

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” ~Nelson Mandela

Writers practice self-sabotage for all kinds of reasons, most of them stemming from fear. We’re afraid of failure, afraid of disappointing ourselves or family, afraid we aren’t good enough, afraid of what others will think. Most of us are afraid we will fail, and afraid we will succeed.

There are many ways in which we sabotage ourselves:

Perfectionism: Seeking to make a piece perfect is a great way to make sure it’s never done.

Jumping the gun: Sending work out before it is ready.

Taking it personally: Taking rejections as a rejection of ourselves rather than our work.

Unrealistic expectations: Impossible goals and standards set us up for failure.

Lack of commitment: Missing appointments to write or putting writing last in our lives doesn’t allow us to improve and grow.

Writing without feedback: You need other eyes, fresh opinions, and critique.

Great expectations: Comparing our first attempts and first drafts to someone else’s experience and finished work will always leave us feeling our words suck.

Ohh, Shiny: Chasing the next idea instead of finishing and polishing what we start doesn’t allow us to learn to finish, polish, or submit.

Quitting: Stopping work on a piece when it gets hard or uncomfortable is quitting. Some writers are serial quitters when they first begin.

 So how do we prevent self-sabotage?

Well, that’s the hard part. The best way is to face up to the fear. Determining we will take the risk in spite of our fears, or even because of them, is a special act of bravery that tells self-sabotage “I will not let you beat me. You will not win.”

Another important element is to go over your goals with someone you trust. Realistic, attainable goals and written steps to get there will go a long way toward alleviating fear.

Most of us, with honest self-examination and the support of friends and family, will overcome those fears with time and experience. Once in a while, awareness alone does the trick. In extreme cases, counselors are helpful to resolve deep insecurities or issues of self-esteem. (Hey, this is your life and your creativity. It’s worth getting it resolved.)

What matters is to ask yourself if self-sabotage has gotten you when you feel you aren’t progressing. If you think the answer is yes, you’re not alone. Take the time to work on it.


What experience have you had with sabotaging your own writing? How did you address it?

8 thoughts on “Self-Sabotage and the Writer

  1. To be perfectly honest, these signs of self-sabotage extend far beyond just the domain of writing. Most can be applied to any area of our lives where we engage in self-defeating behavior. With that being said, they apply extremely well to the life of a writer. I know.

    I have fallen victim to many of these symptoms in varying degrees in the relatively short time that I have been writing. One of the tactics that has “worked” to remove these obstacles, maybe not so healthy. The other is better.

    The not-so-healthy approach is stubbornness. When presented with these behaviors, I will often mutter under my breath – it – I am going to prevail because I have before and will again. Yeah, I know, not really the best approach.

    The basis for this response, however, is probably what makes it a little more constructive than it sounds. Because right before I mutter these obstinate words, I think about my mantra – inspire and be inspired.

    When we take the time to invest in understanding what is important to us and, more importantly, why it is important to us, we are more able to confront those nasty obstacles that get tossed into our path (either by others or by ourselves). It takes a lot of work, thought, and clarification, but it is perhaps the best piece of writing I have ever done (and no one has ever seen) because it has allowed me to continue writing in the face of adversity, time and time again 😉

    • Nasty html tags messed up my message, right before “- it -” in the text, there is supposed to be “(insert favorite expletive here)”. That would probably make the rest of the message make a bit more sense! Thanks for sharing 😉

    • First, I have to say I love your mantra! May I borrow it?

      Self-sabotage certainly does apply to other areas of life. I’ve had my fair share of experience with it. 🙂 I do like the stubbornness angle because it can be quite effective.

      This morning I was thinking of a set of scales and how giving more weight to motivation takes weight away from fear. Might have to work on that metaphor and refine it. 🙂

  2. For me, it gets back to the reason for writing and how I definte my relationship to writing. When I think about my writing as means or tool to get something else (fame, money, material success, acclaim, admiration, influence), I easily slip into one form or another of self-sabotage because I start to fear that I won’t achieve that “something else,” whatever it is. But when I return to the idea of writing as a part of who I am, a part of my identity, my fear goes down substantially: I write because writing is what I do; I’m a writer in the same way that I’m a dad or a lover of films. In other words, I do it for myself. In that event, since I’d never stop going to see good films out of fear, why should I stop writing? Whenever I go back to, “Why am I doing this?” I find it easier to get going again. It also helps me to reread past journal entries. The insights I find make me want to get back to writing.

  3. I’m guilty of many of these. Especially perfectionism and unrealistic expectations. I honestly didn’t take any of my rejections personally (which is amazing, because I tend to take a lot of negativity personally), but just saw them as an opportunity to re-approach my work with fresh eyes and discover what the downfalls are. I’m currently in the middle of a massive re-write because of them, and it’s the best writing I’ve ever done.

  4. Pingback: Writing 101 – Tenses | The Sarcastic Muse

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