These are the things I do in order to sabotage myself (and because I hate feeling helpless, I propose solutions)

karate sidewalk graffiti

When I write, my aim is to unleash my inhibitions and thus my imagination. On the very very best days, I am able to explore new worlds and write them with courage and truth. On the very very very very very verrrry best days, I write many words with courage and truth. On these days, I am elated. I would take these days over the most delicious cake. That’s saying a lot. Because I love cake.

Unfortunately, when I unleash my inhibitions and imagination, among the many things released include insecurity and fear. If I channel and examine my fear in a positive context, it can help produce the very best writing. Under certain circumstances (and I’m no scientist, but it’s kind of like the optimum conditions for bacteria proliferation), my insecurity and fear rocket. Fear is a very very selfish and abusive state of mind that demands the entire floor. Fear’s best friends are helplessness and insecurity and together, they often plan out acts of self-sabotage.

And sadly, I occasionally enact self-sabotage as a writer. I do so because I am afraid to fail, afraid to (yes) succeed, afraid to confront my feelings, afraid to confront the page, afraid to write the words, afraid my words are not good enough and will never be good enough, afraid to tell the truth–the list goes on.

And these are my acts of self-sabotage (self-sabotage meaning things you do that hamper/damage your writing) as a writer…

1) I don’t do this very often anymore, but when I do, it’s the most destructive thing ever: I compare myself to other writers. It’s a sick act that’s covered in the goo of jealousy. I think it was Craig Ferguson who said that envy is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die. It’s so exactly like that. And I avoid it.

I avoid it by surrounding myself with supportive writer friends, and by supporting my friends. A mentor once told me that a writer who helps other writers will be blessed. The more I support my friends, the less I compare myself to them. Because in a way, I am participating in their success, as opposed to being a bystander.

When I was a kid, I took swimming lessons. I was horrible in swim class, and I was a horrible swimmer. I was horrible because when we swam, I always stopped swimming to look around to see where I was relative to my classmates.

Of course, as soon as I stopped swimming, I would sink. And I’d come in dead last (not that it was a race just like writing isn’t a race, but it sucks to come in dead last). I didn’t learn, because I was comparing myself to others more than I was doing the act of swimming.

I didn’t know I was doing this at the time, but in hindsight and through my mom’s anecdotes (“You keep looking up and sinking. Why aren’t you swimming?”) I was able to synthesize this lesson.

So when I compare myself to other writers, I also think about my swimming lessons. If I’m comparing myself to other writers, I’m not writing. I’m sinking.

2) I psyche myself out and tell myself I’m not good enough. And then I wallow.

This is the thing with which I struggle most. My waning self confidence kills me. It really kills me. It is rarely brought on by others’ achievements, but the lack of my own. Or a feeling of lack of progress.

This is when I often do some low-stakes writing, like blogging. So I keep writing without pressure and without judgment. Or I call a very good writing friend (they are so important). Or I call a very good non-writer friend (they are just as important).

Most important, I just go heads down and write again. Because I’ve gotten to a point in my life where I know that I won’t stop writing. And the act of writing is the ultimate cure.

3) I am not honest about my writerly needs.

In my case, this is one of those “room of her own” situations–where I do not have a proper psychic and physical space for me and my writing. This is when I’m not honest to myself, and I insist on writing at home, even with a houseguest not understanding of my life as a writer–instead of going to a café to write. It’s been difficult to admit, but I’ve learned that I cannot write in my own home on a regular basis. There is too much temptation to be distracted. And if I cannot write–see #2 above: my confidence starts waning.

Instead of writing at home, I write at The Writers Room in NYC, or at the San Francisco Writers Grotto. Both spaces have been very kind for my writing, and I’ve learned what I need from my time at both.

For others–your writerly needs may mean other things, like sleep or a writing residency. Learn what they are, and make it happen.

4) I allow myself to be distracted.

There is a fine line between meeting up with friends for your psychic health and doing necessary chores….and meeting up with friends and doing chores in order to procrastinate on writing. You know what they are. What matters most in a year? What will matter most for me in a year is a finished novel revision. So get on it.

5) I allow myself to become too isolated.

Haha. On the flip side of socializing-as-a-form-of-procrastination, I often allow myself to become isolated. You gotta get out. Meet like minds. Get support. Crack a few jokes.

I’m on twitter–sometimes, I feel like if I didn’t have twitter, I’d be a total writing hermit. And I love my community there, and in real life. It helps to keep a real conversation going with someone other than my characters. It helps me energize. It helps me gain new experiences and new ideas. It helps me realize there is a world outside my novel.

6) I don’t read enough.

I totally self-sabotage by not taking time out to READ. It is the most important thing I can do for my writing (other than write). And I mean read the good stuff. When I do not read, it gets bad.

7) Seek approval from those who will not understand or approve. Or seek approval from those who will never tell you the truth and will too easily give your manuscript their approval.

Know who your audience is. If you’re writing a memoir about being a left wing liberal radical, think twice before showing your manuscript to someone who is staunchly tea party (or vice versa. Giving your manuscript to heavily biased people who will guaranteed-criticize your work is self-sabotage. What are you doing it for? What kind of feedback do you expect, and how will it help your writing?

Also, don’t just show your manuscript to people who so easily approve you will never learn. Again, it’s self-sabotage and over-protection. Will your manuscript improve?

I made these mistakes often in my earlier writing days–and all it did was lead to feedback that rarely helped me.

What things do you do as acts of self-sabotage, and what things do you find helpful to keep yourself in a healthy writing state?

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9 Comments

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9 responses to “These are the things I do in order to sabotage myself (and because I hate feeling helpless, I propose solutions)

  1. Loud music really helps me focus on my writing. I try to use headphones so I can drown out the rest of the world and allow someone else’s lyrics to inspire me.

  2. oof. #4 and #5. you nailed it. i’ve complained a lot this summer because i’ve been “too alone,” which many people don’t understand since i always say i need time to write. i needed this reminder that #4 and #5 are not synonymous in the writing world!

  3. LauraMaylene

    I eat dinner in bed while watching really really dumb shows on my laptop. Then I feel too lazy to get up and try to find something else to watch. It’s so shameful.

    Green tea helps me write. Doing yoga, juicing, and feeling healthy overall helps me do other healthy things (read: writing!) but, sadly, I don’t get in that state nearly enough.

    Deadlines are great, too. I wrote a new essay this week all thanks to my efforts to get into an anthology that already closed for submissions. (It worked out.)

  4. #4. I couldn’t have said it better, but only the part about seeing friends for psychic health and doing chores to keep the rats from taking over. That is bad enough. Great post. Thanks for sharing.

  5. by “synonymous,” i meant “polar opposites.” the heat fried my brain.

  6. I used to have a real problem with #!. It’s one reason I try to avoid the writing blogs and “I Just Published My Novel!” tweets. There are a lot of people out there more successful and less successful than me and it will always be that way. I do like your point about trying to be as supportive to other writers as possible and sharing in their successes. Sadly, I don’t know that many writers… or maybe not sadly.

  7. I spent three hours reading this morning and was so blown away, re-energized and inspired, and it made me vow to do more of it.

  8. Yep, those pretty much sum up my nearly constant attempts to derail myself. You nailed it. Reading and meeting others who write are two major cure-alls. Travel and other creative outlets (painting, photography) help get me back on track sometimes.

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