Most of the time, you probably start the day with the intention of making some progress on your WIP. Maybe your daily goal is to knock out 1,000 new words. Or maybe it's to edit five or ten pages. Maybe your goal is to spend a serious amount of time developing characters and plot. But how often do your goals go unmet? Of course, life is busy and we all have commitments that steal our precious writing time, but if this happens to you frequently, there may be something more sinister going on: self-sabotage.
I think that self-sabotage is the result of pesky little error messages in the brain. Those messages may sound like, "I'm not good enough." Or, "It's time to check Facebook!" Or maybe, it sounds like, "This manuscript just isn't ready for submission yet."
Here are three ways we sabotage ourselves and how to combat them:
1. You Are Too Distracted To Connect To Your Story:
Procrastination is the mortal enemy of many, if not most, writers. We distract ourselves with social media, snack breaks, reading online articles, answering the phone, using writing time to clean the kitchen, and so on. It's normal to procrastinate somewhat, but if you're frequently procrastinating away your writing time, it's a form of self-sabotage. This happens because writing can be scary. There's the fear of failure, the fear of rejection, and maybe the fear of success to contend with. As we all know, fear is an uncomfortable feeling. This discomfort can make you take multiple breaks, keeping you from getting into the writing zone.
How to beat it:
Make writing a daily routine, even if you can only make it to your desk for ten minutes. Install an app to keep you off of social media during your writing time. Set a timer and keep your butt in the chair until the timer goes off. Every time you find your thoughts drifting away from your project, gently bring yourself back. Remind yourself that it's okay if writing feels scary - many writers feel the exact same way. The important thing is to keep writing.
"Just write every day of your life. Read intensely. Then see what happens. Most of my friends who are put on that diet have very pleasant careers."
- Ray Bradbury
2. You Need More Resources To Complete The Path To Publication
Sometimes getting the writing done isn't the problem at all. It's showing your work and submitting it. As Marianne Williamson said, "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure."
The fear of failure or the fear of success can derail our writing dreams. Many people fear the bumps on the road to success, or fear the pain of rejection. It can feel easier not to submit your work rather than suffer the disappointment of a manuscript that keeps coming back, "damned with faint praise." Past trauma may also cause a person to fear success. People who have grown up in an environment where they were belittled and/or their success was shunned, associate pain with success. It may take many years for success to taste sweet instead of bland or bitter.
Another common fear that falls into this category is the fear of being a fraud. Many writers secretly fear that whatever success they have is by pure luck and not the result of their talent and hard work. They worry about not being able to write another book, and fear the rejection they will face when people find out they are not a 'real' writer.
How to beat it:
If trauma is in your past and you feel it's keeping you from success, consider talking to a behavioral health professional. Working through these issues can help you build back a healthy level of self-esteem.
If you are afraid of promoting yourself, study how other authors promote themselves. Join Twitter and an online writing group. A good writing group, family, and friends can help support you as you submit your manuscripts out to agents or editors.
Finally, remember that you are writing or have written a story. That makes you a writer, no matter what.
Expose yourself to your deepest fear; after that, fear has no power, and the fear of freedom shrinks and vanishes. You are free.
- Jim Morrison
3. You Can't Access Your Creativity
This is when your self doubt speaks louder than your confidence, drowning it out. It often says horrible things like, "As if you could write anything worth reading." Or, "If you were any good at this, you'd be done by now." If left unchecked, these types of error messages hobble you as a writer by convincing you that you don't have what it takes. It denies you access to your work, your writing goal, and your dreams.
You may compensate by spending much more time reading about how to write than actually writing. Your subconscious may be prompting you to do this in an effort to gain the credentials to be a "real" writer.
How to beat it:
Learn to silence the inner critic. Read some of the things you've written in the past that you like. Remind yourself that no writer, not even award-winning writers write perfectly. Give yourself permission to write badly. Read Anne Lamott's book, BIRD BY BIRD, and Elizabeth Gilbert's, BIG MAGIC: CREATIVE LIVING BEYOND FEAR. Write every day. If you can't work on you current project, write something different - a journal entry, a blog post, poetry, or letters from your character. Drown out that inner critic with the joy of creativity.
"So this, I believe, is the central question upon which all creative living hinges: Do you have the courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden within you?
- Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic.