Have you ever gotten stuck while writing and felt like there was no way out?
It might not be your plot, characters, or outline that’s the problem.
You may be unintentionally sabotaging yourself.
It’s not only writers who sabotage themselves; it’s all people who endeavor to do something they really want to do.
Our sabotage is a way of keeping us safe. Of protecting us from the risk that is putting our art (our heART) out into the world.
The reptilian part of our brain that developed to keep us safe from saber-toothed tigers wakes up, smells danger, and tries to get us away from it.
The problem is that when we’re writing — or creating in other ways — there isn’t any actual danger. There’s just fear. And that fear is keeping us from doing really beautiful things in the world.
Here are three ways you might be sabotaging yourself and one simple thing you can do to keep writing.
One easy way to sabotage yourself is to set a goal for yourself that’s way to big to be realistic. We often do this by tackling something big and unknown without a plan.
This might look like…
- Jumping into a complex scene without any kind of outline.
- Trying to write for 6 hours at a time when you’re just building a writing habit.
- Expecting you’ll go from no writing to writing every single day.
- Starting a novel without a mission statement.
- Expecting yourself to finish your first book in the same amount of time it took someone else to finish her fifth book.
Sabotage might also look like holding yourself to an unreasonably high standard.
Maybe you won’t let yourself move on until you come up with a brilliant opening line for a chapter. You’ll sit and stare at the page for a while. Maybe you’ll try a series of scene openers, all of which you reject. You’ll hammer your fingers against the keyboard and your head against a proverbial wall, and at the end of an hour or so, you’ll walk away feeling frustrated and defeated.
It’s at that point you’ll start listening to the pesky little naysayers in your noggin: “Who am I to write this book?”
If this happens, don’t beat yourself up. don’t get mad at those little voices. Do, though, remove yourself from them. If the voices belong to other people, walk away. If they’re coming from inside your own mind, say, “Thank you, reptilian brain! You’re doing an awesome job of trying to keep me safe. But I got this.”
Have you ever walked by a house or a car where a dog scared you half to death by barking its head off? This happens to me all the time when I walk in my neighborhood. I used to get really indignant. “I’ve got every right to walk on this sidewalk, you mangy mutt!” I would yell at the barking beasts.
I would also feel embarrassed because I’m always lost in thought, not paying attention, often talking to myself about a writing project. There have been MANY times when I nearly jumped out of my skin when a dog started barking at me.
But I realized that it’s not about me. The dog is doing what instinct is telling it to do. And the more I get mad at it, the more it will come back at me with its obnoxious bark because I’ll be giving off some seriously aggressive pheromones.
So now when I’m in this situation, I do two things. First, I acknowledge the jumping out of my skin part. I say something like, “Whoa, you scared the pants off me, pooch!” That lessens my embarrassment. It’s the difference between trying to cover it up when you trip or owning it by saying, “Did you see that? I almost bought it!”
Then, I say to the dog, “Good boy! You’re a good watch dog.” Sometimes this has no effect on the dog. It continues barking like I’m trying to murder its entire family. But sometimes the dog calms down a bit. After all, I’m praising it for doing its job, and dogs are pack animals, always looking to appease the alpha.
Whether or not it has an effect on the dog, though, it always has a positive impact on me. I get to let go of the tension and fear. The dog can feel and do whatever it needs to in order to deal with its perceived threat. But I don’t have to get involved. And that’s exactly what your reptilian brain is like: a dog barking at a perceived threat that’s really not a threat at all.
Free Yourself to Move Forward
When that fear comes up, don’t let it sabotage you. Thank the fear for doing its job to keep you safe. Praise it and then ignore it.
Set yourself a small goal. Turn off your perfectionist tendencies by switching out the goal of “writing something good” with “writing for 25 minutes” or “writing 1,000 words, no matter how bad they are.”
A fantastic way to turn off your judgment and practice ignoring the fear is by freewriting. Give yourself the freedom to put words on the page without judgment. Use a prompt or simply let the words pour out of you.
Whatever writing project you’re tying to complete is secondary. What’s primary is building your confidence in yourself as a writer. As someone who can sit down and draft when she wants to.
Write a letter to a friend. Write a journal entry. Write about the process of writing your book. Write about your day. But write.
Don’t let that barking dog scare you away. It is your right to write.
How does self-sabotage show up for you? Let me know in the comments and I’ll give you a suggestion to keep moving forward.
Want more suggestions for beating doubt, fear, and perfectionism plus over 30 prompts for freewriting? Check out my latest book, Recipe for Drafting, available now for Kindle and in paperback.