1.3 The Art of Self-Sabotage


This list is dedicated to writing itself, and the things that get in my way. Interestingly enough I say “things” that get in my way. Looking at the single word list I just created it’s not things at all…it’s me getting in my way in a variety of ways.  As a matter of fact, there is not a single thing on this list.  Even though I could easily claim that my son, or my job, or my household requirements get in my way…they are indeed things, but I know better than to think they are in any way responsible for my failure to write, or to write often, or to write well.

Nope. This one is all me.

1. Solitude – Up until recently, I spent all of my writing time alone. Not just the writing time, but the experience of actually being a writer was solitary.  I never work-shopped, never joined writing circles or did anything else that could get me exposed to either constructive criticism or the world of publishing.   I never even told people I wrote until a couple of years ago, and I only did that because I ran out of things to talk about on a cross-country drive to keep the road captain awake.

And while the writing may need to be done in solitude, being a writer shouldn’t be a solitary endeavor.  I have basically been a writer in a vacuum, and of course this left me raging at empty space when I needed help. And um, I need a LOT of help.

So I’ve been working on this one. I joined my first writing challenge – Round of Words in 80 Days, and find that checking in with these folks is a motivator. And it’s not a scary as I thought it would be. Not one person has called me out or labelled me a hack, or done anything else to make me flee back to the safety of  readerless words. As a matter of fact, some of them actually seem to like me. Huh.
2. Reading – Before I was a writer, I was a reader. By the time I was 10 I had an obscene number of books, and now, at 35, my husband routinely threatens divorce if I bring home another box of books.  But I can’t help it. I love reading – the words, the feel of books in my hand, the smell of libraries and bookstores, paper and ink. All that, before I even approach the story.  And I know that the most successful of writers are indeed readers first, but it is far, far too easy for me to swallow several novels a week, in addition to whatever craft or research tome I may be working through. I need to find a way to balance the reading with the actual writing.
3. The Next Great Idea – This is one I really struggle with, and it is the most successful of diversions. I recognize that I have issues with time management, formatting and learning about tricks of the trade and sources that I need to work with. So I often find myself tooling around the web looking for a solution outside of my self. I’ve downloaded yWriter and StoryWeaver, spent time viewing Publisher’s Lunch and Duotrope, as well as skimming through the agent profiles on QueryTracker.com. I also routinely debate the cost of Dragon Naturally Speaking.

Why? Why am I doing this? Very few of my works are even approaching the query stage. If I spend all my time trying to discover ways to streamline and hone my writing, I’ll never do any writing.

And before poor formatting, sporadic punctuation and lousy agents, what is the very best way not to get published?

Not writing.

4. Cowardice – This is stemming not from fear of rejection, or anything so typical and impersonal. It’s my family.  It’s large and I love them all, but some of them are among the most bigoted, socially horrible people you could ever expect to meet.  And as large as it is, there is always some level of tragedy or absurdity happening that makes for great story telling. If they knew I actually tell those stories, they would lose their marbles. And because most of the family wields a grudge like a weapon born in hand, I have no doubts that, should they learn of my writing, they would very nearly disown me.

5. Prioritizing – This one should not be so hard. I set my own day job work schedule, taking as many or as few clients as I want. My husband and I often work different hours, so there is usually someone here with our son without resorting to babysitters. I should be able to make writing a bigger priority, but I somehow let it slide because the things that do become priorities are simply those things that are louder…my mother and her myriad doctors, the bill collectors that sprung up when my father died, the panicking doctors who must have an answer to a software question before they could see even one more patient. Writing needs to be louder. Or to put me on an auto-dialer.

6.  Pantsing – I have recently encountered a writing post about being a plotter versus being a pantser. “Pantser” refers to writing by the seat of your pants. I love this, as it turns out, I am indeed a pantser.  I routinely get inspired, write like a madwoman until…
Yeah. Where was I going with this?

That happens a lot. And then I shelve the work until I can work out a resolution or twist that will get me moving again. I fight like crazy with things like lists and outlines, and avoid them whenever possible, but it seems this is quite detrimental to what I am striving to do. I should not be a pantser. I should be a plotter. Which would be a whole lot easier if I could overcome this whole hatred of all things organizational before the seat of my pants rips out and I plummet face first into a pile of rejection slips and discarded manuscripts.

7. Fear – This is the entry many of you probably expected to find. This is where fear of rejection, fear of ridicule and fear of failure comes into play. Those three are common enough to not warrant much time spent on them, beyond their mention. But I have one more fear that is tied loosely to those things, yet is different. I always fear I am crashing the party. I am one of those people who, if not explicitly invited to participate in something, feel it is best not to participate…whether it’s a party, a playground group or a writing circle.

Given that so many of the writing groups and programs are the step-right-up-you’re-welcome sort, this is problematic. No one will invite me, as there are no invitations to extend. Add that solitude issue that I started with to the mix, and the invite only types are off the table as well, as they don’t know that I even exist, much less that I want an invitation.

Vicious circle, that.

8. Attitude – If I had a couple of bucks for every time in my life that someone told  me to smile, I’d have a hefty sum by now. My natural countenance is such that I just look like I have a bad attitude. The problem is, I kind of do.
Not that I walk around in a cloud of my own foul, but I’m not even close to half-full kind of person. But I’m not a half-empty person, either. I’m more of a nobody’s-drinking- so-who-the-hell-cares kind of person.

I don’t look at the bright side or dark side of anything at all – I always look at the “does this matter at this very moment” aspect of things.

While this attitude typically keeps me from freaking out and sticking my head in an over after a day filled with dementia, obscure illness and bill collectors, it doesn’t contribute to creativity at all. It kind of goes like this:

Have I written anything today? No. Does it matter right this second? Well, no one is likely reading it anyway, or I just started this one, so no.

Should I go work at it? Probably, but right now the dog needs to pee. And I need to call Mom before she goes to bed in 20 minutes. Well, then it will be Quinn’s bedtime.

Phew, all that done. Should I go write now? Yes. Except I haven’t eaten in 7 hours. I’ll go get something to eat first, before I pass out or trigger a migraine.

Wow, it’s getting late. And the dog needs to pee again.

9. Distractions – Mom, the dog, bedtime and things like that don’t apply here,  those are things that legitimately need doing.  But did I have to go find that picture of the book stacks of the King poster in order for this post to be complete? Nope. But I did it anyway, because once it occurred to me, I just did it.  I didn’t intend to spend 10 minutes on it.
Just like I didn’t intend to spend 45 minutes this morning revamping the playlist I listen to while I’m writing.

Or building myself a Writer Circle on Google + when there are only in the vicinity of 8 people participating with that service anyway.

I’m kind of like the dog in this clip, and every thought I have is a squirrel. And yes, I did spend several minutes locating this clip.  And several more trying to figure out how to attach it.

10. The Personality Flaw – And finally, my personality flaw. This horrible, horrible trait that I have. When in a room full of people aiming to accomplish a multi-step project, if a call goes out for a volunteer for a particular element and no one speaks up, I can’t stand it. My mouth opens of its own volition and I say the words I hate. “I’ll do it.”

I sit and squirm and bite my tongue, waiting.

We can’t move forward until someone speaks up. Anybody? Nobody? This is my first day at this rodeo, it can’t be me. Right?

Then it happens, because I would like to go home at some pointI volunteer. And I get the flyer design. Or the newsletter production. Or the alphabetizing of all of the travel cards. Or whatever.

How is it possible that there are so many people who want to get something done, but aren’t willing to participate in the doing of it?

This is a personality flaw that, now that Quinn has started school, could keep me occupied for the next 12 years.

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4 thoughts on “1.3 The Art of Self-Sabotage

  1. I’m always amazed at how universal the struggles that coincide with being a writer are. I think every writer I’ve talked to can relate to this post.

    I know I sure did.

    Every point of yours is something I personally struggle with. Over time, I’ve learned to fix some of these things about myself, but old habits certainly die hard.

    The one I relate to the most is wanting to “hone your skills” as a writer. (chicks dig guys with skills). I can pick up every possible copy of all the “how to” write books in the world, but at the end of the day, actually writing is the only way to get better.

    Thanks for sharing this. I really enjoyed it!

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  2. Wow, this list is so honest, so thorough, so….me. The one I relate to most at this point in time is pantsing. I had that lovely delusion that every word that I put down was perfectly chosen and placed or rather that they should be. No forethought or organization necessary. Ha! Self-sabotage at its best. I just didn’t believe that I was a natural writer if the words didn’t spring forth and present themselves. Outlines just aren’t sexy, but they are practical. These days I’m finding that prep work is my friend. Thanks for sharing.

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  3. Visual Artists have very similar problems. I teach a class that is designed to help aspiring image makers deal with some of these things and some of the more typical issues you alluded to. We read a short book called “Art and Fear” and talk about why we do things, how we do things, and why we don’t do what we want. I give a new visual assignment every week that comes with a method for generating ideas. It is intense and fun…and frequently frustrating. I designed the class mostly because I had (and have) all of these obstacles and knew I wasn’t alone. It won’t solve all their problems, but it is a start.

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