Once you embark on building your author life, you’ll find that self-sabotage is an insidious beast. It disguises itself as a number of different, seemingly innocuous feelings and scenarios that ultimately block your creativity. So what do you do about it?
Obviously, we all want to nip self-sabotage in the bud. Anything that gets between you and your books needs to hit the road–right? But the first step to identifying self-sabotage is understanding that it sneaks up on you in disguise. Let’s look at a few of its most common manifestations.
1.Rewriting over and over (and over)
There’s nothing quite like getting caught up in a rewriting or editing loop…while you’re still drafting. (I should know. This is a problem I have.)
But what’s wrong with editing, you ask? Isn’t that productive? Aren’t you just making your story better…something you’re going to do anyway? Well, no…not when it’s serving as a method of self-sabotage.
Under the right circumstances, rewriting and editing can become tools that actually impede your progress toward completing your book. Rewriting is an easy excuse for missing deadlines with your editor or beta readers. It’s deceptive because it makes you feel like you’re accomplishing something, while you’re actually just spinning your wheels.
Taking time to write can trigger all kinds of guilt, and guilt is directly responsible for self-sabotage.
Without fail, when we try to take time for ourselves–to pursue our own habits and goals–there’s someone else who will need us. It could be a parent, friend, grandparent, spouse, child, boss, or coworker.
When you choose to prioritize your writing, you’re going to feel some guilt for doing that. Writing is, ultimately, for you. If you’re serious about it, you’ll have to push through the guilt that comes with it. Giving in to guilty feelings might feel like the right thing to do in the moment, but I promise, you’ll end up regretting the fact that you didn’t prioritize your writing.
You are allowed hobbies and interests that take up your time. Set the example for yourself and set the example for the people around you.
3. Mistake rehashing
Have you ever found yourself rehashing old conflicts or mistakes and getting caught up in negative thought spirals? …While trying to write? What did you do about it?
The type or nature of the particular mistake really doesn’t matter. But the question is, are you letting it take over your writing time? Are you letting it shut you down?
When mistakes, emotional trauma, and bad memories rear their ugly heads during your writing time, it’s important to learn how to observe them, acknowledge them, then let them go. Past mistakes and trauma create negative habit loops that are hard to break, so this is a situation where you may not want to go it alone. A therapist, coach, or accountability buddy can help tremendously, depending on the seriousness or depth of the thought spirals you’re experiencing.
Denying yourself time to be creative while you heal will create a pile-on effect of even more trauma, so take every opportunity you can to let yourself work on your book. If you’re working through trauma that’s happening now, all the more reason to make sure you’re giving yourself permission to create.
Staying too busy to work on your novel is yet another way to sabotage your writing journey. I think we can all agree that everyone tends to juggle many different obligations these days. But, crowding out your schedule to the point that you can’t work on your book is self-sabotage.
Busyness looks like many things, beyond the run-of-the-mill home responsibilities and personal tasks. It can also encompass author-y things, too, like obsessing about Instagram, checking metrics ro running numbers, planning launches, and marketing. They’re all busy tasks that make you feel productive, but aren’t moving you closer to a finished book.
Are there many, many valid reasons it’s hard to find writing time? Yes. But these reasons are universal. It’s all about finding the places in your day when you can fit writing in, and then creating the habit.
5. Failing to make writing a habit
…Which brings us to #5. Writing should not be an item on your to-do list (read more about that here). Instead, it should be a consistent habit.
Rather than thinking of it as just another thing to check off your list, you need to make writing a practice that’s as natural as brushing your teeth. If you treat it as an obligation, you’ll be more likely to push it off until tomorrow…and then tomorrow…and then tomorrow.
6. An incessant need for validation (ahem, permission)
If you’re constantly looking for validation at every turn, that’s going to sabotage your work. Essentially, seeking validation too often is immobilizing. It’s a nice way to say you’re asking for permission to follow through on your ideas.
There’s nothing wrong with validation, in itself. The problem comes in when the need is invasive and keeps us from making progress. It’s totally fine to run your ideas by a friend or an editor, but be self-aware enough to recognize when it’s appropriate, and when it might not be. (If you tend to send your work to ten billion beta readers, this is self-sabotage, too.)
Another facet of the constant need for validation is waiting for your family to tell you it’s okay to write. If you wait for your household to step aside and help you carve out your writing time, you’ll be waiting forever. Honestly? You’re going to have to sidestep that innate need for permission and just do what it takes to fuel your creativity.
When it comes to marketing vs. doing creative work, there’s a fine line to walk. Marketing is necessary. But it shouldn’t take away from your creative work to the point of self-sabotage.
Avoiding your daily writing? Cool, cool–you can just spend that time marketing, and you’ll still be accomplishing something. While that’s true, if you use marketing in order to avoid writing, you’ll torpedo your creativity.
8. Poor self-care
Failing to take care of yourself is a sure way to sabotage both your creativity and your health. If you’re not healthy, you’re not going to feel very creative and it’s going to be hard to work on your book. In fact, you’ll be struggling just to get through the day’s normal routine–not to mention working on your book.
Even if you need to take a small break from your creative work on the front end, make an investment in yourself. A sustainable, long-term author life starts with healthy self-care. So get moving, fuel your body with nutrients, and do whatever it takes to get yourself feeling energetic and inspired.
Are you sabotaging your writing?
If you think you might be self-sabotaging, realize it’s totally normal. Every one of us deals with it from time to time. So avoid piling on extra guilt (and thus, more self-sabotage) by acknowledging what’s happening, and seeking the support you need to keep moving forward.
You’re not alone on this path. Finding other authors, or even a coach, who can cheer you on and walk the path with you is immensely valuable.
Need to talk through self-sabotage issues? Do you know you’re sabotaging yourself, but are unsure exactly how? Working with a coach can help you untangle what’s tripping you up, and give you the tools you need to identify and overcome your own self-sabotage habits. Click here to learn more about how coaching with Allie or Jo can help you strategically build an author life that works for you.