WFMAD Day 6 – Self-sabotage

I’m in Los Angeles this weekend at the 40th annual SCBWI National Conference and having a blast. Yesterday I gave an hour-long workshop on the nuts and bolts of crafting a creative life. The official SCBWI blog covered a couple of the high points. (Be sure to read the rest of the coverage of the conference events in the blog; it’s almost as good as being here.)

One of the things that came up towards the end of my presentation was the notion of self-sabotage. When the question was asked, many, many heads nodded. It seems that a lot of us are suffering from self-inflicted wounds to our work and our creative life.

Do you? Do you find yourself pulling yourself back from the brink of success over and over? Is it easier to stay mired in the familiar world of “trying to write” than to take some overdue steps that you know would bring you closer to achieving your dream? Shot yourself in the foot recently?

Yeah. Me, too.

Some experts believe that we self-sabotage when we are actually afraid we might succeed. They suspect that the attention and stimulation that comes with success is somehow linked in the subconscious of vulnerable people with events in their past that were traumatic. Others say it is rooted in our own feelings of worthlessness. If you’ve been emotionally abused, it can be hard to break free of those scars and believe that you actually deserve the life you dream of.

I know a lot of writers who prefer the comfort of the known over the discomfort of the unknown; even when the known circumstances are the state of remaining unpublished, and the unknown is what would happen if they were published and they were able to fulfill their creative dreams.

I think that a lot of writerly procrastination is actually self-sabotage. If you don’t finish your manuscript, or if there are a hundred “good” reasons why it’s not as well-written as you wanted it to be, then you will never have to confront the real pain of rejection, because you’ve already pulled the trigger on a defense mechanism that you hope will protect you.

This makes perfect sense. It also makes me want to bake you brownies and tuck a comfy blanket around you, because that is a painful amount of fear to be carrying. I suspect some writers of books for kids or teens have a further complicating worry; to write the story that is in their heart, they must confront some of the demons of their own youth. Those people deserve an old friendly dog to snuggle with, in addition to the brownies and blanket.

There is a way to write past these fears.

Ready… Put on the most comfortable clothes you own, and prepare the comfort food that soothes all your hurt feelings. Keep it close by while you’re writing. Kleenex might be a good idea, too.

Set… “The demons are innumerable, arrive at the most inappropriate times, and create panic and terror… but I have learned that if I can master the negative forces and harness them to my chariot, then they can work to my advantage…. Lilies often grow out of carcasses’ arseholes.” Ingmar Bergman

Today’s prompt: Write about the absolute worst things that would happen to you if your writing life became wildly successful. What are the best things that would happen? Who benefits if you stay creatively stuck where you are? Why?


Write a scene in which your character says she has a goal, but then she unwittingly makes sure she cannot accomplish it. Be sure she is armed with plenty of rationalizations that “prove” she’s not getting in her way.

14 Replies to “WFMAD Day 6 – Self-sabotage”

  1. I’ve shot myself in the foot a lot today. Thank you for this subject today and the encouragement it gave me.

  2. Lately, I’ve been calling it paralyzation, but I think self-sabotage is a much better word for it. Thank you so much for this much needed post.

  3. Wow, you hit the nail on the head – or the bullet in the foot. I am going to get into my soft jammies and get my comfort food, and work on the writing prompt.

  4. I think my self-sabotage comes not so much from baggage of the past but from a reluctance to do the things it would take to market a published book. I hate selling things and have since I was in high school lugging around the suitcase of Tom Wat stuff for FBLA. (maybe it IS past baggage, after all….)

    Thanks for the post – lots to think about.

  5. I suspected sabotage, but not forty minutes’ worth.

    Thanks – necessary steps are being taken.

  6. Wow, did you just hit me where I live! I have a million reasons why I’m not finishing my book(s), everything from “I’m too busy” to “my computer is too old” to “I’m stuck with the plot” to “I don’t want to do research.” Guess it all comes down to “I’m afraid of success.”

    Thanks for the kick in the arse!

  7. To write the story in my heart means confronting an absolutely huge demon of my youth – and I’m not sure I’m entirely old enough to even be through my youth yet. But the more I write about the demons through my character’s story the more the writing seems to help me through the difficult memories/pain, and your words today really ring true. Thanks, Laurie. Time to get writing!

  8. Self Sabotage is a well known visitor to my house! Thanks for the prompts. I took an additional step by promising a friend that works at SU that I would be sending her my writings. She is a person I have trusted to take good care of me, yet be honest……so now I have another reason to keep going….

  9. Wow! That hit hard. Really hard. I really needed it, though. Getting unstuck hurts, but it’s always worth it in the end. The old pains and unresolved traumas that I touch when I’m writing the stories I’ve always needed to tell, what I think of as the weeds and neglected roses in my imagination’s garden, are among the things that hold me back. I sometimes convince myself that it’s only natural to procrastinate doing something that I know is going to hurt, even though it’s going to bring rewards in the long run, but I do believe that self sabotage is the greater issue. I’m afraid of that final step. What if it’s good? What if it’s published? What if I become the center of attention at book signings? Can I handle it? Eeeeek! I really don’t know how you do it! πŸ™‚

    Thank you for inspiring the courage to write, even when it hurts. (The Kleenex was definitely handy tonight. πŸ™‚ )

  10. Sigh… I tend to shoot myself in foot. And I’m so glad for your words. You inspired me at the SCBWI conference and you continue to inspire me here. I’d bake brownies with you any day, and talk about muse and creativity. I’m nurturing my creative seed–pushing myself harder than ever. You’re partly to blame. πŸ™‚

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