Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Conquer Self-Sabotage Before it Conquers You

By Rochelle Melander

JH: Today I'd like to welcome author and writing coach Rochelle Melander to the blog. Rochelle has some great tips on how to spot -- and avoid -- the things we do to ruin or writing careers. (I know I'm prone to #1, what about you guys?) A new year is a great time to start putting a stop to bad habits that will keep us from our goals.

Rochelle Melander is a certified professional coach and the author of 10 books, including a new book to help fiction and nonfiction writers write fast: Write-A-Thon: Write Your Book in 26 Days (And Live to Tell About It) (October 2011). She teaches professionals how to get published, establish credibility, and navigate the new world of social media. In 2006, Rochelle founded Dream Keepers Writing Group, a program that teaches writing to at-risk tweens and teens. Visit her online at www.writenowcoach.com.

Take it away Rochelle...

As any athlete knows, momentum is the most unstoppable force in sports. The only way to stop it is if you get in your own way, start making stupid mistakes, or stop believing in yourself. —Rocco Mediate

According to Wikipedia, sabotage is “a deliberate action aimed at weakening another entity through subversion, obstruction, disruption, or destruction.” Writers often blame the family members, friends, colleagues, and people in high places for sabotaging our career. We rail against the agents and publishers who reject our work. We fume about the friends who ignore or diminish our accomplishments. We get angry at the family members who do not understand the importance of our writing. While all of these might be valid complaints, most of the writers I coach must first conquer the ways they sabotage their own writing before addressing outside forces. They set audacious goals and then do everything under their power to make sure they cannot accomplish them.

Before I get to the ways writers sabotage their own work—I want you to think about a big hairy audacious goal. If you could finish one project this year, what would you choose? Got it? Okay, hold that in your head as I review the five common forms of self-sabotage and teach you how to deal with them.

1. Conflicting goals.
When we set conflicting goals, we undermine our ability to achieve anything. The writer who takes the assignment to write a 2,000-word article in the same month that she is sending holiday cards to all of her relatives, hosting the neighborhood holiday open house, and getting the kitchen redone, may not be wonder woman but the queen of self-sabotage. One of the easiest ways to sabotage our own writing career is to over promise and under deliver. When you set a big writing goal—finishing a novel, tackling a new article market, or writing a book proposal—examine your life for any other goals that might conflict with your project. And here is a hint: one way writers sabotage their progress is by having too many writing projects to work on at one time. Stop! Choose your one project and then do what you can to eliminate the competing goals, leaving your time and energy free to work on your big hairy audacious writing project.

2. Procrastination.
When we delay writing in favor of doing anything else, we sabotage our writing career. When I was in college and graduate school, we all procrastinated. We put off studying and paper writing in favor of having fun. But as an adult, procrastination looks different. Most of the procrastinators I know are not lazy bums, spending hours watching television instead of writing that novel. Here are some common ways writers procrastinate: working extra hours, volunteering for a good cause, over parenting their children, cleaning and cooking, researching, taking classes, and taking on writing assignments that do not engage them. If you are going to tackle and achieve this big hairy audacious writing goal, you need to let go of your procrastinating ways. Observe your behavior for a week. Pay attention to the tasks you are willing to take on just to avoid working on THE BIG GOAL. Can you let go of these procrastinating behaviors in order to work on your big writing goal?

3. Hot air and busted balloons.
When we share our writing ideas with others before we have written them down, we risk losing the creative energy to write the story. We also open up our fresh new ideas to the harsh criticism of others. Like a caterpillar in a cocoon, your ideas need time to mature and grow before they can fly. Keep a genius journal where you can jot down your wisdom and million-dollar ideas. Let them sit there and grow until you are ready to write. Do not show your stories to the world until your work is ready.

4. But I write well!
When we refuse to revise our work or receive outside criticism and help, we sabotage our publishing career. I’ve met many writers who do not believe they need either a critique group or an editor. Most of these writers are still not published. Every first draft sucks and every writer needs an editor (and often two editors). Before you submit your work, take time to revise it. If possible, invite the help of a critique partner or critique group or hire an editor.

5. Hidden treasure.
When we refuse to submit our writing, we sabotage our success. As John Campbell said, “The reason 99% of all stories written are not bought by editors is very simple. Editors never buy manuscripts that are left on the closet shelf at home.” Writing for yourself or your children is all very well and good, but if you want to make a career out of writing, you will need to submit your work at some point. Make a long list of potential agents or publishers, take a deep breath, and submit. When a rejection comes (and it will), try again and again and again until you get accepted!

Writers, sabotage happens. Most of us have war stories and wounds from the friends, colleagues, and publishing people who have sabotaged our work. We do not need to sabotage ourselves. Make 2012 a better year for you by eliminating self sabotage and going after that big, hairy audacious writing goal!


  1. Thank you for your guest post, Rochelle.

    Your final point is what I am working on right now. Part of my writing-related resolutions was to finally start submitting some of my short stories instead of letting them... sit on my hard drive at home.

    Your first point is something I constantly have to look out for. I'm a big go-getter and want to say "yes" to anything I *want* to do, without thinking about what I *can* do!

  2. Oooh yeah, I'm so totally guilty of #2. In fact, I probably shouldn't be here right now... (off to actually open her laptop for the first time in way too long.)

  3. This is such perfect timing for me. I'm especially guilty of #1, and even hit a brick wall with it last night (too much energy spent on writing endeavors that took away focus on my main goals for the year). This is especially imperative when working full-time at a day job, and trying to work toward the dream job. Prioritizing is key. Great post, as always! Thanks so much!

  4. Yeah, I'm guilty of some of those. Hm... e

  5. Rochelle gives us superb advice here. To elaborate on #1, I'd add that people are often hesitant of saying 'no' because they want to accommodate everyone and everything, and fear others will feel let down if they don't; unfortunately, the result of overloading is often precisely the opposite--you let yourself and/or others down, bigtime.

    What's needed here is a bit of courage and honesty. A gently and correctly applied 'No' is very liberating and empowering. A professional assesses a task beforehand and would rather risk disappointing someone in a small way than letting them down in a big way, and you'll be respected for your honesty. If the pressure comes from yourself (you're Superwoman and you want to do it all), there's a great Chinese saying: 'One lake cannot hold all the water in the world'. In the course of a long project in particular (say, a novel), energy conservation is vital: you need to guard your space and time until you're done. *Then* you can take on more stuff.

  6. Thanks, everyone for your great comments and suggestions. Often the biggest battle a writer fights is the battle to make time to write. It's hard and does require great bravery--but it is worth it! Happy writing!

  7. I'm currently guilty of all those bad habits. I'm trying to change them in 2012. I've purchased write a thon book and I have a project that I'm passionate about, that I think about all the time, that I don't have to force myself to think about. I want to write and sell this book and I think with Rochelle's excellent book and advice that I will.

  8. It's not very nice of you, Rochelle, to spy on me and then take my list of activities for your #2 ;-)... *sigh* I'm afraid I'm guilty of nearly every single thing listed there. Just because all those extra things we do are important doesn't give us the okay to completely crowd out our writing. I need to add "reduce and then eliminate procrastinating behaviors" to my list of New Year's resolutions.