Don’t stop now
Did you NaNoWriMo this year? Did you get your 50,000 words? Yes? No? Does it matter? Well, sure, writing 50,000 words in a month is great. Makes you feel good, doesn’t it? Even if you didn’t make the 50,000 word finish-line, that’s OK. If you wrote at all in November, NaNo or not, you’re on fire! Why? Because writing anything, is better than writing nothing at all.
So now what? If I were a betting person, I’d guess you’re exhausted. It’s December and you’re ready for a break. The holidays, such as they are, are coming up. Winter has arrived. A comfy couch, a great novel or five, a cozy blanket, and a steaming cup of tea is calling your name. Maybe even a dog or kitten on your lap has you trapped (quite happily). You can write later.
Except later becomes tomorrow, which becomes next week, and then next month, and then . . . You get the picture.
I get it. Writing is fabulous, and it is exhausting, especially if you’ve been pushing yourself harder than usual, to get more words written in a shorter space of time than usual.
Being wrapped up in a cozy blanket on the couch reading is fabulous, but it can also be what our Inner Saboteur uses to, well, sabotage us. Stop us from writing. It breaks the momentum we’ve built up.
What is this Inner Saboteur you speak of?
Here’s a little excerpt from my book Silencing Your Inner Saboteur.
The inner saboteur is the little voice inside your head telling you you can’t do something, it’s too hard, you are not good enough, nobody wants to read your work, you have nothing valuable to say, you have no ideas, what’s the point you messed up today, yesterday, why bother trying, and that you are lazy so obviously you are not a writer, otherwise you’d be writing.
Your inner saboteur is the self-doubt inside you which prevents you from starting a new project, working on a work in progress, or submitting to markets and agents. It is every negative comment you have ever told yourself or thought about yourself. It is every limiting belief. It is the devil on your shoulder and your security blanket. Your inner saboteur criticizes you, berates you, and seduces you.
Some people call this inability to write writer’s block. They call the lack of motivation to write procrastination. Writer’s block and procrastination are symptoms, not the root of the problem, they are the result of listening to your saboteur.
Don’t I mean an internal critic, inner editor, or censor, not a saboteur? To call it a critic, editor, or censor is far too kind for what it is: your inner saboteur. Your inner critic, editor, or censor can be just as harmful as your saboteur, but they can serve to keep you on track if we listen to them at the right time.
The Inner Critic
Your inner critic is expert at criticizing what you are writing, often demanding perfection. Your critic tends to give you plenty of advice about what is wrong, but is never very helpful. This is particularly harmful when writing early drafts. Is there an appropriate time for The Critic to speak? Your critic is allowed to demand perfection during the editing process, not before, and not after. Anything else said which is attributed to The Critic, is really the saboteur.
The Inner Editor
What about the inner editor? The editor, much like the critic, demands perfection. He is more worried about correcting grammar and typos and formatting rather than letting you move on to the next scene or chapter. Your editor will tell you that a sentence isn’t quite right, that maybe you need to insert a comma but then tell you to take it out. He will tell you to take your time, to make sure that each sentence is perfect and exactly what you want to say, and if you can’t think of the perfect word for several days, that is just fine. The editor can slow the writing process and can paralyze a writer. Your inner saboteur loves to take advantage of the fear created by the editor, stirring it up, exaggerating it in your mind. When you are editing, that is when you need your editor to help with the grammar, typos, spelling errors, and constructing the perfect sentence, to make your writing the best it can possibly be.
And then there is the other name, the internal censor. My preferred definition of the internal censor is that voice that tells you what to and what not to write, mostly what not to write, telling you to watch what you write, there shouldn’t be so many swear words, or explicit sex scenes, or a character with the same color hair as a family member, because your family is reading this and they’ll think that character is them. Or that people you know will be reading this and what will they think of you then?
It is not the censor who is making fun of you, though. The censor thinks it is only trying to protect you from being laughed at. The censor wants to keep your writing safe and hidden in a drawer, he wants to keep you from writing certain ideas, or from submitting your work because yes, you may receive praise and acceptance, but the risk of potential rejection and mockery is too much for the censor. It is your saboteur who mocks you, who laughs at you because you think you can write and submit and get published. It is your saboteur who laughs at you because he doesn’t want you to try. To try means you might succeed and success means your saboteur no longer controls you.
There are times when we need our internal censor. Particularly when we’re with other people. But there may be times in our writing as well, when we need to be sensitive to external issues and need to find a way to say things in a gentler manner than we might otherwise.
The saboteur uses disguises like the editor, critic, and censor; it reminds us of negative experiences we have had, because it wants to keep us where we are. But by keeping us where we are, it is preventing us from growing intellectually and emotionally, and it is preventing us from expressing who we really are.
Your saboteur wants to keep you from following your dreams, achieving your goals, and he–I call the saboteur a he because mine is a he, yours may be a she–will do anything and everything to stop you. Maybe he doesn’t want you to be hurt. More likely, he doesn’t want you to succeed.
Often the saboteur isn’t particularly strong, achieving only a short episode of unhappiness or a few days where you “just don’t feel like writing.” When we permit those episodes of unhappiness or not writing to linger too long we allow the saboteur to take over, we begin a downward spiral of frustration with ourselves and our situation.
When does it show up?
When we are succeeding or on the verge of success, the saboteur will raise objections. An objection is when a part of us (the saboteur) prevents us from doing something or from staying motivated. Objections are often spoken by parts of us (the saboteur), and spoken in negatives. They become our beliefs and conclusions.
What do I mean by limiting belief? A limiting belief is something negative we believe about others that are unfounded and limits our progress. One example we as writers have: Nobody wants to read what I have to write. How do we know if we haven’t tried to submit it anywhere, or even if we write something small and for fun for family and friends? An example we might experience in our day-jobs: There’s no way I’m going to get that ergonomic keyboard or some other useful tool for work. These limiting beliefs prevent us from asking for what we want.
Often the saboteur strikes when we emotionally or intellectually know something is wrong. In coaching, we say that everything, every action, when our bodies hurt or our minds or hearts protest, it is because what we are protesting doesn’t sit right with us, and that something is important and needs to be looked after. Just as our bodies hurt when something is physically wrong with us, so our creativity protests when something isn’t right with what we are writing. Either we have tied things up too neatly to go on; we aren’t as in love with the story as we should be; or you have an uneasy feeling about the agent you’ve queried.
There are other objections as well, the external objections such as: “I really don’t know enough about writing,” “This isn’t commercial enough,” “Nobody wants to read this.” These objections are often directed at our frustration with the business side of writing and because of that frustration, enforce our negative beliefs about ourselves and our writing.
Can the Saboteur really be silenced?
To silence the saboteur, it is important that we find out what it is objecting to. When we figure out the objections, what the problem is, and what is important to us about that particular objection, we can deal with it. To do so, we need to open up a controlled dialogue with the saboteur.
The saboteur will do anything and everything to stop us from achieving our goals. Why is that? Ask your saboteur. More than likely, it is out of a need to protect us from getting hurt should we be rejected or never make it to the level we would think of as success. That’s very noble and indeed well intentioned. Ask yourself: What would hurt more, quitting now and giving up on my dreams, or pushing through the years of rejection and waiting, never getting published, but knowing I tried everything and did my very best? What if you do reach your goal? What if you do achieve your dreams? Who is to say success isn’t around the corner?
In dialoguing with the saboteur, we find out what is important to us in our lives and about what we are working on.
Dialoguing with the Saboteur
My Saboteur is a very nasty creature, full of hatred, and he can be incredibly loud. One of my Saboteur’s favorite things to say to me is: “You are so unoriginal. Your story ideas have all been done before. No one is going to want to buy them.”
Why is this important to me? Originality is important for a few reasons, least of which is that I have always wanted to have something special to say, to stand out in some way. As a writer, originality is important, without it, chances are that I will never get a book deal.
My response to my saboteur is that maybe I am writing another vampire story, or werewolf story, however, I do have something original to add to the mythology and the elements are unique.
One key means to silencing your Saboteur, then, is to dialogue with your saboteur, find out what is important to you and decide how you will dissolve this protest.
Just the one way?
The Inner Saboteur shows up in many ways. Sometimes it is out-right hateful, convincing us no one wants to read what we’re writing. Sometimes it whispers sweet-nothings, telling us that we’ve worked so hard and maybe taking a break for a day, or month, is just what we need.
Because of the Saboteur, we believe we have writer’s block, we don’t feel like writing, we wait for inspiration to come to us.
Dialoguing with the Saboteur is only one way to silence it.
In my course, The Daring Writer, , and more.
In The Daring Writer, I cover all the ways to silence your saboteur. We walk through goal setting so you have that sense of accomplishment after each writing session. And we work through how to embrace your writing career.
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