Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Writer's Guide to Self-Sabotage

...How to Shoot Yourself in the Foot Without Really Trying

The 9 basic rules of self sabotage are:

  • Avoid building a firm foundation

  • Hang on to what is not working

  • Cultivate negative talk

  • Let fear of success guide you

  • Ignore basic business etiquette and protocol

  • Do not plan

  • Never take control of your life

  • Stop moving forward

  • Give up completely

1. Avoid Building a Firm Foundation.

Great writers are born not made. The same is true of nuclear physicists, brain surgeons and rocket scientists. I can't think of a single reason why a writer wouldn't want to build a foundation by learning the basics of writing and then constantly hone their skills by practicing the craft, reading craft books and attending educational programs. Would you go to a physician who never attended another continuing education class after he graduated?

2. Hang on to What is Not Working.

Albert Einstein said, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

Any of these scenarios sound familiar?

  • You have a manuscript you have revised for Supers, Steeple Hill, Avon, Dorchester and that new small press and they have all rejected it with the same comments, yet you say you have fixed that problem.

  • You keep starting stories and never finish them.

  • Your critique group really doesn't do much for your writing but you keep going back.

  • Your plots always sag in the middle and you don't know why and don't do anything to change this phenomena.

  • All your contest judges say your story begins on page 4 but you refuse to cut your beginning.

  • You always tell your editor the deadline she suggests will work and you always have to go back to ask for more time; instead of asking for more time up front and completing the novel in what will perceived to be ahead of schedule.

You don't even need Rule 3. Go directly to Rule 4.

3. Cultivate Negative Talk.

For negative talk to be totally successful it should not only be practiced in conversation with others but in self talk. Inject generous amounts of NOT, NEVER, WON'T and CAN'T. Tape cards to the mirror and on the dashboard of your car with mantras you can repeat over and over again.

"I'll never sell a book."

"I'm going to be a one book wonder."

"I have writers block."

"If I sell..."

4. Let Fear of Success Guide You.

The tenets of the fear of success:

  • fear that once you reach your goal you won't be happy

  • fear that you really do not have talent or ability

  • fear that you cannot maintain your success

  • fear of being recognized and honored

Did you know the opposite of faith is not lack of faith, but fear? The only way to deal with fear is to replace it with faith. Faith in yourself.

Recommended reading: How to Be a Complete and Utter Failure In life, Work & Everything: 44 1/2 Steps to Lasting Underachievement by Steve McDermott.

5. Ignore Basic Business Etiquette and Protocol. Writing is a business and like any business it is your job to be a professional no matter how many morons surround you. In your corporate life you would never consider sharing inflammatory information or opinions about the company online. Don't do it this in your professional writing life.

Try Google-ing yourself to check your writing footprints in cyberspace. Make sure you have no regrets.

If you are truly clueless, I again recommend Miss Snark The Literary Agent archives. Use the search blog feature and input the words: nitwit, or WWMSD (What would Miss Snark do), snarkasaurus or clueless to find protocol for the uninformed writer.

Which reminds me... I have an acquaintance who recently critiqued an agent rejection letter and returned it to the agent. Frankly, a pound of dark chocolate, a Godiva martini or Ben & Jerry's with a large spoon would have been as satisfying as sending that letter and would have done far less damage. This is a true story.

6. Do Not Plan.

"Failing to plan is planning to fail. " This is true of every area of your writing life from deciding which genre to write to marketing as a published author. How will you know when you have arrived at your destination without a clear and focused career plan? A plan lays out specifically what you hope to achieve, and your strategic steps to reaching those goals. "If you don't know where you are going, you will arrive somewhere else."

7. Never Take Control of Your Life.

Do you regularly feel resentful and discouraged over not having more control over your own life? Are you constantly adding more stress to your life by taking on too much? Good news. I can help you. No matter what your obligations to your church, your family, your job--you have an obligation to you.

In the words of my friend Stephanie, "Guilt is a useless emotion."

Use the word no. The Mayo Clinic says that saying no is a healthy option to stress relief. Check out their words of wisdom on the topic of no-- here.

Or check out Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.

8. Stop Moving Forward. If you have learned steps one through seven you will have arrived here. Remember: Change is inevitable. Stasis is death to writers. "Be not afraid of growing slowly; be afraid only of standing still."

9. Give Up. You have made it to the final rule. You see failure where lessons lie and give up at the first sign of a challenge. Veteran writers, published and unpublished know a secret. That secret is that anyone who threatens to quit writing should be encouraged to do so. If you can give up writing then you are obviously not a writer.

That's it.

Now you have everything you need to go forth and conquer the world or shoot yourself in the foot.

The choice is yours, but please clean up after yourself.


  1. Coffee's on. Kona blend.

    Self-sabotage -- like, wow, that kind of hurts. I'm thinking the failure to plan deal after forgetting half of the kids' 4-H papers for the meeting last night.

    Some good food for thought, there.

  2. LOL, Tina, I seldom laugh this early in the morning, but you did it it with the line "clean up after your self"!!!

    WONDERFUL POST!!! Especially the quote: Did you know the opposite of faith is not lack of faith, but fear?

    Gosh, I forget this over and over again, but is is sooo dead-on! Thanks for reminding me.

    Oh, and there's one more "basic rule of self sabotage for me:
    E-mail!! I promise myself I will only check the important ones, then before I know it, I'm halfway through the morning with nothing done but chit-chat. And, yes, I have started turning the sucker off. :)


  3. Tina, I laughed and grimaced my way through that wonderful post. Grimaces were all self-imposed by blatant realization of stupid things I do.

    I think hanging on to what is NOT working is a big bugaboo for lots of us. It's hard to change (Mary mentioned it yesterday regarding her perfect opening, remember, that she finally changed...) and hard to accept that we need to change things up.

    Great morning fodder for this writer. Thank you, girlfriend. And I grabbed some of that coffee, Ann, what on earth did you brew it with, girlfriend????? Old shoes? Man that stuff's stronger than Aunt Rose's breath after Sunday dinner.

    But I watered it down a smidge (my cup only) and added a mudslide creamer and we're sailin' smooth now.

    Obviously I'm a wimp.


  4. 98 percent of that post comes from self experience. The rest from friends. Have a Happy Day in Seekerville.

  5. Lots to think on in this post, Tina. Right now the negative thinking thing is haunting me. I need your swift kick!



    You could remove "writer" from the title and put (fill in the blank).

    I'm planning to do that for my teenage son as I work on molding his mind/character.

    Then I'll go back over it and check myself.

  7. Ha! Really funny stuff, Miss Tina Snark!!! I love it.

    Right now I'm revising, for the bazillion and twentieth time, the ms. that got me an agent, and I'm thinking, this stinks. All my sentences are awkwardly worded. Critics will love ripping this apart, there's so much to work with. Ugh. After revising it so many times, I hardly know what needs to change and what doesn't.

    But this too shall pass.

  8. I didn't even have to scroll down to see who posted this to know it was our very own Tina, the go-to girl when you need a kick in the pants!

    Which, um, I need way more often than I like to admit.

  9. Incredible advice. #4 is a biggie for me. Thank you!

  10. You guys are too funny. If the snark fits....

  11. Did you write this just to yell at me, Tina?

    I feel certain you did.

    How rude.


  12. I got a rejection letter once from a big-time CBA agent who...well, I'm guessing s/he used an intern to type the thing. The errors were galore.

    The temptaion to send it back corrected was...well, I think "temptation" sums it up nicely. I didn't succumb. I'm hoping I earned a crown for that.

    Writing with the goal of being published is a fickle business. Too many things don't make sense. Or maybe don't seem fair.

    We've all read books we didn't think should be published, and the sales numbers supported our views. Yet the author has a new book out another year and another.

    We judge contest finaling entries and wonder what the first round judges were thinking?

    We get back our contest scoresheets and wonder if English was the first round judges' native language.

    We read a published friend's new release and feel our editor was drunk/drugged/asleep when she bought our story.

    We stare at our awful manuscript-in-process and wonder if there is a cliche we didn't use.

    We glance at the door to the basement and wonder if the 8-yr-old and 5-yr-old put a diaper on their baby sister before they took her down there with them.

    Writing is a fickle business.

  13. Here's my theory...

    Anything that happens in the basement as a result of non-diaperage is at least in the basement.

    Tina's rules hit us all because we're human and we succumb to that malady on a regular basis.

    But we're still hanging in there, trying, working, improving, and occasionally snarking.

    I'm okay with that.

    It's when you quit (see rules under quitting) that you realize you're not really a writer, 'cause real writers can't quit.

    That doesn't mean they don't need time off now and again. I think Roxanne's heartfelt post last week showed us a keen example of how life can kick you in the teeth when you least expect it...

    And writing sinks to the bottom of the to-do-list.

    But on an average day, writers write. We can't help it. It's what we do.

    Which is why there's a puddle in the basement.



  14. Oh, and Ann, I was kidding about the coffee. Good heavens, I can't be hurting someone's feelings over make-believe joe...

    That's just wrong on so many levels.

    Forgive me. I LOVE Kona blend.

    (I don't know what Kona blend is, really, but I know I'd love it.)


  15. Remember how Cheryl was bragging about her Alpha-Smart?

    Well...here's a chance to win one.

    One week remains to ensure your entry is received at Indiana's Golden Opportunity 2008.

    The deadline is July 1, 2008. Mail and email entries accepted. Pay Pal available.

    The detailed score sheet, trained first round judges, and considerate feedback can help you fine-tune your manuscript.

    If you pass the first round, your entry will be placed before an acquiring editor.

    There are cash prizes for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place in each category.

    The Best of the Best winner receives an AlphaSmart Neo.

    The entry fee is $30.00 (includes return postage) or $32.00 Pay Pal.

    Enter your synopsis plus beginning of book (starting with Prologue if there is one), not to exceed 35 double-spaced pages total. Note: This is a change from previous years.

  16. I'd enter, but...I have a diaperless baby in the basement.

    In the carpeted basement.

  17. This is great advice. Thank you!

    Amazing how much I am not aware of how much I probably do this. LOL!

    The enlightenment through this post is well-received. LOL!

    Camy and I were talking the other day about common themes in my books. The one recurrent thing that pops up over and over in every book so far is choosing Faith over Fear, expecially my heroines.

    I know I struggle wtih it too. That choice (faith over fear) is probably one of my biggest struggles. My husband is such a blessing to me in that he's constantly exhorting me and the rest of our family that we can't live our lives in fear.

    This post was a genuine reminder.

    Thanks for being with us!


  18. Yeah just insert Mary for YOU.

    Cheryl, thanks for inviting me.

  19. Ruthie, don't worry the coffee!

    I'm so glad you brought some of those flavored creamers. Aren't they great. And ... I have slurped a few chocolate ones straight from the package. I havent' seen "mudslide" and will have to look for it.

    Now, as for self-sabotage, I have a big beautiful chunk of the Great American Novel that *could* be condensed. Or even ... cut.

    But it's like the whole front end of the book! Or what would be the whole front end if this thing ever gets published.

    As for potty training ... on the carpet? Oh, boy ... prayers going up for you!

    Interesting point someone made that we might not even be aware of how we are sabotaging ourselves.

  20. Great rules to avoid. Cultivate negative talk was something my WeightWatchers group discussed this week, and it definitely spills over to our writing.

  21. Ruthy said: Anything that happens in the basement as a result of non-diaperage is at least in the basement.

    Tina's rules hit us all because we're human and we succumb to that malady on a regular basis.

    But we're still hanging in there, trying, working, improving, and occasionally snarking.

    Mary sez: I'm not sure what about half of those words mean but I think, in her own sweet English as as a Second Language kind of way, Ruthy is trying to cheer us all up. Thank you sweetie.

  22. Great post. Thanks for that sound advice.

    I still say the story starts on page one, but I'm working on getting page one closer to page four ;o)

  23. sounds like good advice that could be used for other areas of life or other tallents. good read

  24. "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."


    This describes my day job.
    Do NOT try to identify me...you have been WARNED.

  25. Welcome Anon. You may remain Anon if you please.

    Hi Dee.

    Ann the Kona was great. My favorite blend.

  26. Go ahead and admit it, Mary. Everybody feels that way at some point.

  27. I like coffee that is very weak. I have now had starbucks coffe and it's too strong.

    I am sorry.

    I know my status as a Seeker is in jeopardy but I must tell the truth as I see it.

  28. Mary, I too used to think Starbuck's was too strong. Now I buy it at the grocery and use 2 heaping tablespoons per cup when I brew it. It puts hair on your chest. Keep trying, you'll learn to love it. :)

    Tina, excellent post! I could tell it was your post from the first paragraphs too (can't remember who else said they recognized you). You always have such great info and resources to go along with it!

    Negative talk is one of my biggests problems. It's a struggle in life as well as writing. Which is pretty crazy because I'm such an optimist. I have no idea where it comes from, but I have to battle it often.

    Thanks for the book recommendations! And for the laugh over cleaning up after yourself. :)


  29. Hi, Dee! We missed you at the W.O.R.D. meeting tonight!


  30. Mary, I would agree on the starbucks coffee but then i dont like coffee! oh boy i may be really getting into trouble with a comment like that after the gone with the wind ones!

  31. Mary, I've got a dictionary winging its way across the flooded Mississippi for you, darling.

    And of course I was trying to cheer everyone up becaue I'm the NICE one, Connealy.

    Have I mentioned that I started Calico Canyon yesterday and can't (and I mean this seriously and Seekers know I don't blow sunshine lightly) put the danged thing down????

    Of course I had to to go to work last night, and to sleep so i don't murder some innocent child today because that's just bad for business, but Mary, what a fun, fun, wonderfully constructed read! I keep laughing out loud at these two, and you really stepped up the pacing and the story flow with this one.



    I said it out loud in front of everyone. Well, everyone who reads yesterday's news, anyway!

    Excellent job, girl.


  32. Ruthy I agree. i wish i had started it a few hours earlier cos at 2am i just had to turn the light off. I really loved it

    I have vowed never to say I Do to anything when a preacher is in the room! Of course i did tell our pastor about the book and some of the happenings.

    (i am even giving a copy away at my blog this week)

  33. Tina, great post. I'd love to repost on Writer...Interrupted! Please let me know.

  34. Now that y'all have moved on....

    This is a tab bit late, but I wanted to say this on the day Tina posted this article but tossed out a joke instead, and it's been niggling at me since. And if it's still niggling me, I figure it needs to be said.

    Tina wrote a great post. I know. Having walked the writing journey alone for several years, I made many of the mistakes she mentioned. I have a bit to add about the ninth rule, though.

    Don't give up completely. I gave up. I had to. I couldn't hold on anymore. I'd had too many setbacks with absolutely no validation and I could no longer financially afford to put my writing out there. So. I. Gave. Up.

    But I didn't want to stop writing. As Tina said, "If you can give up writing then you are obviously not a writer."

    I shared me decision with a few people so they would know why I disappeared. When they found out I still longed to write, to improve my craft but I was facing that blasted brick wall, they hauled me on their back, carried me around the obstacle, and then gave me direction (ptL).

    So if you need to give up, go ahead. Just make sure you share that decision with your crit group/writing partner/lovely people of Seekerville. And after you feel that sweet rush of relief brought on by the escapism your decision brings, access an instructive writing source (book, conference tapes, Seekerville posts) and then sit your rump in a chair and start writing.

    There. I said it. I'm talking to an empty room, but hey, my conscious is clear :o)

  35. LOL, Kimberli. You weren't actually talking to an empty room! :) But I'm glad your conscience is clear.

    You know, what you said reminded me of hearing stories of couples who try for years to get pregnant, then once they adopt, they end up pregnant.

    If you let the writing go, you're not so tense about it. Then you're more able to write just for the joy of writing--no more pressure! Sometimes we're our own worst enemy.

    I'm glad you're back to writing!


  36. Oh good. Thanks, Missy. In light of all the empty coffee cups, I was afraid the party moved to another area by now.

    You hit the nail about us being our own worse enemy. I once heard Drew Berrymore say (or quote) "Expectations are the mother of abnormalities." We have to plan, as Tina and others have pointed out, but if our expectations are unreasonable or aren't in line with our current skill set, we feel like failures. (Kimberli<----) We're not. Imho, like kids anxious to be adults, we haven't matured into our potential or the industry yet. I wish I said that before. Sorry I held back.

    And like Forrest says, "That's all I have to say about that." Time to rest up for VBS.

  37. Thanks for sharing from your heart, Kimberli. I know that someone out there needed to hear those sage words of advice.

    :) Tina

  38. Hi -

    I popped over hear via a link on Jessica's blog. You're now on my Favorites list.

    Susan :)

  39. Hi -

    I popped over hear via a link on Jessica's blog. You're now on my Favorites list.

    Susan :)