Discussion questions: In what way(s) do you self-sabotage as a writer? How do you avoid self-sabotage? Those times when you can’t manage to avoid it, how do you set yourself right again?
I did a weird, weird thing Sunday.
It was deadline day for a flash fiction contest. For weeks I’d had a story prepared, one I really liked. I considered sending only that story, but the guidelines allowed two submissions for one entry fee, and I knew my Depression-baby dad would spin in his grave if he knew I’d passed up on a 2-for-1 deal. His favorite word was BOGO.
So as the deadline approached, I fiddled with this, tinkered with that. I wrote three more stories, and I despised them all. Equally! And I couldn’t help but wonder if the awfulness of any one of them would take some of the shine off the good one.
But I had to choose one. BOGO.
As I was retyping the chosen story into my submission doc (part of my revision process), I made a typo. It was an interesting typo, a Freudian typo, something befitting the theme of the story.
So I broke the fourth wall and began writing about the typo. And then typos in general. And then my family.
Then I started writing about the story I’d been trying to write, exposing my fears about it.
“The story I was trying to write, before that typo tripped me, is super-dumb,” I wrote. “You’re probably the same person who read the other one I submitted. I like that story. Do you? Please judge that one alone and forget this ever happened. That story shouldn’t be guilty by association with whatever this has turned into.”
I like that story. Do you?
At that point, all hell broke loose. By the end I was pasting passages from a book I’d abandoned three years ago. I intentionally went over the maximum word count, and closed with this:
“The good news is, I’m far over the word count max! Thank you for reading it anyway.”
In other (briefer) words, I made certain that my story had a 0% chance of winning, and then submitted it.
It would’ve been just as easy — easier, even! — to just finish and send in the original version of the story, which, while not good, at least would’ve had a not-zero (though a not-far-above-zero) shot at winning.
So, why did I do this? I’m sure I’ll never know. As soon I hit “submit,” I sat back, stared at the page, and said, “Wait, what just happened?”
I did get some stuff off my chest in the piece, but there was nothing prohibiting me from getting that stuff off my chest in my own journal and submitting the actual story for the contest.
It was some form of self-sabotage I’ve never before experienced.
I imagine each of us has experience with at least one, if not most (all?!?!), of the more common forms of writer self-sabotage:
Intentionally breaking a routine
Abandoning project after project
Not asking for help, or asking for too much help
Self-criticizing into paralysis
Which of these forms of self-sabotage are you most prone to? Do you fall prey to any that I didn’t include?
How do you avoid self-sabotage? Those times when you can’t manage to avoid it, how do you set yourself right again?
Let’s talk about it below.
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WriteByNight writing coach and co-founder David Duhr is fiction editor at the Texas Observer and co-host of the Yak Babies podcast, and has written about books for the Dallas Morning News, Electric Literature, Publishing Perspectives, and others.