Self sabotage is so common in our Western culture, I think we’re almost oblivious to how much we actually do it. We’re even more clueless about specifically WHY we do it.
The answer is pretty simple, but I’ll add in something special to spice it up a bit.
Whether we want to become a best-selling author, start a blog, get in shape, or drink more water, the foundation for all success looks pretty much the same. Yes, foundation.
Ever seen a foundation?
Foundations aren’t sexy. Rebar, concrete, maybe some pipes and pylons. That’s pretty much it. From skyscrapers to that shed in the back yard, if we want that sucker to remain standing long-term, we must have a foundation.
Same in life.
The foundation for finishing a novel, running a 5K, rearing well-adjusted children who don’t grow up to be serial killers, all looks fairly similar. There are no MASSIVE, HUGE actions that determine the outcome. Rather, it’s the compilation of countless small (and consistent) actions that makes the difference.
Those unsung moments no one sees or cheers. The boring parts. Oddly enough though, this is part of why we’re so prone to sabotage success.
#1: The Foundation of Success is BORING
If you haven’t figured this out already, then let me be the one to drop the truth bomb. Most ‘success’ is a complete and utter snooze-fest. I have a soft spot for the folks who build foundations. They don’t get the sexy part of the skyscraper, mansion, or house. Nope.
They get the ugly, sticky, repetitive and unsung work.
Work that, oddly enough, is the part NO ONE sees or ever compliments. Nobody walks past the Chrysler Building in NY and exclaims, ‘WOW, I bet those buried pylons, pillars and rebar are AMAZING!’
No, humans admire all the stuff that isn’t nearly as critical and we’re all but oblivious to the very thing that’s keeping everything standing.
This is part of what makes sabotage so appealing, especially in our modern culture. Foundations aren’t fun. We could post or tweet about our foundation-building, but we’d annoy ourselves and others in less than a week.
Here’s a pic of my eggs and kale juice…again. Just like the last twenty days.
I threw my clothes in the hamper instead of on the chair!
Paid a bill as soon as it came it! GOLD STAR!
Made sure I flossed.
Calmly but firmly corrected my child for being disrespectful.
Wrote another five hundred words on my novel.
Sure, we might post on this stuff now and again, but seriously. Who wants to hear about this? Probably no one. And, since foundations are dull, we sabotage and fixate on other ‘activities’ that deliver more zing.
Insta-Fame seems so much more fun than waiting on a darkroom destiny.
Successful relationships, businesses, parenting, gardening are all pretty much a lot of wash, rinse, repeat.
Want to be a great writer? Write every day. Read as much as possible. Study. Get professional feedback, help, training so you can improve.
Start the book and finish the book.
Write, revise, revise, revise, edit, revise, edit again, publish, repeat. Simple.
Not glamorous…at all.
One exception—NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).
One month out of the year, writers excel at getting words on the page—November. Why? Because what the professional does in the dark eleven months out of the year is suddenly a big brouhaha. The unsung mundane drudgery of the author is suddenly ALLURING and EXCITING.
Hey, I am NOT dissing NaNo. Quite the opposite. I LOVE it. Heck, it’s why I DO NaNoWriMo! ONE month out of the year I get freaking BADGES and AWARDS for doing…well, pretty much my JOB.
We gather our friends and tweet our drama and struggles. People actually give a rip about the best line we wrote that day. There’s a counter to display word count and if we’re close to ‘WINNING.’
Now Let’s Talk About the REST of the Year
But once NaNoWriMo is over, how many writers finish? How many sabotage? We keep going back over those first chapters ‘perfecting’? There are so many good reasons why we’ve not finished that novel—and there ARE—but the truth is that often WE ARE BORED.
Sabotage brings back the sizzle.
Remaining committed to a novel until ‘published do us part’ is HARD. Sabotage? Way funner (yes, ‘funner’ is a word…today). Start a NEW book, with an even BETTER idea. It’s HARD to figure out how to write my way out of a plot problem. It’s exhilarating to begin anew.
I know this from experience. Every book I’ve ever finished (and published) I never wanted to read AGAIN.
This is the paradox of progress. The more miserable it feels, the harder it is? Likelier the closer we are to achieving the remarkable.
Yep. All of it. I agree. I’ve been on both sides. Still am. I have SO many cool ideas for new books, but I’ve banned myself from writing any of them until I FINISH what I’ve started.
Same in a lot of other areas. Sticking with one meal plan and exercise routine is a GRIND. Seriously, how much broccoli can a person eat? We allow tedium to have too much of a say and start a NEW plan.
Me? I’ve been RIDICULOUS here. I have LITERALLY begun a day with a plan for fasting in the morning but then by about 10:00 a.m.? Bacon sounds too good. So helloooo…um Keto? Keto is totally perfect. Until late in the afternoon when I really, really want some carbs and then ATKINS IT IS (because even induction lets me have some carbs).
By the end of the day? I’m eating marshmallow fluff with a spoon because, well…marshmallow fluff is ‘fat-free.’
*hangs head in shame*
Accept the boring parts, because the duller it is? Likelier the more vital.
One way to stop sabotage in all its many forms is to set our mind and keep it set. Accept that building foundations isn’t exciting…unless we fail to build them properly (or at all). Then it gets REAL exciting…and ugly, painful, and costly.
#2: Most of Success is Invisible
Sure, there are foundational behaviors that lead to success in all areas of life. We get that. But, foundations aren’t foundations unless we build something on top of that foundation. Otherwise? Unless we construct something meaningful on our foundation, we don’t have a foundation.
We have a really sturdy/well-plumbed parking lot.
But think about buildings, whether it’s a new strip-mall, sky-scraper or housing development. Aside from when we initially notice something is different—Hey, didn’t that used to be a scrap yard?—we pretty much zone out and go back to our lives.
We don’t pay attention to the framing and the drywall and the bricking and windows that are all being systematically added on top of the foundation. No one sees the grind (unless you’re the one in the grind). It isn’t until the builders are finished that we might even notice.
In our increasingly codependent world, we might sabotage because we crave attention and reassurance. This has only gotten worse, and is even impacting the groups who were initially the most resistant to participating on social media.
When I first started trying to get authors on social media, I thought they’d burn me as a witch.
Authors, historically, tend to be reclusive, anti-social, and prefer imaginary people and worlds over the real thing. We suffered and bled in silence. Braved rejection and wept and no one gave one single fig about our despair.
Once social media went mainstream, this ALL changed.
If one looks at the Myers-Briggs personality test, the INFJ is the author personality. It’s one of the rarest personalities. Yet, once social media went mainstream, I couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting some ‘author’ posting about being an INFJ.
They couldn’t see the irony that the TRUE INFJ was more likely to be the Unibomber than to be posting countless memes on Facebook about being an INFJ.
Alas, the personality least likely to even BE on social media seemed to never get OFF of it.
Maybe these folks are INFJs and social media is simply their NEW personal holodeck where they can remain in their own minds. That IS part of what made INFJs such prolific authors.
They wrote TONS of novels because they had to put words on a page if they wanted to experience a world they built and controlled and could live in most of the time without having to deal with people they hadn’t created themselves.
Me? I think Facebook Myers-Briggs tests aren’t entirely accurate. Also I’m pretty sure I was not Cleopatra in a previous life (well other than fab makeup, clothes, cats, worship and a hot Roman boyfriend…but no…okay on the fence if I believed in past lives).
In fairness, I am NOT an INFJ. I’m an ENFP and everyone expects me to be hopped up more than a toddler on cocaine-laced Pixie Sticks.
***As a note, for those who care. The ENFP is the most introversive of the extrovert classifications. I require long periods alone without people to recharge.
Sabotage gives short-term gratification.
I understand why we are so prone to sabotage this way (regardless of personality). First, just being a functioning adult is an utterly thankless job. No parties for the person who (correctly) loads the dishwasher. Zero compliments for using our blinkers when changing lanes.
I’ve yet to get a You Didn’t Go to JAIL Today! sticker. Not even any stickers for, Hey, Your Kid is Still Alive! Another Day NOT Worshipping Satan! GO YOU! You’ve had 4,973 Days With NO Underground Pit Bull Fights!
Oddly, the better we are at something (like NOT going to jail), the less likely others will notice and compliment.
People don’t compliment punctual people for being on time. Strangers don’t compliment us for waiting our turn in line at a store. Thanks to the People of Walmart, no one gives us a pat on the back for wearing pants when we go outside.
Utilities companies never send extra letters to people who always pay on time.
***I can, however, attest, they send a LOT of letters—ones that even change color—to those of us who are prone to forget or procrastinate.
Sabotage and the Thrill that Kills
As a long-time author, I can appreciate why writers are increasingly prone to leaning on social media for assurance. With the implosion of traditional publishing and rise of self-publishing, the goal posts and mile markers we used to celebrate—that used to actually MEAN something—are pretty much extinct.
When I first started, I would imagine getting the agent, the book deal, seeing my novels on B&N shelves, the book-signing, the accolades and praise for gutting it out long enough to be one of the chosen few. I envisioned my novels leaving top book critics and reviewers gobsmacked.
Not once did I ever envision how book reviews would be a popularity contest. That our books would be open to just anyone who wanted to say something, even if it was cruel, stupid, or untrue.
Did I mention STUPID?
I couldn’t conceive of a world where ‘people’ who’d never bought or even read my books would be permitted an opinion—an opinion that directly impacted my life.
***FYI, this is why Goodreads is dead to me.
Our rites of passage are all but gone. Publishing participation trophies have replaced authentic triumphs.
Before Amazon, to even be able to claim one was a published author inspired awe from strangers. Why? Because it wasn’t something just anyone could do. Even if our book sold five copies, we held a title most people would never attain.
We’d suffered years in private and made it through gate-keepers when most gave up. Now? I admit it’s hard for me to dream. The dreams are so much more daunting.
I could reasonably imagine landing an agent, getting a book deal, seeing my books on shelves.
To imagine being a NYT best-selling author, or that my books would be movies or HBO series was just bonus. In the realms of mythos. Sure, I’d have loved it to happen, but it wouldn’t have been necessary.
Maybe it’s just me, but sometimes I think the only way I’ll believe I’m a good writer is if I hit the NYT list and have my stories made into HBO series. Even then…
I already had ‘Imposter Syndrome’ like most creative people. But these days? In the digital paradigm?
Which brings me to my final point about success.
#3: Success is More than Vanity Metrics
You guys are smart, so you might see there’s been a bit of a theme running through this post. It is madness to define ‘success’ externally.
In regular life, we might find ourselves caring too much if people liked a post on Facebook or Instagram.
We can also fall into the comparison trap, judging our raw footage against other people’s highlight reels. I have family members who make Martha Stewart look like a slacker. They post pictures of their child taking art classes in London and the family trip to Lake Cuomo in Italy—which is FABULOUS and I am genuinely happy for them.
And then remind myself they LIVE in Europe and that a trip to Italy is like me going to Galveston for the weekend.
As for me and my life?
I just figured out the white bits on the bathroom wall are my cat Izzy’s art project. She’s very creative. I took away her yarn because she’d made the entire dining room into a God’s Eye/safety hazard.
I thought we just had a TON of nicks in the paint on the one bathroom wall…then I looked closer.
Apparently, Izzy has taken to tossing rolls of toilet paper into the bowl so she can scoop out the wet bits WHERE SHE THEN PASTES THEM ON THE WALL AND WISH I WERE JOKING. I had to clean up an entire wall of ‘Cat TP-Mache Art.’
Metrics don’t make mega-authors.
When I teach writers, far too many want to learn how to be mega-marketers instead of brilliant/skilled storytellers. As if George R.R. Martin became one of the most influential authors in modern history because of his social media marketing and NOT because he’s penned a gazillion short stories, novels, and series.
Not because he’s practiced and studied and worked to hone natural talent into awe-inspiring genius.
Nope. Had to be his ad campaigns and mastery of Hootsuite *face palm*
Sabotage and busy-work.
Granted, mega-authors like George R.R. Martin, J.K. Rowling, and Stephen King were already household names before the major shift in our world and in publishing. Alas, there are other authors who’ve ‘come of age’ in the modern era and the reason they are successful is because they focus on what matters most.
Yes, as a branding expert, I will tell you that if you want to do this writing thing full-time and be paid and have any hope of success, you must have a platform and brand. This is no longer optional unless your last name is Kardashian.
For those of us who don’t already come from famous and uber-wealthy families, we have to cultivate our audience because discoverability is a nightmare.
Ah, but here is the catch. A platform and brand is only useful for an author that writes and finishes and then publishes books.
***I have one finger pointed at y’all and three at myself.
Yet, far too many writers are fixated on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, building a newsletter, improving their metrics, and all this is a distraction. Worse, it’s a socially acceptable form of sabotage.
Even blogging can be self-sabotage. One has to be careful. Frankly, it’s one of the reasons I’ve not been posting as much. I needed to be focusing more on other areas of my writing (and recovering from multiple rounds of dental work).
***Though, to be fair, prolific blogging will vastly improve our writing skills, our speed, self-discipline and ability to make self-imposed deadlines. Facebook and Instagram? Not so much.
Just DO IT
We might chat more on this another time, but all this frou-frou stuff is best summed up by the famous Nike slogan—JUST DO IT. Sure, we’ll talk later about our why and motives and all that other jazz. For now? Just DO it.
We all self-sabotage. There is no need for us to journal about or fears, to learn our triggers, or uncover all the reasons we feel like frauds. Granted, it’s good work…just do it AFTER the hard work.
Pretty much everyones self-sabotages. Why? For the same reason we eat junk food and binge watch Netflix. IT’S FUN. #Duh
But if we can simply accept that sabotage, while a great high in the short run, seriously sucks long-term (much like living on Twinkies and hard liquor). If we can just deal with THAT truth? Everything else becomes easier to endure.
If we can appreciate success (however you define it) is a lot of same ol’ same ol’ and that most people won’t give a fig about what we are doing or not doing…then we can move on with it and enjoy a life rich with meaningful accomplishments.
We can rear non-serial killer kids, build enduring friendships, find joy in small moments of mundane…and we can keep writing sucky books. Write sucky books and finish sucky books and eventually the sucky books start being less sucky and maybe even one day are GENIUS.
Won’t know unless we finish.
What Are Your Thoughts?
Do you find yourself getting stuck because every day looks so much like the day before? It seems so far to the finish line that you start taking a break here and there only to wake up and realize you’ve not written in months? Do you change your mind, diet, goals, plans, more than my kid changes socks?
***Hint: That is A LOT.
In the modern world of publishing, do you struggle with celebrating accomplishments because—short of landing your own HBO series—being a published author doesn’t seem to be that big of a deal?
Do you struggle with feeling like a fraud? Wonder if your writing really is any good or if maybe you should consider learning how to do medical billing instead?
Are you frustrated with the world of popularity contests? With the push to be plugged in ALL THE TIME? I am.
Business idea. Someone PLEASE open a salon that forbids electronics. I miss going to get my hair done and chatting with other women. Now they all stare at tablets like zombies.
I LOVE hearing from you!
Really, I do. Y’all give me fresh perspectives. But if I don’t hear from you? That’s cool, too, because I have books to finish. And now that I am FINALLY through all my dental surgeries (I hope), new classes to create.
In the meantime, here are some FABULOUS On Demand offerings… ((HUGS))
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Wow! This post is right on the money. What an excellent job.
Congratulations on getting through your dental surgeries. What a pain that must have been.
To keep motivated and avoid self-sabotage, I use a spreadsheet to keep track of word count. A small goal every day. I think of it like the “Many Pennies for Mike” campaign in the 80’s.
Like your example of the foundation, no one at the time considered the power of a penny. He was the first person to crowd fund. He collected over 100K pennies (also nickles, dimes, and quarter) and it paid for his education plus some. With the extra he didn’t use, he donated the money to his alma mater for scholarships. Those pennies helped him fulfill his dream of becoming a food scientist. When I’ve “collected” (written) 100K words, it “pays” for my writing education, and I pay some forward too.
Ahhhh! The plot bunnies!
Making myself finish something when a shiny new idea is taunting me is *so* hard. But I made myself do it. I finished the first draft of my next novel this month. Then, and only then, did I let myself start playing with the new idea.
Never took the Meyers-Briggs test, but I truly hate social media. I know I *need* to do it, but most of the time, I just don’t. I can only last a few minutes on Twitter before my head explodes and even less time on Facebook.
I know I need to work on that. I do blog twice a week, and have been for years, but that’s it. You can tie your blog into Facebook and Twitter, so there is that.
I have published two books, and based on what my editor says about my current WIP, I am hoping to publish two more in 2019. The day job, kids, and spouse keep me busy, so it’s hard to give up writing time for marketing when what I want to do is hang out with my imaginary friends.
And yes, I n
Insightful as always! Do you have any insight on how to set reasonable rewriting goals? X many words per day works fine when you’re drafting (a la NaNoWriMo) but how do you gauge a good day’s rewrite? How do you set a goal to press toward?
Incidentally, I am an INFJ/P and I avoid social media for the most part. Actually, I avoid social anything for the most part 😀 I have a blog, I’m on Ravelry; but no Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest etc etc etc. Oh, and I recently joined Goodreads. Bad idea, you think?
On the other hand, I’m going right outside my comfort zone to go to a day of GeyserCon in Rotorua this June. (People! In person! Eep!) I hear growth happens outside one’s comfort zone, but I’m pretty sure so does being hit by trains or having one’s retinas detach on the end of a bungee cord. Thoughts?
I didn’t realize how many authors were INFPs. I’m the odd one out again, but I’m a female INTP, so I’m kinda used to it.
Well allegedly it is the ‘author personality’ but the INFJs are awesome in other careers just like other personality types can be authors. My personality is a tie between ENFP and INFP: The Campaigner and The Mediator. Basically a crazy idealist either way. Driven by imagination and allergic to rules, structure and authority. Sooo, pretty accurate.
I died at the dieting part xD That’s so me. Always looking for the new thing instead of sticking with someone for three fucking weeks to see if it works.
GRY! I have MISSED you! Yeah, I am pretty ridiculous. Working on that *sighs*
I missed you, too, Kristen 😀 Been kinda withdrawn as to social media for a few years, but I’ve lurked on your blog 😛 You seriously sent me down a rabbit hole yesterday with the personality testing. It’s so interesting and a bit creepy.
It would be a difficult thing to measure (how many I-didn’t-finish authors could be found who would confess to it?), but a percentage metric of Authors Who Finish vs Authors Who Start would be interesting, to say the least.
You’re an ENFP? Hot damn, girlfriend, so am I *high five* I know exactly what you’re talking about: I can spend an entire day home alone, and not even realize I haven’t spoken to anyone except my imaginary friends since breakfast.
I have a job that I’ll be starting on 2 May, but I’m getting a jump on my 9th rewrite of my novel today. I’ve listened to an expert breakdown of the screenplay for GREEN BOOK. I’ve listened to some online lessons on writing from Neil Gaimon. I’ve read Robert McKee’s books DIALOG and STORY. And suddenly a few pennies have dropped and my writing has improved immeasurably.
AND … I have a typing app on my Kindle now, so I can add a few sentences or paragraphs to my story during the odd break at work. *evil grin* I’m gonna get this book finished no matter what. *slams fist on table*
I’m actually sticking to my new years resolution this time and am on Facebook way less this year, and writing more. I see Facebook as a break and will go on there read a few postings give a few likes maybe post some cute cat pictures, (I’m always collecting them or taking ones of cheeto.) then… I pull away! I free. I free. More revising, more writing.
One book. Stuck on one book. Sad. Well, that was last year, I’m not stuck any longer. 😀 Self-sabotaged this whole book and have been ripping out all the stuff that was added in for gods-knows-why. The two antagonists? Merged them now there’s one. The weird bugbear that has nothing to do with the plot? Gone. The twenty + chapters of the antagonists tormenting and hurting the protagonist? Why….urrg. Newbie writer self-thought that was a good way to get people to care. No no no no. Jez.
The strange vines that had some vague thing to do with the freed god? Gone. Facebook, twitter, pinintrst haven’t posted anything on the last two in months. Not good I guess, but I know if I start again I’ll hop around the internet for hours land on a search and start over researching again. Another day past; another day I didn’t finish. Focus. Focus, dang it!
Another way we can sabotage ourselves is by not backing up our work! Toss files on google docks, send them to yourself on email, save on a flash drive. You never know, your computer might eat hot lighting death from a power surge that frys your surge protector, a flood might come along, someone might break in and take your pc/laptop. The motherboard could be faulty and the blue screen will welcome you some morning. O_O (I’ve personally dealt with the lighting one, and a rare faulty motherboard before. not fun.)
And the classic write it all down in notebooks. I don’t do this one as my text looks like something a first grader would be ashamed of. I need Grammarly. <3
Humm. another way we can sabotage ourselves is by not having anti-virus on our pcs/laptops. Last month I had attacks on my email account, Amazon, Microsoft, google account and more. I had to call customer support to get my amazon account back. Get an anti virus like Mccaffe so it can block incoming attacks. (about 1k attacks this month.)
Change all account passwords! don't think you're safe it will happen. I was fine for 10+ years online and then last month BOOOM. I also set up Google and Microsoft authenticator. I hate it because if my phone dies then I'm locked out of everything. But.. it can stay on for a while. At least long enough to make it too much work for those s.o.b's
I'm sure there's lots more ways we can sabotage ourselves, I can't think of any at the moment.
*Tosses a hug at Kristen* As always another great article!
*Anyone that reads this wall of text gets a cookie.
Thank you, Kirsten, We all self-sabotage. Every day last year, whilst doing a third edit of my novel, I struggled with the urge to WRITE ANOTHER NOVEL. Congratulate me – I resisted it!
Hey Kristen, thanks for this post. It was just what I needed right now: focus on finishing my books. I’m still working on building my author platform in between, but completing my product is foremost.
And one more thing I’d like to mention in regards to writing that first book. Yes, it can be a horrible, nasty, mess of purple prose, but in my case, book one is the first of a five book series, so I can’t just set it aside and start something else. However, the universe brought me a fabulous developmental editor and she managed to see the story through the all of the fluff. As hard as it was to receive her edits with all the RED LINES through my beautifully written MS, I learned a lot. Her painful critique has made me a better writer and better storyteller. And fortunately, book four is almost finished, and my writing is so much better because of what I’ve learned from my editors.
My point here is not to give up on that first book if you know it has potential. When we make an announcement to the universe that we’re ready for the next step in our career, we just need to be prepared, because that opportunity may come with the next workshop we go to, or the next event we attend.
I think part of the challenge is how often, after we complete the task, others may look at it and go “wow,” but we look at it and go “well of course it’s ‘this good.’ After putting in so much time and effort it’s almost a given that it would be ‘this good.”
There’s often a sense of “anyone could do what we did, if they put in that amount of effort.”
As you say, few and far between are the moments when we are praised, and anything we do regularly becomes mundane to everyone else, the classic “Well of course it’s good,” in contrast with “Wow, it’s really bad. That’s very unusual.”
In many ways we have to be our own cheerleaders.
One thing I like to do is track the time I spend, and the words written, and occasionally look at the total, and take a moment to recognize how writing I’ve done.