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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Two Faces of the Saboteur

Look closely -- this sweet zebra isn't a zebra at all

By Rosanne Bane

Most writers think of the Saboteur as the harsh inner critic, but the softer, seductive side of the Saboteur is far more insidious.

When your Saboteur is criticizing your writing before you even get a word on the screen and insulting you nonstop, it’s a relief to recognize that this is the Saboteur. After all, the Saboteur always lies, so you can simply ignore anything it says as simply untrue. When you recognize the vicious Saboteur, you’re more than willing to ignore it. It’s never willing to be ignored, so it takes a bit of effort to keep telling yourself “That’s just my Saboteur, I don’t have to pay attention,” but it’s still a relief to know what’s going on.

This snake isn't what it appears to be either

But when your Saboteur shows its softer side, it’s tempting sometimes to believe the Saboteur’s lies. The vicious Saboteur attacks; the seductive Saboteur soothes. The vicious Saboteur rages and screams; the seductive Saboteur whispers in your head. The vicious Saboteur predicts rejection, disappointment and doom (based on your presumed failings as a writer); the seductive Saboteur promises a sweet tomorrow you don’t even have to work for today.

The Saboteur knows where you are vulnerable (it is you, after all) and it will always exploit your greatest weakness. If you’re a perfectionist like me, your vicious Saboteur will point out each and every mistake you make, taking particular glee in the mistakes that have gone out in the world already so you can’t correct them easily. Meanwhile your seductive Saboteur will urge you to hold off on submitting your work “just a little while longer to make sure it’s as good as it can be” and before you know it, it’s been months since you’ve taken the kinds of risks writers simply must take.

The seductive Saboteur might say things like “You’ve had a really hard day. It won’t matter if you:

  • skip process today…
  • take the day off from writing…
  • take a nap instead of going to the Y…
  • have a cookie, just one, just one, just one more… well, you may as well finish the bag now…
  • wait until tomorrow, there’s always tomorrow.”

Don't fall for it

Make no mistake: vicious or seductive, the Saboteur is destructive. Both aspects of the Saboteur will tell you lies to accomplish its goal of interfering with your creativity and your enjoyment of life. Don’t fall for it.

Learn to recognize your Saboteur’s voice; take note of the kinds of things your vicious and your seductive Saboteur say. As soon as you recognize the Saboteur, remember it’s lying, ignore its suggestions and go back to your writing, process-play, self-care or whatever you intended to do.

Do not let the Saboteur detour you from honoring your commitments, no matter how sweetly – or viciously – it talks to you.

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14 Comments on “Two Faces of the Saboteur”

  1. rosannebane March 23, 2011 at 3:32 pm #

    You’re welcome Jenn! What a great accident. By the way, you might want to check out today’s post about a workshop I’m teaching on the Saboteur in April.


  2. Jenn Seeley March 23, 2011 at 3:02 pm #

    I stumbled upon this by ‘accident’ and I must say I wish that I had read these very words many times over in days gone by. Thanks for inspiration, explanation and motivation!



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