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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.

Is Your Saboteur Blocking Your Revision?

When J. J. Austrian asked “What’s the difference between the Saboteur and legit self-criticism?” he correctly implied that we have to be able to review and critique our work with an objective eye. Good writing comes from rewriting.

He also correctly implied that self-criticism can open the door to the destruction of the Saboteur. (Read more about the Saboteur…  For a chance to gain a deeper understanding of your own Saboteur, how it shows up and how to defeat it, you want my one of my Loft classes.)

When you start out with a mission to be self-critical, it’s so easy to slide into negative judgments. The word “self-criticism” has slippery connotations — is that critical in the sense of critical thinking (i.e. careful, dispassionate analysis) or critical in the sense of disapproving, attacking and denigrating?

The Saboteur uses that ambiguity against us.

Beware the Subtle Voice of the Saboteur

This isn’t sabotage, this is legitimate self-criticism, whispers the Saboteur.

How can I begin to revise my writing if I don’t take a good, hard look at it? How can I fix the problems if I don’t pay attention to where it’s going wrong?

Like this sentence here, what was I thinking? That’s terrible.

Wait, is this my Saboteur? I wish. No, this is legit, constructive criticism. What kind of writer can’t even look at his writing without getting all tangled up in questions about the Inner Critic? I’m going to just look clearly and critically at the writing.

This whole paragraph needs work. This is bad, really bad. What an awkward construction. And this is so cliché. No wonder my writer’s group didn’t like it.

Why didn’t I see this before? This sucks. I suck. Maybe I just don’t have what it takes, after all…

Miserable writer = happy Saboteur.The Saboteur wants to keep us miserable and estranged from our creativity.

Revision helps us see the truth about our writing and sometimes about ourselves and the world. Truth is the last thing the Saboteur wants us to see. So it lies, twisting half-truths in self-destructive beliefs and behaviors, pushing back hard and mean when we even think about revising.

No wonder so many writers resist revision or can’t figure out how to effectively revise their work.

How Do You Revise Without Letting the Saboteur Attack?

Successful revision requires discernment, never judgment. The answer to J. J.’s question is that if you’re judging your writing or yourself, the Saboteur is in charge and you’re in trouble! If you’re discerning about your writing, you’re able to revise.

We’ll explore the distinction between judgment and discernment and why it’s vital in keeping the Saboteur at bay in the next post.

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2 Comments on “Is Your Saboteur Blocking Your Revision?”

  1. readerchick6751 June 15, 2012 at 3:23 pm #

    Thank you for this!!! Now I understand the procrastination regarding editing. I have a number of stories that need editing that I believe have potential however the Saboteur has been whispering lies, lies and still more lies whenever I try editing and alas, I’ve been listening:( Am looking forward to the next post!!


    • rosannebane June 15, 2012 at 3:45 pm #

      Hi Readerchick6751 – I’m so glad the post helped. It’s intriguing (at least to me) how the Saboteur stops different writers at different places…


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