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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.

Break the Saboteur’s Hold on Your Writing

The Saboteur Loves Stopper Questions

One of the ways the Saboteur stops us is to use rhetorical questions as barriers. Questions like:

  • Who do you think you are?
  • Who do I think I am to write _______?
  • Why on earth would anyone want to read what I write?
  • What makes me even think I can write _______?
  • How could I even begin?

Any of these sound familiar? Take a few minutes to record what other rhetorical questions your Saboteur uses to keep you safe.

You know, safe from embarrassing yourself, looking stupid or getting rejected.

Safe from making mistakes and all the learning and growing that come from mistakes.

Safe from following your dream, giving yourself a shot, and growing as a writer.

Disarming the Saboteur

Questions are powerful. When I’m at my best as a coach, I ask questions that open hidden doors and expand my clients’ thinking.

And like any powerful tool, a question in the hands of the Saboteur is a dangerous weapon. It is our never-ending job to disarm the Saboteur.

Start by taking the rhetorical, “you idiot” tone out of these questions. Ask them as genuine questions.

“Who do I think I am?” is an intriguing existential question when you really think about it. Change “How could I even begin?” to “How could I begin?” and you open your mind to possibilities.

Freewrite responses to any of the questions the Saboteur has thrown in your way and you’ll find a way around the Saboteur.

What questions does your Saboteur use to stop you?

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3 Comments on “Break the Saboteur’s Hold on Your Writing”

  1. Mike Kirkeberg October 2, 2013 at 8:45 am #

    Hi Roseanne,

    You hit it on the head. What catches me off guard are what I have come to call volunteer thoughts. They’re the ones that show up yelling, “Pick me! Pick me!” They’re automatic and sometimes push and shove their way to the front, elbowing and souldering their way forward. Alone they are not such a big deal. What gives them their juice is when I buy into them. Often, they show up as questions like, “What the f— do you think you’re doing?” And then the answer, “You’ll never be able to hold this all together.”

    Best solution? Sit down, flip open the lid on my laptop, start pounding keys. Somehow, words show up on the screen.


    • rosannebane October 2, 2013 at 10:42 am #

      Hi Mike,
      Thanks for reminding me about how dangerous it is to let the Saboteur answer its own questions with predictions like “You’ll never be able to hold this all together.” That’s just wishful thinking on the Saboteur’s part. Translated it means “If I have MY way, you won’t hold this all together, because if I have MY way, you won’t even try.”
      I might do a follow-up post about this – thanks for the inspiration Mike!



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