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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.

Does Your Saboteur Push You into Writer’s Block?


saboteur writer's block canstockphoto2011249 (2)When I refer to the Saboteur in these posts, I do so with the hope that you’re familiar with the term from one of my classes or reading Around the Writer’s Block: Using Brain Science to Solve Writer’s Resistance. But if you aren’t or if it’s been awhile since you were in class or read the chapter on the Saboteur, here is an excerpt from AWB. (All Rights Reserved)

For some writers, it’s a whisper of self-doubt: “You’re probably not good enough,” or “Who’s going to want to read what I write? Maybe I should just give up.”

For some writers, it’s a roar of criticism and abuse: “That’s a stupid way to start a sentence,” or “This is boring, melodramatic, awkward, too far out there.”

For some writers, it’s false advice that promises shelter, but delivers stagnation: “This piece isn’t ready to go out; hold on to it for a while,” or “There’s no point in entering that contest or applying for a grant; I won’t win anyway.”

For some writers, it’s a collection of excuses and reasons to delay: “I’m not inspired today,” or “I need to pick up the kids, stop at the store, do the laundry and the cleaning, and walk the dog first.”

For some writers, it’s less-than-conscious beliefs and behaviors that make it harder to write: losing computer files, getting minor injuries and illnesses, cluttering your work space with other distractions, picking a fight with your partner.

For some writers, it’s self-destructive behaviors that range from occasional overindulgence that leaves them too tired, bloated or hungover to write the next day, to full-fledged addictions: Raymond Chandler, Dorothy Parker, Jack Kerouac and Stephen King are just a few writers noted for being alcoholics/drug addicts or recovering alcoholics/drug addicts.

“It” is the Saboteur, and it’s determined to make writing as difficult as possible for every writer. But it is not undefeatable—you can learn strategies to fight the Saboteur.

And it’s not all bad news—if you weren’t creative, the Saboteur wouldn’t bother to fight you. By the end of this chapter, you will have reasons and ways to celebrate the fact that you’re lucky—and smart—enough to face the Saboteur’s challenges.

The Saboteur May or May Not Be Your Inner Critic

bad-judge1Don’t mistake the Inner Critic for the Saboteur. Although the Inner Critic can be a painful part of the Saboteur, it’s not the only part or even the most significant aspect of this dangerous archetype. And the Inner Critic is not necessarily the Saboteur. We must distinguish between two types of Inner Critic: the discerning critic and the damaging critic, a.k.a. the Saboteur.

The discerning critic accepts the writing as it is and appreciates what it can be. This acceptance allows a discerning writer to evaluate her or his work honestly and make effective changes. Discernment without judgment reveals possibilities that allow you to improve the current work and to develop the craft skills to keep growing as a writer.

The damaging critic, on the other hand, makes preliminary judgments and sweeping generalizations that completely and irrevocably damn the writing and the writer without ever truly seeing and understanding the writing and its potential.

Judgment never serves a writer. Judgment poisons your ability to discern what’s working in your writing and what you can do to improve it. Judgment precludes possibilities. Judgment is the tool of the Saboteur. (read more…)

My next post will explore the differences between the five most common forms of the Saboteur. If you just can’t wait, the Know Your Enemy section starts on page 185 of AWB.

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