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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.

What You Can Thank Your Saboteur For

Protector Saboteur: Keeps you from being hit by knocking you out first.

Protector Saboteur: Keeps you from being hit by knocking you out before anyone else can.

Why on earth would we thank our Saboteur, that self-destructive impulse that interferes with our writing?

All of the five forms of the Saboteur want to freeze your creativity. The Attacker undermines your confidence; the Enticer tempts you to sacrifice the habits that sustain your writing; the Innocent is anything but; the Protector doesn’t protect you, it only limits you; and the Unlucky will highlight the grey cloud surrounding every silver lining.

Furthermore, the Saboteur will never give up, never shut up and it will never go away. You can’t argue with it. You can’t wait for it to give you permission or approval. You have to learn to recognize it (“Ah, there’s my Saboteur again”) and ignore it so you can keep doing the writing you set out to do.

So where is there anything to be grateful for? Just this: your Saboteur knows your weak spots and vulnerabilities. It is you, after all. And your Saboteur will always go for your throat. It will exaggerate your weaknesses and attempt to use them to stop you.

But the Saboteur gives you information you need: where and how to grow.

If you want to strengthen your body in a balanced way, it really helps to know what areas of your body need the most attention. If you want to optimize your creativity and maximize the joy and other benefits your writing brings you and others, it really helps to know what areas of your creative self need the most attention.

I Would Never Do That!

Funny thing about the Saboteur — it often disguises itself. When I was drafting the chapter on the Saboteur in AWB, a writing colleague and friend mentioned the Protector form. At first, I couldn’t see how this was part of the Saboteur. I finally recognized it, but I was certain this was a form I rarely saw in my writing life.

I would never postpone a writing project until it was perfect to avoid the risk of rejection. Oh, wait a minute. That’s exactly what I did with my novel The Essential Path. For years. Now I wonder how I could have been blind.

Fortunately, I saw how trying to be rejection-proof blocked my novel. When I saw it, I pulled my novel off the shelf and started working on it again.

The Protector Saboteur rattled the cage, but I persisted. It went quiet for a while, which is not surprising since I was working on a rewrite and the Protector Saboteur rages the most when we risk going public.

This month, I pitched my novel to two agents at the Loft Pitch Conference, which reactivated the Protector’s dire warnings about the need for caution. But this time, I’m not going to fall for the promise of protection that only stagnates my writing.

Why am I grateful? Because my Protector Saboteur shows me where and how I need to grow. I pay close attention to what risks the Protector warns me to avoid at all costs. Because those are exactly the risks I need to embrace and exactly where I need to step up, lean in and keep going.

What does your Saboteur show you? What can you thank your Saboteur for?

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2 Comments on “What You Can Thank Your Saboteur For”

  1. Joel D Canfield November 25, 2015 at 4:42 pm #


    Experience has shown me that if I think something quirky, choose an odd title, ignore rhyme in a song, or intentionally misuse punctuation, I know precisely what I’m doing.

    But only 99% of the time.

    Every time I hear that niggling little “are you SUUUUURE?” I confirm that, yes, I’m sure. I never ignore it, but instead I hear it, verify that I was right all along (99% of the time) and move on.

    And, the other 1%, I get advice from those I trust, think deeper about where I went wrong, and correct course in the book or song.


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