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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.

Block Your Saboteur Before It Blocks Your Writing

The Saboteur has many faces: Attacker, Enticer, Innocent, Protector and Unlucky. Different routes to the same goal — to block our writing.

Just when we think we’ve figured out how to identify the Saboteur and  avoid the roadblocks it sets up, it morphs into a different form and uses different techniques to invade our thinking.

So we have to be flexible and proactive in how we protect ourselves and our writing.

One of the most significant tools in mitigating the Saboteur’s impact is clarity. Clear commitments, written in specific details and consistently tracked, block the Saboteur before it can block you.

The Fuzzier, the Better for Your Saboteur

The Saboteur loves to introduce vagueness. It thrives in uncertainty and ambiguity. Your Saboteur prefers fuzzy language like, “I’d like to write more” or “I really need to walk more,” or “I should get more sleep.”

Notice that there’s no clear commitment in those statements– “like to,” “need to,” or “should” are not commitments. Your Enticer saboteur will suggest “You don’t have to do that today. It’s not even a commitment.” At the end of the week, the Attacker saboteur will accuse you of not honoring a promise you never committed to.

Furthermore, there’s no clear indication of what “more” means. Does it mean write more frequently or for longer sessions or more words? Is an extra 15 minutes of sleep enough?

When you’re writing, walking or getting ready for bed, your Saboteur will approve of the feeblest efforts and call the puniest increase “enough.”

But the next day or at the end of the week, your Saboteur will not credit what it promised earlier would be enough. It will insult you, criticize you and insist you’ll never do enough or be good enough.

It will discourage you and make it harder and harder to follow through, blocking your writing and setting you up to “fail” again and again.

Block Your Saboteur Before It Blocks You

To block the Saboteur’s underhanded bait-and-switch tactics, be absolutely clear and specific about your commitments. Record in a tracking form or on your calendar (or both) exactly and specifically:

  • what you will do (what does and doesn’t count)
  • how long you’ll do it
  • how many times you’ll do it during the week.

Clear commitments and clear accounts of the action you take lift you above the Saboteur’s blocks. 

Each day of the week, track what you actually do in the column next to your specified commitment for that day. You’ll immediately see if you’ve done what you said you’d do. If you haven’t, by all that’s holy to you, do what you have to do to honor your commitment and to assure yourself you deserve to feel proud of your progress.

Then when your Saboteur later criticizes your work, your talent, your lack of accomplishment or anything else and tries to push you away from your writing, you can shake your head and say:

“Nope. No takesies-backsies. I said I would show up for 15 minutes 5 times this week and that’s exactly what I did. Back off, Saboteur. I’m not falling for your obstructions and lies.”

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3 Comments on “Block Your Saboteur Before It Blocks Your Writing”

  1. Glynis Jolly September 24, 2017 at 10:38 am #

    Right now, my saboteur is annoying health problems. Being flexible is about all I can do to fight it. Nevertheless, I do have a schedule in place for my writing. Some days are good and I can stick to the routine. Other days I am late getting started or ending early, and sometimes it is both. Occasionally, the writing does not get done at all that day. I do the catch-up routine whenever I can.


    • rosannebane September 25, 2017 at 10:07 am #

      Hi Glynis,
      Thanks for your comment — it sparked a new blog post that will address this issue.



  1. Too Sick to Write? Maybe, Maybe Not | Bane of Your Resistance - September 29, 2017

    […] response to the previous post, Block Your Saboteur Before It Blocks Your Writing, Glynis Jolly commented that her saboteur was showing up as annoying health […]


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