I recently overheard a question that a newbie writer asked a published writer at a meeting. “How do you overcome self-sabotage?”
The woman described was her habit of sabotaging her own writing efforts. Her initial drafts were never good enough, so she sulked and put her writing on the shelf for long periods of time. She completed a short story but kept in in a drawer for fear of others’ reactions. She got a good reaction from her husband for an essay she wrote but convinced herself that he was only being kind and that the story wasn’t really worthy. Sound familiar?
The Inner Voice
Whenever I speak with new writers I find this internal lack of confidence one of the most common challenges they face. I see one of my jobs is to help them overcome its destructive effects. I’m not saying that I would tell someone that their writing is good when it isn’t. I’m afraid I’m too passionate about the art of writing to cheapen it.
Bad writing can be improved, given a willing mind and a persistence. All successful writers work hard to hone their craft. But, like every other great accomplishment in life, it isn’t without risk. In this case, if you are unwilling to risk having your work see the light of day, then nothing will get you to be a successful writer.
And by successful I don’t mean publication by a major New York publisher or a national magazine. For you, success may be having your work published in a school newsletter, or printing a family history that only your relatives will see, or publication in an anthology put out by your local writers’ group. No matter. In each case you have to have the self-confidence to show your work to others. You have to overcome that overly critical inner voice.
What You Can Do
In today’s age, there are lots of ways to overcome this inner sabotage. One way, for example, is to use the Internet to show your work to others. You can be (relatively) anonymous on the Internet if you desire, so using a screen name you can post your writing on writers’ forums and ask for feedback. I’d suggest starting with small pieces of your writing, and as you gain confidence you can reveal more.
Another way to overcome this affliction is to join a writers’ group. Look up on Google where the nearest writers’ group meets, often at a local library, community center or group member’s home. These groups are a low-anxiety way to shine your literary light. Start out attending a meeting or two and just observe. Get comfortable with the critique process and see how others handle it. Then, as you get to know your fellow aspiring writers, at some point you’ll feel comfortable enough to share your work. Or, perhaps you’ll make friends with one or two writers within the group and share with them alone.
One caveat; beware of the Terminators. These are wannabe writers who will never put in the work to excel themselves, but who get great joy in knocking down the work of others. Treat these people as if they have Ebola.
The Fear of Rejection
My theory is that what keeps most people sabotaging their work is the fear of rejection. In fact, I believe this so strongly, my next blog will address this very issue. And what I’ll show you, I’ll bet will surprise you!