I don’t have any saboteurs of my writing at the moment–and it occurred to me, that’s just the time to write this post! Because I have had writing saboteurs in the past and human nature is what it is, I’m sure to have them in the future.
I love this definition of sabotage by Merriam Webster:
Sabotage: The act of destroying or damaging something deliberately so that it does not work correctly.
Yikes. Maybe people do this in an effort to compete, rather than just doing the hard work of coming up with good ideas or actually creating their own stuff. Almost always they do it to make themselves feel better.
To fight sabotage, consider these 7 strategies. The last several deal with people you can neither change nor easily walk away from, because that’s when sabotage really gets tricky.
1. Check the Person in the Mirror
That intelligent person you see in the mirror every day could easily be your most subtle writing saboteur.
One solution: When I first started writing, I wrote a kind of journal of what it was like to write. That revealed to me how often my mind churned out sabotage.
“I think that sometimes love gets in the way of itself – you know, love interrupts itself. We want things so much that we sabotage them.” – Jack White
“Self-sabotage is when we say we want something and then go about making sure it doesn’t happen.” – Alyce P. Cornyn-Selby
2. Check that Person in the Mirror Again!
I’ve found it important to also be aware of how I behave as a saboteur. For example, I think most of us struggle with gossip. This creates a lot of problems for myself and those I am ‘trying to understand’ (we’re usually not, we’re usually judging) and a ton of lousy energy.
“Be less curious about people and more curious about ideas.” – Marie Curie
When trying to cleanse my own psyche of those trying to sabotage me, it makes no sense to be sabotaging others’ lives in any way. Putting other writers down makes you a worse writer every time, not a better one.
One solution: Gossip to a piece of paper, or your word processor, then burn it or delete it. Don’t hang onto it once it’s out. Or ‘gossip’ to your higher power to iron your feelings out, but don’t gossip to other people.
3. Become Better at Discerning When Sabotage is at Work and When It’s Not
Writing is important to me, but it’s not the most important thing to me and probably isn’t to you, either. If someone is pointing out my own priorities of family, for example, they are probably not sabotaging me.
Also, while most discussion or criticism of your work should not be labeled sabotage, be savvy enough to know that sometimes communication really is motivated by petty insecurity.
Examples I and other writers have experienced include:
- Authors of one sub-genre type putting down another entire sub-genre type (‘hard sci fi’ putting down ‘soft sci fi’, etc.)
- Traditionally-published authors putting down all self-published authors, or vice versa
- Reviewers, commenters, or even agents who want to be writers but aren’t yet so they lash out
- Writing panelists who attack each other’s comments in front of an audience instead of cordially disagreeing
- Writing industry politics in general
One Solution: Don’t internalize this stuff or even hate people for spewing it, because it’s very human.
Taylor Swift has it right, you must shake it off, though that song brings me to an important point. Expressing opinions or taste does not automatically make anyone a saboteur or a hater. For example, I cringe during the part where she starts talking in that song. It just doesn’t work for me. Is that gossip? Hate? Sabotage? Nope, that’s preference. That’s giving an honest review.
If I share in gossip or write some nasty review that tries to undermine someone’s good name, confidence, or sense of purpose–or to direct them to my work instead–that’s sabotage.
4. Lovingly Help Others Identify Sabotage When It’s Happening
I love this image my mother created and thought of it today because sometimes so many people are sabotaging us that it just feels weird! As we try to navigate the challenging, thin tunnel writing often is, it can feel as though some nosy lady is looking at us from her window and a child is glowering at us.
In real life, most people aren’t that overt about it.
Most of us aren’t jerks at our foundation. Most of us sabotage others out of non-awareness of our own fears: fear we won’t keep up; fear of losing comforts; fear of losing love; fear that we’ll never have what they have even though we feel we’ve worked harder for it; etc.
“Men go to far greater lengths to avoid what they fear than to obtain what they desire.” – Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code
One solution: Ask a question rather than out-and-out accusing someone of sabotaging you. I had the most success asking it this way: “Does me being a writer lead you to feel something that I’m not aware of, and if so, what is it so we can work it out?”
5. Re-wire Internal Responses to Sabotage
The jerk on the bus who scowls and tells you writing is a waste of time you can easily get away from. Your significant other, parent, friend, writing teacher, or others, not so much.
“There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me.” – Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
One solution: When people sabotage me, I can recondition my response. While it’s important to not smother the feelings of hurt and betrayal rejection necessarily brings with it, on a functional level, I can decide my writing operations won’t shut down over it. That way, someone else’s funk doesn’t rob me of my dreams.
6. Define Your ‘Walk-Away Points’
When I go in for a job interview, I should know how low a salary I’ll accept. What’s my walk-away point? Even with my most treasured relationship, there is a potential point I would jettison it all if things got terrible enough.
One Solution: I’m not advocating being reactionary or throwing relationships away. I’m advocating defining your boundaries. Clearly define for yourself the point at which ongoing toxic messages do or do not constitute a walk-away point, either from the person or from writing. That’s important to know about yourself.
“You need boundaries…even in our material creations, boundaries mark the most beautiful of places, between the ocean and the shore, between the mountains and the plains, where the canyon meets the river.”
– Wm. Paul Young
7. Determine a Go-to ‘Walk-Away’ Procedure
If my walk-away point is reached, I’m going to be emotionally-spent so it’s always good to determine beforehand what I want to do, while I have all my mental and emotional faculties, and so I avoid overreacting.
I ask questions like:
Am I going to just stop contacting this person altogether until things change?
Am I going to suggest counseling or mediation, knowing there’s probably a deeper problem behind the sabotage? It’s a personal question.
One solution: In another area of my life, when I realized a saboteur I care about would not relent, I made the issue a subject we would no longer discuss. It’s not ideal, but I decided it was better for both of us to walk away from the topic, not each other. Luckily, they agreed.
Any ways you’ve used to manage intentional or unintentional saboteurs? Please share!