Is The Self-Sabotage Strong in You?

You’re a creative. Yet, something’s not working. Call it writer’s block or a funk, or whatever. It is keeping you from taking the next step in your current work. Maybe you can work, but oh-so-slowly. When that happens, you need to ask yourself a question. Is the self-sabotage strong in you?

Image shows a profile of a head with the brain visible. A magnifying glass shows the silhouettes of two people one trying to run against the other whose hands are against the runners head--symbolic of self-sabotage

What is Self-Sabotage?

Any behavior that your success, despite your own wishes, dreams, or values, is self-sabotage. That’s a big definition. 

We human beings are really inventive when it comes to self-sabotage. We forget or make a critical mistake. Or we get on social media, play games (online or in person), clean house, or help others, or — the list goes on and on and on. Look at that list. You can easily identify “bad” behaviors. But some actions can be part self-sabotage and part doing what needs to be done. When it’s a dual-purpose act, you often don’t even know you’re being self-destructive.

Every time self-sabotage succeeds, it destroys more of your self-confidence, self-esteem, motivation, and even relationships with other people. And when it succeeds, it convinces your deepest self that you can’t be creative or be successful or be the person you want to be.

Why Do You Self-Sabotage?

Image of a shirt in the cross-hairs. On the shirt are words of self-sabotage such as rejection, failure, uncertainty, inadequacy, etc.

The reasons for our destructive behavior are as many what we do. Most often, self-sabotage has roots in lack of confidence or low self-esteem. Feeling unworthy? Worried about what someone will think if you fail? Feel out of control? Those feelings often cause negative self-talk. 

Maybe your accumulated dysfunctional and distorted beliefs make you feel you’re incapable, or that you can’t express your feelings, or the only way to protect yourself is to destroy what’s important.

Help Yourself Reverse Self-Sabotage

First, you’ve realized that your behaviors are self-defeating. Good for you! That’s a huge step forward. 

You can’t fix what you don’t recognize and understand. Document what you were feeling and doing right before you self-sabotaged. Also, record how you felt afterwards. (Are your eyes rolling because I’m urging you to document your feelings? Documenting is more than journaling. You can dictate or draw or create a collage that represents those feelings.) Over time, you will see a pattern. Once you recognize the pattern, you can learn to interrupt and stop that behavior.

Sometimes abuse by family or others has driven those negative thoughts and feelings deep inside. This article may not help you. If you are overwhelmed, please get some help. Talk to your doctor, or your pastor. Call your local help line or call or text the national toll-free Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) helpline at 1-800-662-4347.

Develop the Tools You Need

You may need to replace negative self-talk with positive self-talk. Maybe you need a ritual to get your brain to shift gears from the day job to the thing you love doing. Check out my posts on your Mental Health First Aid Kit and a Well-Stocked I-Can-Do-It Toolbox.

Build your self-confidence by breaking your task down to its smallest parts. Take baby steps. Do one small thing. Then congratulate yourself. You took a step! That’s so important. Recognize what you’ve done. And keep recognizing how you fight to express your creativity. You can do it! 

Psychology Today has suggestions of how ways to stop procrastination, sabotaging relationships, and negative self-talk.

Is the Self-Sabotage Strong in You?

I believe we all suffer from self-sabotage at some point in our lives. Some of us struggle with it more than others. I know I have. Sometimes, I’ve set myself up by providing myself with lots of distractions. One way I try to combat this is to schedule and protect my writing time. I protect my writing time from intrusion by others and, most of all, from myself. How? With one small step. I just start even if I don’t know what to write. I write about how I don’t know what to write and what I think I should write. Then I argue with myself about why that’s not the thing I should write. And before I know it, I’m writing the scene I thought I didn’t know how to write.

Is the self-sabotage strong in you? Are you still struggling with it? Do you have a trick you use to turn the negative into a positive? Please share below.

13 Ways to Be Creative When You Feel Unimaginative

You are a creative but when you sit down to create you go blank. What do you do? All creatives have bad days. Sometimes a string of bad days. Do you have a toolbox of ways to be creative when you feel unimaginative? Read on for 13 ways to be creative when you feel unimaginative.

Image shows a imperfect, poorly made snowman that illustrate one of 13 ways to be creative when you feel unimaginative

Give Yourself Permission to do Badly

Often the reason you cannot create is because of expectations you have. Perhaps you need to be creatively private. Or you expect yourself to create when you are undergoing personal upheaval. Maybe you’re ill or too tired.

Give yourself permission to do the work badly. Challenge yourself and deliberately make your creative endeavor as flawed as you can. Allow yourself to fill it with mistakes. Sometimes, a mistake becomes inspiration. And if it doesn’t? Then you’ve learned what not to do.

Take chances, make mistakes. That’s how you grow.

Mary Tyler Moore

Turn it Upside Down

One way to shake loose your creativity is to change things up. For example, if you’ve been writing from the viewpoint of a woman—change it to the viewpoint of a man or a child. If you’ve been trying to design a pattern for a hat—change it up and design socks or shoes.

My artist husband used to take a drawing and literally turn it upside down. It changed the way he looked at the project.

Turn your project upside down. Seeing it from a fresh perspective may kick-start those creative juices.

Look Through Your Inspiration File

You keep an inspiration file, don’t you? If not, start one. As a writer, you might collect clever twists on clichés or plot twists. As an artist, you might have photos of nature or walk through a museum or exhibition. Knitters might have clippings from style magazines. Visual and word or sound based inspirations may unlock your creativity vault.

An inspiration file can be a place like a museum or art gallery or even a shopping mall or park. It can also be websites that inspire you.

Catch up on Housekeeping Tasks

Let’s face it. You’re a creative. You want to be making something, not working on spreadsheets, or balancing the checkbook, or filing papers. Do the taxes. Market your work. Do some or all those “non-creative” tasks you must do in order to keep your creative business going.

Step Away from the Computer

As a creative, it’s easy to burn yourself out. You have deadlines, need the money, or have more ideas than time… One way to be creative when you feel unimaginative is to give yourself a physical break. Step away from the computer for an hour or all day. Take a walk, exercise, swim, play a sport. Even a road trip might be the break your creative mind needs to refresh.

Try a Different Creative Endeavor

man's hands playing the piano a different creative endeavor is  one of 13 Ways to Be Creative When You Feel Unimaginative

When you’re stuck, try a new creative endeavor. If your normal creative endeavors are intellectual, choose a physical creativity. And vise Versa. Water colors, finger painting, hand lettering, cook a new recipe, make a video, or carve soap or wood may open new creative pathways in your brain.

Playing the piano is for me a way of getting unstuck. If I’m stuck in life or in what I’m writing, if I can, I sit down and play the piano. What it does is break the barrier that comes between the conscious and the subconscious mind. The conscious mind wants to take over and refuses to let the subconscious mind work, the intuition. So if I can play the piano, that will break the block, and my intuition will be free to give things up to my mind, my intellect. So it’s not just a hobby. It’s a joy.

Madeline L’Engle

Redecorate Your Space

Is the physical space you work in conducive to creativity? Perhaps, redecorating your space will not only give you a break from your current project—it might help you create a more inspiring workplace. Or, if you are a messy creator, clean it up. Sometimes our physical environment blocks our creativity.

Read a Book

Fiction or nonfiction can be inspirational. Read for escape or information, but not about something that involves your project. Step into a different world for a time. Let your subconscious work by engaging your conscious mind in an activity that keeps it busy.

Listen to a Podcast

You can find a podcast on any topic you are interested in. Listen to one or two podcasts. A podcast may provide new insights on your work. Need a few suggestions? Check out my posts Listen & Learn: Podcasts and Listen & Learn: Podcasts on Writing. You can also google podcasts or search Spotify or Apple Music or any of the other podcast services.

Brainstorm with Someone

Find a mentor or a creative like you. Talk out your creative block. Often talking out your problem or block will clear it all on its own. Sometimes a second viewpoint will see things more clearly than you. Or ask a question that inspires new thoughts.

Take On A Creative Challenge

Creative prompts or exercises can develop your skills and open fresh paths of imagination. There are writing prompts online, art prompts, or you can make your own prompts and exercises. Don’t do the prompts because practice makes perfect, but to explore your skills or develop your skills.

Be A Child Again

woman hanging upside down from tree limb --a different perspective is one of the 13 ways

Have you ever watched a child play? No? Then go to a playground or ask a family friend for permission to play with their children. Children play with energy and unending imagination. They don’t fetter themselves with the need to be perfect. They just have fun. Energize your imagination and be a child again.

Don’t Give Up

A failure is not always a mistake, it may simply be the best one can do under the circumstances. The real mistake is to stop trying. B.F. Skinner

Creative blocks happen, not because you lack imagination but because something in your creative or personal life needs addressed. Look at your project and life upside down so you can see where you need to make changes. Use these 13 ways to be creative when you feel unimaginative. Don’t give up, keep working on your dreams. You are creative even when you don’t feel imaginative.

Procrastination, a Writer’s Tool

Procrastination is my middle name. Okay, not really. Some people would say I have writer’s block. I disagree. Procrastination is a writer’s tool. Or it can be.

Image of a street sign "procrastination" atop a stop sign.

Writer’s Block vs Tool

About a year ago I wrote a post about writer’s block and how its individual. Each writer who experiences it gets their own individual flavor. I thought that procrastination was a symptom of writer’s block. That’s one way to describe it, but I think it’s a negative way to describe it.

Wrong Turn

Writing is part cerebral and part dreaming. One part can freeze up while the other part keeps marching onward. The words pile up on the page and are a cerebral work or fragments of dream-like images that have no interconnectedness. You read back the words and don’t have any idea where you were headed. When this happens to me, it’s a sign that I’ve turned down a one-way, dead-end street. Most of the time I don’t recognize it. There are no street signs that warn me.

That’s when procrastination is a tool. Procrastination is my writing tool, whether or not I want it to be.

Procrastination 

If you do a Google search, “Is Procrastination bad” you’ll get more than nine million results. Articles will tell you procrastination is bad, good, a potential sig of a health problem, and everything in between. 

PsychCentral provides a balanced list of ten reasons it’s bad and ten reasons it’s good.

Is Procrastination a Habit

Being a caregiver, my days are irregular. Caregiving happens in snatches of activity throughout the day. I usually get an hour or two at a time during which I can work.

Most days I can sit down at my desk and turn on the words. My burst of creativity is relatively short. An hour or two or maybe half a day. Occasionally, it can be quite a bit longer—but not as a routine.

image of a desktop with an open book, an open laptop  and a cup of coffee
wish my desk were this neat

Some days, maybe even most days, include a little bit of procrastination. That would include looking at some numbers, getting my desk set up just so, and drinking a cup or two of coffee. So yes, some of it is probably a habit. But there’s a time when it’s also a tool.

When Procrastination Hits

On the days I’ve hit the dead end, my attention span is that of a gnat. I can’t seem to focus—on anything.

Today I watched America’s Got Talent (AGT) videos on YouTube. A single piece of music and a story of someone actively working on their dream often gets me writing. Today, after the AGT video finished, the next video that played was unusual. I watched John Edwards do psychic readings of audience members. Screech. Full stop. What did I do?

Do I Believe in Psychics? 

Yes and no. I’m skeptical but not cynical. I believe rare people have special talents. Are they psychic? Hm. That’s a discussion for another day. I need to get back to writing.

What does a psychic reading have to do with writing? Does it mean I should add a psychic to my story? Don’t worry—I’m not going there in this story. 

What Good is Procrastination?

So what did I get from watching two unique types of things? People’s story. Snippets of real people’s lives—their grief, their hopes and joy, and their pain. And that’s what stories are made of. No, I won’t use any of those people’s stories in the second book of the Fellowship Dystopia. But both AGT and the psychic readings reminded me of things people do when they have hope and what they do when they have pain. People who go to a psychic go because they need to work through their grief. They think (or hope) if their loved one is okay, that they’ll be okay. It’s usually not that simple. Perhaps that’s what my subconscious (some would say my muse) wanted me to remember. Life isn’t simple.

Did Procrastination Work?

I may never know exactly why I needed to watch those two things today. But I know that when my inner writer had heard enough, the video got turned off, and the words started coming.

As a writer, I’ve learned to listen to my subconscious. Procrastination is a tool, a writer’s tool for me. Procrastination can work, but you can’t let it distract you so much that you get nothing done. Will it work for you? I don’t know. But if you’re a creative, listen to your subconscious. It will tell you what you need.

Writer’s Block Is Not The End

Writer’s block. Feared and mocked and denied and suffered, it happens. It can be debilitating. But writer’s block is not the end.

Some writers say they don’t believe in writer’s block. Carpenters don’t get carpenters’ block. And surgeons don’t get surgeons’ block (thank goodness!) So writer’s blocked is “made up” or “an excuse.”

I thought that, too. Yet, I’ve experienced writer’s block. And I’m not alone. Many, many writers have experienced writer’s block.

What Is Writer’s Block?

Image of a brick wall. Often that's how it feels but writer's block is not the end.
Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

It’s nothing–and everything. It’s one writer’s block. Particular to each individual writer and their lives, writer’s block reflects their life challenges, their fears, and the lies they tell themselves.

There’s a wall, a giant brick, unscalable wall between the creator and the words. You face the blank page or the blank screen and the words won’t come day after day after day–that’s writer’s block.

For some, it is momentary–minutes or hours in length. For others, it’s temporary–days or weeks. There are some who find writer’s block to be chronic and debilitating for months or years. The words. WON’T. Come.

What Causes Writer’s Block?

All kinds of things–most involve fear. Fear that the writing isn’t good enough. The writer may be afraid that the project is too big. There are fears about money, or food, or medicine. Fear that the words will never come. The fear of success before you’ve had any success can stop you cold. Sometimes the writer fears never being able to repeat a success.

Sometimes the block is time, as in you don’t have enough. You work a job or two, have family obligations, the maintenance of a home or vehicle to do. There will be folk who scold you and say get up earlier and write. Sometimes that’s an option. Sometimes it isn’t.

One of the most common causes after fear is the lack of understanding of story structure and how it helps you.

Then there are the physical causes. Sometimes your body has a breakdown. A physical problem can occur that will not allow your brain to operate at the creative level.

Tragically there are also family dramas and losses that can trigger writer’s block. Death and dying and divorce aren’t the only family dramas, though they are big ones. Sometimes it can be an illness and the adjustments that come with those kinds of changes. Some family dramas are about dysfunction or economic issues. Make no mistake, these can trigger days, months, or years of writer’s block, too.

Sometimes writer’s block is procrastination disguised.

Image of crumpled papers and a pen representing the frustration of writer's block. But writer's block is not the end.

What to Do

Be Kind to Yourself.

Change your routine.

Create a routine.

Write the same sentence over and over for ten minutes.

Journal.

Brainstorm 10 of the most unlikely things that would happen in the next scene.

Free Write.

Outline.

Do Character Studies.

Read Poetry.

Write scenes out of order.

Read a good book in your genre.

Change to a different point of view character.

Read a badly written book in your genre.

Read something outside your genre.

Write in a different location.

Read and analyze Fairy Tales.

Write with different tools. (Computer, ink pen, crayons, etc.)

Talk it out with a writer friend.

Listen to music.

Watch a movie for fun.

Analyze a movie’s plot.

Eat chocolate.

Drink coffee.

Take a nap.

Take a walk outside.

Do a headstand.

Put the project aside for a time and write something else.

Copy paragraphs from books you love.

Do writing exercises from a How-to book.

Challenge yourself to write badly, the worst you can imagine.

Write a letter to yourself.

Write a resignation letter to your writer’s block. Here’s what I once wrote to mine.

Dear Writer’s Block,

It’s not you, it’s me. I’m done. Over it. You’ve been a blockhead on my shoulders for far too long. Yes, I know that over the years you’ve provided me with numerous excuses for not getting the job done, but I’m on to you now. Your first name is Fear. When I am not looking, you come sneaking around. With you on my shoulder, each word becomes a labor almost too intense to bear.

Sometimes you are in the guise of Envy. Yeah, I know that “everyone” is going to that expensive writing conference in a city of delights. They will all get agents and book contracts and contacts. And I gotta stay home which means I’ll never get contacts. I’ll never get an agent or a book contract. And the fear grows.


Doubt is your real name. You’ve got a thousand voices that say this word is not good enough, that sentence is too much, too plain, uninspired. I’m untraveled, uneducated, a plain jane. Well, you know what?

I flirted with you for a while, but that wasn’t an invitation to move in and mooch. You’ve eaten up days, months, years, decades, centuries of time. But no more. I have chosen to listen to the lone voice inside, the one that says I am unique, that I have a story to tell, and that my stories will soar. I will sit at the keyboard, and I will write stories that my readers will love.

So, Writer’s Block, be gone. I’ve got work to do.

Whatever you choose to do, make it fun.

What Not to Do

Don’t panic.

Do not treat it like it’s a disease. (It’s not.)

Don’t hide until it goes away. (It won’t.)

Don’t eat or drink yourself silly. (It’s another way to hide.)

Don’t shame yourself.

Don’t give up. Writer’s block is not the end.

Prevention

Some say that if you outline you’ll never get blocked. Others swear that if you never outline and write without editing or looking back, you’ll sail through and finish your manuscript. I’ve never found either of those methods effective one hundred percent of the time.

I’m uncertain that you can completely prevent writer’s block. What I’ve learned to do is to recognize it and change tactics. (See the list above.)

Work on more than one project at a time. If you get stuck on one, move to another project. This can be very helpful if you have projects at different levels of completion.

Eat well. Exercise. Get plenty of rest. Take breaks from writing.

Find the right kind of support. People who will build you up and cheer you onward.

***

I said that I don’t believe in writer’s block. What I meant is that I don’t believe it’s a malady in and of itself. I believe it’s a symptom. There’s an emotion, a physical malady, or a knowledge deficit that stops the flow of words. Figure out what caused it and you will find away around the writer’s block.

Have you had writer’s block? Do you know what caused it? How did you overcome it?

If you have writer’s block, however you decide to treat it, be kind to yourself. Don’t make a hasty decision to throw in the towel. Writer’s block does not have to be The End.