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Five Signs You May Be Sabotaging Your Writing Career

Self-sabotaging writerMany professional writers credit their success to both hard work and to being in the right place at the right time (note: Writer’s Relief can help with the latter!). But sometimes, being in the right place and working hard simply aren’t enough. Unless you’re truly open to success, you’ll have stacked the deck against yourself even before the cards are dealt! Here are five signs that you might be self-sabotaging your own writing career.

Sign #1. Writing doesn’t make you happy anymore. Maybe, at some point, you truly loved your work. But lately, your stories feel flat. You find yourself twitching and getting distracted when you’re supposed to be working, and when you finish a piece, you don’t get that lovely glowing feeling that follows a big accomplishment.

SOLUTION: Get back to basics. Stop and assess where your listlessness is coming from. What used to make you happy about writing that isn’t making you happy now? Make a list of what you love about writing, and read it before you sit down to work. Then, focus on what you love, and let the rest go.

Sign #2. You don’t feel your writing is strong. Perhaps you have many publication credits, perhaps you have none. Either way, you’re feeling down about your writing—and that feeling is leaking into the actual words you write.

SOLUTION. Time to reevaluate how you look at your work. Take drastic measures to do whatever it takes to begin to love your own stories and poems. Ask friends and family to tell you what they like about your work. Make a list of what you like about it. When you love your writing and are confident in your own talent, your chance at success improves!

Sign #3. You sit down to write, but there’s no inspiration to be found. You want to write but your fingers remain quiet on the keyboard. How will you become a well-regarded writer if you’re not writing? You’re caught in a downward spiral.

SOLUTION: Time to reinvigorate your muse—but there’s absolutely no reason to do it alone. Find a local poetry reading series—even if you don’t write poetry, you’ll be inspired. Join a writing group or a book club. Just being around words that inspire you—or even words that fail you and make you long for something better—will revive your muse. Also, consider going to an art museum or a concert, or take a class on glassblowing. Sometimes changing the direction of your creativity, if only for a moment, will reinvigorate your passion for words.

Sign #4.  A great opportunity comes your way—maybe a literary agent is interested in a book project, or an editor wants to publish one of your poems, but she or he requests a few revisions. You worry. You worry so much that you end up sending multiple emails to the agent or editor in a single day. You call and pester. When you finally do get in touch with the agent or editor, you’re cranky and suspicious—you question everything. You feel you’re not getting enough attention. You think you’re being mistreated. You wonder why literary agents and editors aren’t taking you seriously and why good opportunities dry up.

SOLUTION: Your nerves may be blocking your path to success. Time to relax—but also to be aware of your own proclivity to botch situations that could help your career. When in doubt, treat people as you want to be treated—with trust, patience, and kindness.

Sign #5: You’ve finished your book, short story, poem, or essay, and after a period of procrastination, you send your work to a handful of literary agents or editors. Rejection letters ensue. You think: Well, I’ll send it out to a few more people, but then you don’t actually do it—or you do very little. Your work, which you suspect is quite good despite your handful of rejections, languishes and remains unpublished.

SOLUTION. Rather than relying on vague goals (I will send out my work), it’s time to make concrete, specific goals and stick to them (I will send my book to X number of agents per week/month). Tell others who will hold you accountable to check in with you and encourage you to stay on track (and remember to be nice to them even when it feels like they’re nagging you). Then, even if the prospects look glum, you won’t lose momentum.

Writer’s Relief can help you if you’re having a motivation problem. We keep our clients writing and submitting. Our system works and gets results!

BOTTOM LINE: This list of five signs of sabotage are symptoms of deeper issues. If you’re self-sabotaging your writing career, it’s time to do some deep introspection. Although you’re going after success, is there something that’s keeping you from getting it? Journal, listen to your own voice, and learn what may be blocking you.

Questions for WritersQUESTION: Did you ever catch yourself in the act of self-sabotage? What steps did you take to curtail the problem? Share your story for the benefit of other writers!


Ronnie L. Smith, President of Writer’s Relief, Inc., an author’s submission service that helps creative writers get published by targeting their poems, essays, short stories, and books to the best-suited literary agents or editors of literary journals.

28 Responses to Five Signs You May Be Sabotaging Your Writing Career

  1. Yah! It’s true. I totally agree with you. This is helpful and different article. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Besides computer games, I think my worst self-sabotage is that I will get an idea (for a poem, a line, whatever) and reject it before I even write it down. “Where on earth would I submit it? That’s stupid. That’s a cliché.” If I write it down, my writing self seems to find it encouraging, and we keep going.

  3. Hi, Shirley Long! Thanks so much for your comment. We’re so glad you found our article helpful.

  4. This is a very good article. I believe we sometimes do sabotage our writing when we get careless about it. Sometimes when there are too many things going on in our lives, we have the tendacy to neglect something. It might be our writing that suffers, I am guilty of this myself. I then get to the point where I pay less attention to my writing and the words which I am writing to reflect a certain meaning. I am not as focus as I should be, my mind start dwindling off thinking about what I was suppose to do for someone today and either what meeting I am to attend tommorrow, what will I speak about or what topic will I discuss. That is when I try to write my novel and begin to just shuffle together words and when I read them again, they don’t make sense or I feel like if I had my mind on what I was doing, my story would have sounded a whole lots better. I find where one statement shouldn’t be in this paragraph and is not making any revelent facts to the other statements and really should not be included within the paragraph. I mean writers relief is a great web site, I love going on it and reading all the interesting articles that help me to improve my writing skills. Now, just by reading this article, it has inspired me to notice what words I use to describe or write about something, pay more attention to what I am trying to portray. Stay focus, make the story worth reading. Thanks for the info.

  5. Create an Office: Designate an area of your home to be your office space. This should be away from any household distractions. Having a desk near the television would be an example. Getting into a soap opera will not bring money into the home. A quiet section of the home is recommended, if at all possible. If you can hear what is going on with others in the home then you might get tempted to join them or feel the need to handle a problem. Treat this job as any other and you can join in when you get back from work.

  6. i actually laugh when i came to sign #3. That one is the strongest and hit me for like, a month. And what’s worse is that i have the inspiration, but then, my fingers are just hovering above the keyboard and nothing is typed. ._.

  7. Babs, thanks for the comment! It’s great to see writers creating schedules and sticking to them. Consistently writing keeps the ideas flowing and the material fresh in your mind! Keep up the good work!

  8. A few months back I made a promise to myself that I would write at least one sentence a day in my main project, no matter what.

    So far it’s worked. I haven’t missed a day. It forces me to move on whether I feel I’m ready to or not, to avoid putting off writing, and has helped me through some weeks lacking in inspiration. The sentences I had to force might not be that great, but that’s what editing is for. Getting from beginning to end is priority to start.

  9. Jennfier-I couldn’t have worded it better myself! I didn’t get a degree in Creative Writing like I wanted because I was told there was “no money” in “that”. I have also recently decided to get real about my writing.

  10. Good gracious. I JUST learned to stop sabotaging myself, primarily in writing. I knew from childhood that I was a natural born writer and still I flitted around for decades but now I’m focusing on writing, period. I just didn’t have the patience throughout the years to wait on legacy publishers to bite. No more wandering around gazing at random career paths.

    SRAIGHT DAYS, even with stops for 9-5 job/sleep. FELT GOOD. HAVE ENTERED
    WRITING COMPETITIONS (legit?), FALTERED, or wouldn’t-you-know MY COMPUTER or PRINTER had ISSUES that interrupted flow. NOT SURE if my TIMING IS OFF
    or something–I’LL JUST KEEP PLUGGING ALONG! Whatever BRICKWALLS I’ve had
    must/might be TESTS to see if I do have that FIRE-IN-THE-BELLY to write
    professionally. That F-i-t-B may not be RAGING OVERTIME, but one of these days…(Actually, would like to know or have a legit publisher to spur me
    on with timelines, whatever). ANYBODY LISTENING?

  12. I have finished ten chapters on my novel and it flowed so quickly from my mind that my fingers could not type fast enough. This was done however in four stages – first paragraph in January 2008 with the rest of the first chapter completed in March 2009 in one day. Chapters 2 through 6 completed in five days in february 2010. Chapters seven to ten completed in one day in May 2011. My problem is that I seem to need the urge to strike and then all hell breaks loose and I must write as quickly as possible. Very little editing was required and after reading my own writing, I can scarcely believe that I did it! It was almost like something had taken over my mind and created the writing through me. The entire book is in my head – just need to put it down on paper. So I needed to find a way to arouse this process on command and I think I have found the answer – write something completely different at the same time. I am now writing a childrens adventure book which I write inbetween writing the novel. This allows me to write continuously but it could be either work depending on how my mind is inspired. BUT it does keep me writing now instead of having long periods of letting other things in my life prevent me from writing.

  13. When I get frustrated trying to write new material and it’s just really not going anywhere, I break out old stuff I haven’t looked at in a while and revise instead of write. That way, I use my grumpy attitude for good and cross out the stuff that’s just not working. If I try to revise in a good mood I’m hesitant to hit the delete key.

  14. It seems to me that a lot of the things you mention are the result of workaholism, which I suspect is common to people who write for love and also write for a living. I was on the computer from 9am to midnight last night and while I do love writing, I think downtime and doing other things besides writing is helpful for coming back to writing with passion and perspective.

  15. There’s a great article in Time magazine about Jonathan Franzen. The computer he uses for writing has been completely internet disabled. The room he uses to write is bare with no distractions. His dedication to the craft exemplifies what it takes to be successful.

  16. Thanks to everyone who shared their personal stories here. It takes a lot of courage to not only acknowlege where self-sabotage may be happening, but also to post it on a blog.

    Posting your stories is a gift to yourselves, to us, and to other writers. Thank you!

    Dianne, Ten articles this week? Congrats are due! That’s impressive!

    Gene, It is hard not to compare ourselves to other writers, isn’t it? Just remember that where other writers are weak, you may be strong, and vice versa. The key for us all is learning from each other.

    Stacy and Robert, Great advice! Thanks for sharing it!

    Louise Farmer Smith, Recognition in the first step toward a solution! Congrats to you for that!

    Barry, Yes! Absolutely uninstall it if that’s what it takes. It will be a gift to yourself!

    T.H., This is beautiful: “write because you love to, because you have a story that is burning to be told, not because you want to get rich or send a message.”

    Janice, We’re certainly glad you have a good feeling now! We do our best to make advice about writing and publishing free to the public–even for people who don’t join our services. And believe this: ALL writers at every stage have problems. Obstacles never go away: they just change form.

    We do try to make things a bit easier for our clients, but ultimately, each writer has to dig deep within himself or herself, just as you are doing, to find out what blocks success (and then get rid of it).

  17. I had a bad attitude toward Writer’s Relief until the read this article!
    I thought every one attached to WR was successful and no problems like sabotage. That is my problem for sure. It is good for me to hear other folks/writers and what they have experienced and how they got out of the sabotage.

  18. Anger derails me every time–anger that things don’t happen faster, that wages and rates for writers are (so often) dismal, anger that more emphasis is placed on social networking than on quality writing. To combat this, I practice deep breathing (and other peacefulness-inducing techniques), and I do my best to remember the advice that I give new writers: write because you love to, because you have a story that is burning to be told, not because you want to get rich or send a message.

  19. I erred and downloaded solitaire to my laptop. I try to write when I put our two-year-old to bed but solitaire is a stronger siren than my literary muse is a motivation. So why don’t I simply uninstall it?

  20. Strangely, I can blame a lack of progress in my writing career on my writer friends. They have been not only insightful critics, but the most encouraging audience I could have. They have kept me going for years, and I have begun to write for them alone. Without their steady feedback I would have been ravenous, grasping, crying out for a readership and therefore would have driven myself aggressively to seek broader publication if not fame.

  21. Focus,focus,focus..that’s what keeps me from self destructing a piece of writing. It’s akin to serving in a tennis game. When I focus on the technique of serving the ball goes in the service box. When I think of the score or whether the ball is going to be a good serve or if the opponent is going to win the point that my patterns of behavior which leads to sabotoge.

    Remembering that I love to write is what gets me through the doubts.

  22. I find myself sabotaging when I pick up a draft WIP that I haven’t looked at for some time. I feel separated from the story and the charactors…even though weeks before I loved them and thier journey.

    What I do to end the sabotage is, I try to think about the characters (personalities, appearence, relationships, the environment, what the characters are doing, and have done, etc) a lot for a couple of days prior to re opening the file to recapture the feelings I had when I started writing the story.So far it helps.

  23. The more I read good writers, the more I am aware of the lack of creativity andimperfections in my own writing. Hence, I edit sentences before a draft is complete causing a stalemate

  24. The more I read of good writers the more I see the imperfections in my own writing, i.e., lack of imagination & perseverance and rewriting sentences before a draft is complete.

  25. Self-critical. I only wrote ten articles this week. (on line blog). I’m only getting 10 views a day, per. Etc., etc. Looking at other writers in much more commercial areas who get thousands of views. Pointless!

    Instead of focusing on the readership I do have, and staying on the path to eventually getting into print.

  26. Procrastination is my achilles heel. About the only thing that stops it is a deadline. So, I find myself making up my own deadlines when external ones cannot be found. Try writing down a simple goal (I will write five sentences) and list your reward (I will take a walk around the block with the dogs after I write five sentences) and see if it helps. When all else fails, enlist others. Call up your aunt or son or daughter and tell them you are writing five sentences and sending them over for their enjoyment… you get the idea!

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