6 Ways Writers Self-Sabotage Their Success

A trashed house.

We often blame family and friends for sabotaging our writing.

While those might be valid complaints, most sabotage comes from ourselves.

We set lofty goals and expect to finish them without dedicating any of the work needed to succeed.

And very often, deliberately find ways to delay or permanently postpone starting.

Sometimes we don’t even know we’re sabotaging ourselves until it’s pointed out to us.

There are five common forms of self-sabotage:


1. Setting Conflicting Goals

There are so many things to do and so little time to do them all.

So we try to take on everything all at once.

But our time is limited, and no matter how we might like to get everything done, it simply isn’t possible.

Our concentration can only be spread so thin.

Warren Buffett is well known for insisting we never take on more than five projects at any one time and ignore everything else.

However, as our society’s attention span decreases, I foresee that number falling as well.

I count myself as one of many who can’t focus on more than two or three projects before becoming overwhelmed and frustrated.

A little over a year ago, I set out to create this blog as a guide to help me work through everything I had learned about writing.

I wanted to make everything clear in my head so that I could apply it to my fantasy writing, and hopefully, help others in the process.

It wasn’t long before I decided to start a series of writing guides.

Soon all my time revolved around writing those two things, and my fantasy fell by the wayside.

I started out thinking to improve my skills, but my dream got lost in the process.

I had sabotaged myself without even realizing it.

Looking back, I was happier writing fantasy, and when I die, that is the legacy I want to leave behind.

We can’t have everything in life, and what we think we want, might not always make us happy.

At some point, we have to decide where our priorities lie.

(Here’s more on setting goals that work)


2. Procrastination

Delaying work or always putting other things ahead of our writing can be a significant source of self-sabotage.

It doesn’t always mean we’re lazy, just that we’re dedicating our time somewhere else.

Writing a book can be hard, and not every part of the process is enjoyable.

Our motivation may be lacking, or doing something else seems easier than the task before us.

There’s nothing wrong with feeling that way.

But unfortunately, it can keep us from reaching our goals.

Personally, I love planning a story, and writing the first draft allows me to explore my ideas.

But revisions and edits seem to take forever, and since I have a short attention span, I’m more likely to get bored and set it aside in favor of something new and exciting than I am to finish what I started.

If there’s one thing I learned writing nonfiction is that sometimes you have to push through the boring, everyday tasks if you want a finished product.

The motivation won’t always be there, but determination and willpower can take you far.

However, if you’re choosing to do other things to avoid writing, then complaining you can’t find the time to write, it’s time to take a hard look at what you expect of the future.

Perhaps your passion lies in another genre, or you need to set goals.

Whatever the problem, the only way anything will ever get done is if you make it happen.

No matter the obstacles.

(Here’s more on beating procrastination)


3. Opening Our Ideas Up to Criticism Before They’re Fully Formed

I don’t know about you, but when I first start a novel, I’m excited, full of energy, and dying to tell everyone about my story.

And before long, my excitement is spent, people have pointed out flaws in my story, and I’ve lost my motivation to write.

The problem is while our stories may be clear to us, we haven’t worked out all the details, so we have difficulty sharing what we have pictured in our minds with others.

A story is never truly complete until it has gone through revisions to work out the finer details of description, plot holes, dialogue…

A first draft can even sometimes be boring because we do more telling than showing in the effort to get the story down as fast as possible.

Which is yet another thing to fix in revisions once you know where the story is going.

Action, stakes, tension… All these things are affected during revisions.

And a story that was once a boring first draft might become an exciting one once everything fits the vision we have for it.

This is because we tend to think in pieces, and ideas can pop up at the most unexpected of times.

Not everything makes it into the first draft.

Instead, we should wait until we’ve finished revisions before putting ourselves out there to be criticized.

Allowing us to keep our enthusiasm and drive for the project to see it to the end.

(Here’s more on applying criticism to our writing)


4. Failing to Revise or Edit

Finishing the first draft can feel amazing.

Whether you’ve accomplished something you never thought you could do or just another in a long string of published works.

Often we’re so proud of ourselves we’re ready to send it out into the world right then and there and call it done.

But no matter how proud we are of our work, we’re not finished until we’re sure it’s the best we can make it.

Not everything makes it into the first draft.

We might miss details or description, the pacing might be off, the dialogue might not flow right…

The first draft doesn’t always come out as perfect we thought it did the first go around.

No matter how clean and perfect the first draft might seem, it’s always better to be sure than to put out a story you might be ashamed of later down the line.

Speed doesn’t matter.

Not everybody publishes at the same rate.

We all have different writing processes and speeds.

So don’t jump the gun or you might sabotage your chances at success.

Yes, the more books you publish, the more money you’re likely to make.

But readers are more interested in quality than quantity, and if you can’t provide that, word will get around.

If you publish a product you can be proud of, success will find you.

It just takes time and patience.

(Here’s more on revising your story)


5. Expecting Perfection

The fear of not being good enough stops many a writer in their tracks.

And it’s one I’m still trying to conquer.

It can lead to rewriting the same story because it never lives up to the expectations we set ourselves.

We think if it doesn’t look like something written by J. K. Rowling, Stephen King, John Grisham, or any of the other famous writers out there, it’s not good enough to be published.

No matter how much we might want to be at that level, we can’t expect that.

They didn’t start that way. They worked their butts off to get there.

So, why should we expect it to be any different for us?

Time and practice are the only ways we’re ever going to get there.

But we can’t grow if we never learn to let go of our writing.

Working on the same thing over and over isn’t going to get us there.

Nobody’s careers will be the same.

But if we continue to learn from others and improve our writing, success will find us.


6. Finishing But Not Submitting

It can be hard to put work out there for the world to judge.

Rejection and criticism can be hard to deal with, but we can’t succeed if we never try.

After all, what’s the point of writing if no one’s ever going to see it?

Everybody gets criticized. Everybody gets bad reviews.

It’s the nature of the game.

There are over seven billion people in the world.

We’re not going to make everybody happy. It’s simply impossible.

We can’t let it get us down.

If we want to leave a legacy or prove we have what it takes, we have to let our work go.

No matter our fears.

(Here’s more on knowing when your story is ready to submit)



Sabotage wears many faces, and we might not always recognize it for what it is.

But if our work isn’t getting done, perhaps it’s time to take a closer look at our writing process.

We might be sabotaging ourselves, and not even know it!



5 Ways Authors Sabotage Their Success & How to Overcome Them

3 Ways Writers Sabotage Their Productivity (and How to Stop)

Do You Sabotage Your Own Success? Here’s How to Stop Self-Sabotage in its Tracks!


Professional Picture (2)

Renea strives to help writers develop the focus and skills they need to finish their first novel, offering writers practical writing advice they can apply one step at a time.

She is the author of Conquering Writing Pressures: Living a Balanced Writing Life in a Busy World where she helps writers find the courage to accept life will never be perfect. And if we want our dreams to succeed, we must fight to make them a reality.

She currently lives in St. Joseph, Missouri, with her husband Joe, her three children, and her five lovable furballs.

From a young age, Renea was mad for books and reading, and especially loved Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series, which she read in the ninth grade.

She is an avid reader, with her main interests residing in history, mythology, and fantasy, along with some romance and science fiction in her earlier years.

When Renea’s not writing, she enjoys genealogy, role-playing games, and dreams of traveling the world. In a past life, she plucked chickens and milked cows.

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