How to Stop Sabotaging Your Own Writing Progress

Filed in Boost Creativity, Finding & Following Your Voice by on October 2, 2017 2 Comments • views: 692

My family and I took a trip to Alabama one year to see my younger brother,
who was attending military school there at the time.

We went out to lunch at a cute little restaurant, and when the waitress asked if we wanted something to drink, I requested, as I often do, both a glass of water and a Dr. Pepper.

The waitress was not used to such requests. “You want water AND a Dr. Pepper?” she asked in a surprised Southern drawl.

I was taken aback by the question. Was it so unusual to ask for water and something else, too? I confirmed my request and she delivered, but I always wondered what it was that surprised her.

Could it be that we too often believe we should stick to just one thing?

I thought of the experience again when writing this post. The topic came to mind because I’ve recently been asked to collaborate on a new writing project that’s totally different from anything I’ve ever done. Number one, I’ve never collaborated before, and number two, I’ve never written in this particular form before, but I’m super excited about doing both.

It got me thinking about all the different types of writing I’ve done over the years, and how I never would have expected that I’d end up doing most of them. When I first started out, I had my eye on a novel publishing contract, and that was it. But as I took steps toward that goal, I took advantage of other writing opportunities in an attempt to “build my chops” for novel writing.

Since then the number of different projects I’ve done that were both strictly writing and writing-related (including art direction, speaking, and teaching) could fill a couple notebooks. Some I didn’t enjoy as much as others, but I learned something from every one.

And they all brought me to this new project that I’m super psyched about.

My question for you: Are you allowing your creativity, talent, and writing ability to take you where it will, or are you unwittingly putting limits on yourself and your writing career that may be keeping you from progressing?

5 Ways You May be Limiting Yourself as a Writer

If you’re like most writers, you believe deep down that you still have a lot more in you. Maybe that one great novel you’re destined to write still is waiting in your future, or that successful freelance writing business awaits as soon as you get a moment to get going on it.

You know you have something “bigger” to offer the world, but somehow that something always seems off in the future, rather than here today.

This isn’t good, because it relegates your potential to some distant time, which likely means that you’re not making progress toward it right now.

You probably have friends that put limits on themselves. You see how they downplay their own gifts, or make excuses for why they don’t get started on their dreams. You know what they’re capable of, because you can see their talents more clearly than they can. Maybe you even encourage them, and then get frustrated when they stay in the same place year after year.

It’s more difficult, though, to see ourselves objectively, and to notice when we may be doing the same thing. To help you out, here are five ways you may be limiting yourself right now in your writing career, along with some action steps you can take to lift those limits and allow your creative talent to fly free.

1. You make decisions too quickly.

Let’s say you have an opportunity to attend a writer’s conference out of the country in about six months. Your knee-jerk reaction is to say, “No way I can make that.” After all, it would be expensive, you’d need to update your passport, and then there’s work and the kids and the cat and…

We way too often limit ourselves this way, basing our decisions on what is going on right now, without realizing how we’re robbing ourselves of great opportunities. This sort of decision-making can slow your progress as a writer, and keep you solidly in the place where you are today.

Action Step
When you’re presented with an opportunity to expand or advance your writing experiences somehow, take your time to think about it. Even if you imagine there’s no way you can make it happen, allow yourself to consider it. Maybe you could save a little extra money over the next few months, find a qualified babysitter and pet sitter, and get someone to fill in at work. Anything is possible with a little imagination, and you have lots of that, right?

2. You doubt your own talent and abilities.

This one is frequently behind our tendency to limit ourselves. Let’s say you were actually invited to speak at that event out of the country in six months. Your first thought may be, “Well I’ve never spoken at a writer’s conference before, and I’m sure it wouldn’t be a good idea to start at this big conference overseas.”

The problem is you stopped yourself before you even gave yourself a chance. Yes, you’re probably right: if you haven’t spoken at a conference before, this would be new and different, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do it.

Action Step
Say “yes” more often. I can tell you from 20 years experience that this one works. Many times I’ve had clients ask me if I could do this or that for them. Can you put together a brochure for us? (I’d never done a brochure before but I said “yes.”) Can you do a technical manual for this new computer system? (I’d never done a technical manual before but I said, “yes.”) Can you write a script for a commercial? (Same story.)

The thing that’s awesome about writing is that you can research just about any project, and find examples out there for how to do it. If you’re willing to put in the time and effort, you can figure it out, especially if you already have good writing chops.

The same is true of speaking. You can join a local Toastmaster’s group and learn how to do it. You can research how to put together a good presentation. You can practice in front of family and friends.

You have more to offer than you may think. Say “yes” and then get to work, and see where this new experience will take you.

3. You’re stuck in inaction.

We writers are thinkers. We love to think about what we’re going to do. Why, we’re going to set up that new website, or start that new novel, or take that leap into self-publishing, or create that educational course we’ve been thinking about.

And on it goes. We think and think and imagine and imagine. Ah, that will be cool. That will be great.

And we do nothing.

If this is you, don’t be too hard on yourself. Getting started is always the hardest part. For some reason, whenever we want to start something new, there always seems to be an invisible barrier that we have to climb over.

Action Step
Research it, and make a list. Most writers are happy learners. We like to read about things we’re interested in, and soak up the information. So use that natural inclination to dive into this new thing you want to do.

Set aside just an hour of your time, maybe on a weekend morning or evening. Pull up a document or a piece of pen and paper, along with your handy Internet connection, and start researching. Find others who have done what you want to do, and figure out how they did it.

Let’s keep with our idea of speaking at an overseas writer’s conference. You might look up subjects like “how to prepare a talk for a conference” or something similar, and take notes. As you read, you’re likely to glean the steps you need to take to prepare. You can number these on your document, and when you finish researching, make a plan to tackle at least the first one.

Spending just one hour doing this is likely to spark your excitement for the project, and get you over that initial hurdle to getting started. Follow through by taking action on at least one step on your list each week.

4. You allow others to tell you what you can do.

One mistake you can make is to share your ideas with people who are not supportive. They may not mean to be wet rags on your fire of enthusiasm. It could be that they were brought up to believe in limits, or that they fear that you’ll be disappointed if you make a mistake or (gasp!) if you fail.

When you express your idea to someone like this, they’re likely to echo all your reasons for why you shouldn’t do it. They will reaffirm all the limits you put on yourself, to the point that you wholeheartedly believe you shouldn’t move forward.

“You’re a writer, not a speaker!” this person may say. “You’ve never spoken at a conference before!”

You’d have to agree, right? The person is right. You haven’t done it before. Maybe you were silly to think you could.

Soon you’ve put those limits right back on yourself, like chains securing you to your current position. Not good!

Action Step
When you’re presented with a new opportunity, or you have a new idea, talk about it only to those you know will support you. These are the people who believe in you, your talents, and your abilities, and will encourage you to go for it. They trust your ability to make your own decisions, and they give you the courage you need to go for it.

As for those who tend to be more negative or cautious? Wait until you’re further along on your new project before you say anything.

5. You don’t like the feeling of being on shaky ground.

Whenever you try something new, it’s going to feel a little weird. Some people thrive on that feeling of risk and adventure, but some just plain don’t like it.

If you prefer solid ground under your feet, you’re likely to put limits on yourself to avoid that other feeling. To continue our example, speaking at a conference is likely to make you feel a little nervous or anxious if you’ve never done it before. You’re not going to feel your usual comfortable self, so you may resist your intuition’s suggestion and turn down the opportunity.

Action Step
Remember that this feeling is going to be there anytime you try something new, but it’s the only way to grow. If you want to really reach your potential as a writer and see how much “bigger” your career can become, you have to be willing to go through this feeling.

It helps to remember that it’s always temporary. Think back to when you first learned to drive. You likely felt a big nervous and anxious. Now you probably drive all over the place without thinking about it.

Allow yourself to imagine conquering this new skill, and getting to where you can do it easily and with confidence. All you have to do is get over that initial discomfort, and everything will be downhill from there.

It also helps to focus in on your excitement about the project. Allow that to live and grow in your imagination. Feed it. Imagine people enjoying your presentation at the conference, and coming up to you afterward to talk to you about it. Imagine where the experience might lead you two, three, or four years from now.

Common Self-Limiting Statements

Most of us put limits on ourselves every day without realizing it. Here are some common statements you may have said to yourself on occasion:

  • I can’t do that. I’ve never done it before.
  • I’m too young and inexperienced for that.
  • I’m too old to be able to try that.
  • I’m introverted—that would be too scary for me.
  • I’m just not that type of person.
  • I don’t know how to do that.
  • I’m an X type of writer—I don’t know how to write that.

Listen for when you may say these or other similar statements to yourself. If you’re not sure if your thoughts and statements are limiting, use the following rule, from personal development coach Jinny Ditzler:

“Every belief, statement, point of view, thought, assumption or paradigm that doesn’t point us in the direction of the results we want is a LIMITING BELIEF!!”

How do you limit yourself in your writing career?

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Comments (2)

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  1. I have a drawer full of short stories that I’ve made no effort to edit or submit. That could be a missed opportunity.

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