Writing Tips: 5 Ways to Avoid Self-Sabotaging Your Creative Process

I’ve always been a natural writer.

As a kid, I always was seen with a book in hand. And then in elementary school, I discovered an innate love of creative writing and storytelling–and even wrote a short novel at one point.

As far back as I can remember, I’ve had a love of language and words and stories. But, like so many people, I get in my own way: Fear. Self-doubt. Self-sabotage.

I’m guilty of letting it get the best of me. And I don’t want it to anymore.

So when the negative thoughts start to bubble up, I think of these 5 pieces of advice to keep my writer’s brain healthy and motivated.

1. Don’t listen to the negative voices in your head

It wasn’t until I read Amy Poehler’s book, Yes Please, that I realized just how powerful negative thoughts can play in anyone’s life–even someone as beautiful, talented and perfect as Amy Poehler.

Amy describes her negative voice as a “demon” and specifically discusses how it affects her body image, but it totally still applies to any situation in which we can experience a form of self-hate. She says it best here:

“When the demon starts to slither my way and say bad shit about me I turn around and say, ‘Hey. Cool it. Amy is my friend. Don’t talk about her like that.’ Sticking up for ourselves in the same way we would one of our friends is a hard but satisfying thing to do. Sometimes it works.”

– Amy Poehler, Yes Please

For some reason, just knowing that I’m not alone in experiencing doubts and bad thoughts makes me feel better. If Amy Poehler can tune out her bad thoughts, so can we.

2. Write “200 crappy words a day”

Mark Manson’s explains it here:

“I recently heard a story about a novelist who had written over 70 novels. Someone asked him how he was able to write so consistently and remain inspired and motivated every day, as writers are notorious for procrastination and for fighting through bouts of “writer’s block”. The novelist said, “200 crappy words per day, that’s it.” The idea is that if he forced himself to write 200 crappy words, more often than not, the act of writing would inspire him and before he knew it he’d have thousands down on the page.”

– Mark Manson, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck

This advice is inspiring. Just getting out of your own head and writing something–anything–is better than not. And before you know it, you’ll get on a roll and won’t want to stop.

Just putting pen to paper/fingers to keyboard is the first step, which leads me to my next point …

3. Embrace the “Ugly First Draft”

Ann Handley–aka the goddess of all things content marketing and my personal hero–talks a lot about the “Ugly First Draft” in her book Everybody Writes

It struck a chord with me because that is my–and I assume most other writers–life. My first draft is always crap on toast. It sucks and it always makes me feel like a shit writer for even trying.

But if Ann Handley says it is a “necessary part of the process of creating above-standard work”, then who am I to argue?

First drafts are for spitting out all the random thoughts in your head and organizing them into an eventual outline. Word choice and grammar can come later. Just get your ideas onto a page.

4. Find, use and own my unique voice

My former boss used to tell me this when I was new in my role as a content strategist.

At first, I didn’t know what she meant. What even is my voice? How do I find it? How will I know when I use it?

I was working professionally across different brands, so I naturally concluded that my writing had to be boring, rigid.

Nope. Not true.

After reading this article from Grammarly about how to develop your personal voice, I started experimenting with new words and phrases until I started ones that felt natural. Being a voracious reader definitely helps me to discover new ways of saying things that then I steal and adopt for myself. That’s part of developing, right?

5. Not having a schedule

I do a lot of professional writing, so when it comes to writing for fun, I despise keeping a set schedule. It’s just a matter of time before I get lazy and will break the too-good-to-be-true routine.

Part (or most of) the problem is that in the beginning of any new interest or novelty, I become obsessive. I think: I have to be the expert now! I have to become the best now!

I put too much unnecessary pressure on myself to learn a new skill or develop an interest and it always leads to its own demise.

I know myself. Newness only excites me for so long before I get burnt out and look for a new activity, hobby, or thing to occupy my time–and I don’t want writing to be one of those forgotten novelties.

So how do you adopt a healthy habit without becoming obsessive? Well, I’m still trying to figure that out myself, but I will say, that not having a schedule is the first start.

When inspiration hits, I use it! Or in some cases, I remember the 200 crappy words a day story and force myself into inspiration.


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