The Art of Self-Sabotage

A bee moves from flower to flower. As he moves, pollination takes place, so new plants are able to grow. I think of writers the same way, moving from project to project, eagerly breathing life into a new idea. While it’s great to be inspired while you’re working on a project, I’ve observed that jumping from project to project can also be a form of self-sabotage.

The Lure of Shiny, New Things

Because writers most often lament writers block, it seems absurd to be critical of those divine moments when new ideas rush forth in a seemingly endless flow. Of course, I’m not critical of new ideas; however, new ideas with their infinite possibility and newness can easily be more than just new ideas. They can be distractions from works in progress, which when they get tricky and sticky can become annoying, unpleasant, and regrettable at times.

When new ideas compel you to abandon your work-in-progress, you have a problem. The new idea is like a shiny, new toy. It is great because working with it feels like productivity. Better yet, you’re no longer toiling away at that old work in progress that was starting to stall out.

It becomes a cycle. Soon, you have lots of new ideas…good ones, but you also have lots of unfinished works. In fact…finishing isn’t even an f-word in your vocabulary. I call this self-sabotage. It’s clever because it’s also a form of creativity and productivity. The sabotage part is that the bursts of creativity and productivity aren’t being handled properly. Here are three strategies for working with new ideas and finishing those works in progress.

1. Write Down New Ideas but Don’t Start Writing the Story

One workaround is to write down the new idea and all related thoughts, but don’t actually sit down to start writing (panters) or outlining (plotters). I do this. I like to use a notebook. This makes it easy to jot down new ideas when they come like when I’m on a jog or cooking or gardening (I can’t control what books I think about, after all.).  Meanwhile, I’m still not writing the story. It’s on hold until I finish my current work. Enthusiasm for what’s to come motivates me to push past the rough parts on a work in progress.

2. Hire a Ghostwriter

This solution is going to work for those who are great at hatching and developing new ideas but who aren’t so great at executing those plans. If the reason you never finish is because that aspect of the writing process isn’t your jam, consider hiring a ghostwriter. Your ideas come to fruition, and you can continually come up with and map out your great ideas without the shame of feeling like you’re a failed writer for never finishing anything. You’re probably a great writer who hasn’t been taking the right approach.

3. Get a Manuscript Critique

Manuscript critiques are careful evaluations of a completed work or a work in progress. Editors who do manuscript critiques can look at a work and diagnose problems, make recommendations, and give you a big picture idea of how your book is working and how it will be perceived. If you’re a writer who starts on books but never finishes before getting distracted by the shiny new idea (or anything for that matter), then send your WIP to an editor for a manuscript critique. The fresh perspective will fuel you enthusiasm for continuing with the concept and finishing.

As always, keep your eye on the prize, which is a finished manuscript. There are lots of distractions out there, and sometimes, those distractions present in the form of valid alternatives to writing; however, if you’re a writer whose primary struggle is the inability to finish, then keep your eye out for various forms of self-sabotage and learn to develop strategies to work around it.  

I’m an editor who specializes in memoir, contemporary literature, and genre fiction (mystery and romance). In addition to a decade of professional experience, I have an MA in creative writing and am a member of ACES and the EFA. If I can’t help you, I will help you find someone who can. Click here to contact me or send an e-mail to