The Internal Saboteur

We all know about the “internal critic” or “internal editor.” You know, the one who keeps telling us things like, “That comma doesn’t go there.” or “That’s the worst sentence ever written.” or “No one’s going to want to read the trash you’re writing.” And there are many blog posts out there dealing with how to turn him off or shut him down.

But what about your “internal saboteur”?

What? You’ve never heard of that one? Then pay attention, because he might be why you’re not moving forward as fast as you’d like.

The internal saboteur is not loud like the internal editor. Like most saboteurs, he prefers to work quietly and unnoticed. Subtle. Insidious.

The internal saboteur is why you stop working on a manuscript when you’re getting close to the end. He’s why you put off sending out those query letters. He’s why cleaning the bathroom suddenly seems more appealing than doing the final polish on your short story.

In short, he is every reason you procrastinate when you could actually be accomplishing something.

The internal saboteur is fear made manifest—but not fear of failure. He is fear of success.

That’s right, fear of SUCCESS.

Why would you be afraid of success? Because success means change, and change is very hard for a lot of people. Success in writing can mean a huge amount of change in a short amount of time, too, robbing us of the ability to ease into our new world slowly. The internal saboteur doesn’t want to deal with the change.

How to I know about the internal saboteur? I live with him every day. It’s no secret I wrestle with an anxiety disorder. This means everyday things can be incredibly difficult for me—just talking on the phone can break me out in sweat. My fear rises up every time I try to step out of my sheltered routine—to see a movie or go out to eat or see a concert or visit a friend. Simple things. Yet my fear will grab me, try to convince me that I am too ill or too tired to go out and do these things. That I don’t really want to. That it would be harmful to go. I must fight the physical symptoms of this fear and push ahead anyway. Live my life in spite of my internal saboteur.

Since he is so prevalent in my daily life, it comes as no surprise that my internal saboteur is hard at work in my writing life as well. He doesn’t seem to have a problem with me writing, per se (he leaves that to the inner critic). But once I have a piece written, he fights hard to make sure I never do anything productive with it. It becomes too great a chore to finish revising those last few chapters. I’m too tired to research agents to query, and I definitely need to nap instead of researching markets for the short story I wrote. I procrastinate, playing Solitaire over and over, finding other chores to do, or simply escaping into the rabbit-hole of genealogy research.

I know my internal saboteur when I see him. Sometimes it takes a few days, but I know the signs. And when I finally recognize him for what he is, I have to rally myself, kick him to the curb, and get on with the things I need to do to further my career.

One of my goals in 2013 is to recognize him earlier, to loosen his grip on my career. I spend my whole life beating him off with a stick so I can enjoy my life—I refuse to let him steal my writing career from me.

Take a look at what’s holding you back in your writing career. Are the obstacles real—or are they the constructs of your internal saboteur? Is it the OBJECTS that are insurmountable—or the FEAR?

Don’t let fear of success hold you back.

No matter what your internal saboteur says, you deserve success just as much as everyone else. Go and grab it.

GoosesQuill FB


  1. Carolee Pastorius says

    Wonderful New Years resolution, Kerry! You are such a brave woman, I know all about the things of which you write.

  2. Former Asimov’s editor Gardner Dozois used to argue that the internal saboteur WAS the internal editor, and that it shifted roles when the writer was drifting, stuck, in the quagmire of the middle of the story or book. Then, instead of helping out with those commas, he turned his guns on you, and (as you say, subtly) whispered to you that you were a failure for not knowing what happens next, that you were never going to finish this, so you might as well quit, or (your favorite self-annihilating comment here).

  3. Thank you for a great post. I too have a fear of change, even when I know full well that change can be a positive thing. Why? Because sometimes the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know. That and during the winter months I really am fatigued, and to accomplish any meaningful work isn’t going to happen. For me, it’s best to choose my battles wisely. A nap might recharge my batteries enabling me to do a better job at revising.
    Barbara of the Balloons


  1. […] first, but as I got closer and closer to the heart of the matter, to the tender area, suddenly my internal saboteur popped […]

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