What is self-sabotage? It’s knowing that exercise, sleep, and writing are things that help keep depression at bay, and then staying up until 4am on Twitter, or driving to work instead of biking, or sleeping through your writing time. Or all three.
Self-sabotage is hiding once anyone shows interest in your work.
It’s ducking relationships with agents and editors when they start to lead somewhere.
It’s pinning all of your hopes on one contest, one award, one piece.
When I submitted my novella for the MBF / de Groot prize, I posted a dancing Groot gif on my Facebook page. I write slowly. I tinker a lot, and I’m great at starting stories, but I half-finish them. This novella came from a short story I workshopped it in a writer’s group with published professionals. With their feedback, it came together in a few short months like something out of a dream. When I hit “send” on that submission it was without a doubt that I’d win the grand prize – $6k and publication with Melville House.
The plan – the smart thing you do so that you stay motivated and writing – was to submit short stories in the meantime. That way if the MBF / de Groot Prize didn’t pan out, it wouldn’t be such a devastating blow because I’d have other irons in the fire. .
I didn’t submit any work.
How’s the writing going? is a fraught question for any writer. But it’s been going well. I love answering the question when it’s going well.
Why aren’t you published? the bolder people – people who have read my stuff – ask. Because to be published, you need to submit work to places that publish.
So back to self-sabotage… why haven’t I submitted anything in the months since I sent my novella for consideration for the de Groot? Hey, it’s fine to pat yourself on the back and feel like a finished piece is a high five from God (this novella was the first time I had ever gotten that feeling, by the way; my usual reaction is, “well, that’s done”). I’ll let you coast on that high for a week. Then you’ve got to get back to work so you can feel that again.
And I have. Slowly, in my fashion, I’ve been pecking away at a short story I really love, one that has the makings of a future epic. But my finished pieces, the ones I could be sharing with magazines and quarterlies, they live on my computer.
Is it general laziness?
Fear of rejection?
Or am I once again setting myself up to fail?
Today is the day they inform three finalists that they’re in the running for the grand prize and so far I’ve heard nothing. I knew it would be devastating to want this award so badly and not get it, but I didn’t do the thing which I knew would cushion that blow; I didn’t show my work in other places.
Why? Because I don’t deserve to be happy. Because I grew up in an alcoholic household and misery is somehow a comfort to me. It’s simple and stupid and hard to escape. Happy is glorious. I love being happy and when it’s here I try to sustain it… but I never, ever trust it.
Hard work, finding myself on the cusp of breaking out, then retreating, this has been my creative life as an adult. Well, I’ve had it. Today I might not hear a thing from the folks at MBF / de Groot.
But today is definitely the day I don’t let that stop me.