Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Self-Defeating Behaviors: Advice for Writers

Today we are happy to have a guest post by our friend and Coeur d’Alene resident, Ana Parker Goodwin, former psychotherapist and lecturer turned writer. Ana is the co-author of a renowned textbook titled Sandplay Therapy: A Step-by-Step Manual for Psychotherapists of Diverse Orientations, published by W. W. Norton in January 2000. The book received excellent reviews in several psychological journals, has been translated into Chinese, and remains an international best seller in its topic area.

Ana’s most recent publication, Justice Forbidden (Living Oracles Publishing 2011), is the first in a series of psychological suspense novels using her extensive knowledge of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In Justice Forbidden, Dr. Faythe Bradington, Clinical Psychologist, is shocked to discover that an ex-client is suing her for implanting false memories of childhood sexual abuse. How could she prove her client's memories were real? Faythe rushes to her office to read her files, but when she arrives she discovers a body in the waiting room. Check out the book at, the author’s website at, or the publisher’s website at


My psychological suspense/mystery book Justice Forbidden was finally published a little over two months ago and guess what? Even though I have half-finished a book called How to Cope with Post Trauma Stress before it becomes a Disorder, plus the first chapters to the sequel of Justice Forbidden, I stopped writing!

At first I kept telling myself that I was just too busy marketing my book, such as book parties, a website, facebook, and e-mails. That was true to some degree, but then I found myself using that as an excuse even when I could have taken the time to write. So I asked myself, “Why would I and other writers stop writing when we loved to write?”

This is what I came up with, four of which I have used myself.


1.  Your conscious and unconscious thoughts and beliefs, self-criticisms, and fears can result in writer’s block, procrastination, and excuses. 

Most writers fall prey to at least one of these or all of them at times. Don’t be hard on yourself. These behaviors can be overcome. Take time to examine the feelings and the automatic negative thoughts running through your mind before, during, and after the behavior. Write about them. Continuously work on recognizing and changing your thoughts. But don’t forget, positive thoughts alone don’t write your book or articles. Actions must follow.

2.  You don’t have enough time. 

This is a common cry of the modern writer. Check your priorities. Is writing really important to you? Are you giving “time” as an excuse not to look at your fears of writing (e.g., success or failure)? If not, can you find as little as 15 minutes in your hectic day to write? Hopefully it’ll be the same time each day so it becomes routine like brushing your teeth and taking a shower. Be honest with yourself. You have time to see that one-hour television show you enjoy, or sleep fifteen minutes longer. If writing does not come into your top ten list of priorities at this point, you may have to wait until it does.

3.  Your expectations are too high for your situation. 

You are pushing yourself too hard. You feel overwhelmed. Maybe you have important responsibilities. Reduce your expectations to what you can reasonably accomplish at this time. Decide on one or two realistic goals (not ten), and then write down small concrete steps to attain it. Work on one step each day.

4.  You have chosen to write about something that you “should” write about but doesn’t excite you. 

Unless you have been assigned a topic by a magazine or newspaper, give it up and follow your passion. If you don’t know what that is, listen to yourself. When you talk to others or watch television, what do you choose to watch or talk about? For me it is mostly psychology and mystery/crime. What are you drawn to? What makes you excited? What makes you want to speak out? Is it parenting? Or social issues, education, or humor? Whatever it is, write from the heart.

5.  You are “beating a piece to death.” 

Many writers are perfectionists and don’t want to publish something they consider less than their very best. Take some time away from your project to calm down the obsession, or begin to write on something else. Then when you come back to it, limit the time you spend on it. Limit your number of rewrites. As soon as you find yourself going in circles, stop. I remember one of my professors saying that his colleague had published one A+ book in his life because he had rewritten it until it was perfect. But in the meantime my professor had published three B+ books and was on his way to writing another. A+ is great, but it can stop creativity and production.

6.   Stress in your daily life (e.g., a divorce, work situation, or a family problem) invades your thinking constantly. 

There is no space in your mind for creative thoughts.  It is counterproductive to sit in front of the computer obsessed with your problems, unable to write. Take the time to write in your journal or talk to a friend or therapist so that you can clear your mind enough to concentrate on your writing and live a productive happy life.

7.  The well is dry.  

Give yourself permission to take time off, rest, and play. Enjoy yourself and allow the natural rhythm of life to reestablish. You will find the joy and creativity will return.

Anyone else? Comment and let us know if you have ideas that might help the rest of us.


Ana Parker Goodwin graduated from the University of Maryland with a Master of Science degree, majoring in Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy. She has been in the field for over twenty-five years, starting in Maryland. Ana developed a large private practice in Montana and worked as an assistant professor at two universities. In her private practice about half of her clients (e.g., veterans of foreign wars, physically and sexually abused children and adults, individuals caught in the effects of major trauma) dealt with post-traumatic stress disorder. In the last fifteen years Ana has also conducted many national and state workshops, been a keynote speaker, spoken on radio and lectured at psychological conferences.  Recently she has presented talks for writers.


Nancy Owens Barnes said...

Number 2 and 5 are my problems. I often have so many things going at once, it is difficult for me to focus on the big project I want to do. I also tend to "beat" my pieces to death, although I think writing for this blog has forced me to relax a bit when it comes to my writing. (I hope.) Thanks for the advice Ana.

elizabethbrinton said...

This was a fantastic post. I cannot wait to read the book. Thank you so much, Ana, for this marvelous contribution. As for the list, I would count myself guilty on all counts, although I do set aside mornings for writing.