No matter what your age, education or profession, staring at a blank page or blinking cursor can send fear to the heart of even the most experienced writer. Like many forms of anxiety, writing anxiety is often based on a fear of the process of writing or how the outcome of that process will be scrutinized by someone else.
“Students and professional writers alike suffer anxiety about their writing,” explains Dr. Sheri McCord, Writing Center Coordinator at Logan University. “It’s only human to fear our words may be judged or may not clearly communicate what we meant to say in our heads.”
This fear, however, can lead to crippling perfectionism.
“Although on the surface it would seem perfectionism would motivate us to do our best,” continues Dr. McCord, “It most often ironically works against us by holding us back from even getting started. It can turn us into chronic procrastinators as dread sets in and leads us to avoid writing altogether.”
By identifying your main writing worries, such as getting started or the fear your words will sound dull or uninteresting, Dr. McCord recommends trying different remedies to see how they work for you.
“Prepare for the anxiety you know will inevitably arise during your next writing session by having strategies on hand to help calm your mind and body.”
If staring down a writing project sets your nerves on edge, Dr. McCord offers these suggestions:
Before you write….
- Do something that calms you. Whether it’s drinking hot tea, listening to music, exercising, taking deep breaths into the belly, meditating or petting your dog, take a few minutes (but not a few hours!) to relax.
- Establish a writing ritual. Each time you sit down to write, do so in the same place and during the same time of day, if possible. Listen to a motivating song and have your favorite beverage on hand. Having these mental cues will help settle your nerves each time you write.
- Start in the middle rather than with the introduction. Who says you have to begin by writing the introduction? No one! Work on one of the body paragraphs instead. Or try paraphrasing all your source information if you’re using research. There’s no prescribed way to begin a writing project. Knowing this can save you time and free you from the nagging perfectionism that says you must craft the best intro before moving on.
While you’re writing…
- Take breaks. One way to manage fear of the process itself is to take short breaks. Write for 20 minutes, then take 5 or 10 minutes to stretch, get a glass of water or have a snack. Set a timer to help manage your time.
- Minimize distractions. If you’re distracted easily by technology and the internet, turn off your phone (or put it on silent), your computer’s wi-fi and all social media notifications. If your mind tends to wander, try writing by hand in a notebook, rereading the assignment’s instructions or keeping a list of unrelated things that pop into your mind—like your next grocery shopping list.
- Replace unproductive commentary. As you write, notice comments that may arise, such as “I’m a bad writer” or “this will never be good enough.” Counter those statements by reminding yourself of your strengths (e.g., research, critical thinking, organization, brainstorming, time management, etc.). If you think you don’t have any strengths, think harder—you do! Be sure to budget more time for parts of writing that are more challenging for you to make sure you can take your time.
- Ask for help! Being alone in the writing process has been normalized and even romanticized in our culture, but it is far from the ideal for most people. To be productive, lower stress and anxiety, it’s helpful to talk out your ideas with a friend, loved one or a writing consultant when you’re stuck. Having someone look over your paper with fresh eyes can help you notice what you’ve been too close to see.
More than anything, know that you are not alone. Writing anxiety is more common than you may think, and chances are, talking about it and connecting with others about what strategies they use will help ease your symptoms.
The next time you have to write, remember to use these strategies and others, and don’t forget to reach out to connect with others. Although there may not yet be a cure-all to alleviate all writing anxiety, the only way to find out what works for you is to try and try again.
Open seven days a week, the Logan Writing Center is available on campus, online or by phone to help students, faculty and alumni with writing projects of all kinds, including letters, resumes, presentations and research articles. With a robust Career Center, a team of Academic Success Coaches, peer and faculty advisors, counselors and tutoring center, Logan University provides the support students need to succeed in college and in their careers.
To learn more, take a virtual tour or schedule a one-on-one meeting with a Logan admissions advisor, visit our virtual experience page.