Do you suffer from writing anxiety?
Perhaps you want to write, but you can’t do it. With every hour that passes, your deadline comes closer.
Alternatively, you’d like to write a book or a blog, but you stare at the computer screen for an hour without writing a word.
Feeling anxious when you sit down to write is common. Although few research studies into this condition exist, one study reported that it affected academics:
… around 50 percent of doctoral students in the U.S. and Canada drop out during the research proposal or dissertation-writing phases of their degrees before finishing their programs.
If writing anxiety is so common, what can you do about it?
Realizing that it’s a phenomenon which affects many writers can help. Years ago, when I wrote my first novel, I sobbed for ten minutes every day when rolled paper into my typewriter.
What was I scared of? I have no idea, but the terror was real. Here’s the thing: when I wrote anyway, no matter how scared I was, the fear dissipated.
Comparing my writing anxiety with the panic attacks I suffered a decade later, I’ve realized that the “cure” for both afflictions turned out to be similar.
If I said to myself during a panic attack: “OK, so have a heart attack, you idiot. If you want to stop breathing, just stop breathing…”
Acceptance, with a touch of defiance, defanged the emotional tigers.
Let’s look at some strategies which help writers to deal with their anxiety.
1. Minimize the importance of writing: “I’m just writing an email… No big deal…”
This strategy works. It turns out that the subconscious mind is easily tricked.
Here’s what to do. If you’ve added an anxiety-provoking task to your To Do list, such as: work on dissertation or write my book, delete that entry.
Instead, add this non-threatening task: write email.
Start writing whatever you need to write as an email message. Copy and paste your words where they need to go when you’re done.
You may need to use your email app to write for a month or two. Then suddenly, your anxiety will be gone forever.
2. Write junk (you’ll find that this is harder than you think)
Our expectations can trigger writing anxiety.
Tell yourself your mission is to write junk — the junkiest junk anyone ever wrote.
Be happy to write rubbish. If you don’t know how to get started, write this: “I need to write this stupid article. I’m writing garbage. Here we go.”
Follow through. Write as badly as you can.
Oddly enough, you’ll find that it’s impossible to keep this up — it’s hard. You’ll write nonsense for five minutes. Then you’ll become engrossed in your project. Your self-consciousness will vanish along with your anxiety.
3. Write 50 words and you’re done
Hate your project? In cases like this, your anxiety combines with your dislike for the project. You’d rather stick a fork in your eye than write.
If you must write this project, commit to writing just 50 words a day. You can do that. Write on your phone. Once you’ve written your 50 words, you’re done. Any additional words are a bonus.
Can you write 50 words a day? You’ll be amazed at how soon those 50 words lead to more words. After a few days, you’ll become interested in your project. As you gain momentum with the project, your anxiety vanishes.
4. Be like Ray Bradbury: use word lists
If your mind screams: I don’t know what to write, word lists will relieve your stress. They prime the pump for you.
the lake. the night. the crickets. the ravine. the attic. the basement. the trapdoor. the baby. the crowd. the night train. the fog horn. the scythe. the carnival. the carousel. the dwarf. the mirror maze. the skeleton.
Try making a word list. Before you know it, you’re writing happily.
Of course, this is another mental trick. Any evocative words on your list distract you from your anxiety. Suddenly, you’re inspired.
Try the strategies: one day, your anxiety will be a memory
These four strategies work. They work for me and for my writing students. Try them: they’re fun, and more powerful than they seem.
Veteran author, copywriter, and blogger Angela Booth loves helping fellow writers. Visit Angela’s site for tips and strategies for writers.