Understanding Writing Anxiety
Craig Wynne, Ph.D., Assistant Professor Hampton University
What are writing anxiety and writer's block?
There are many definitions for these terms, but writing anxiety and writer's block are the negative feelings that writers have when they attempt to produce ideas and words. These feelings can prevent them from being successful in their writing.
What causes "Writing Anxiety?"
Any number of factors can contribute to writing anxiety. Studies have shown that, for the most part, writing anxiety is based on situational factors. You could feel completely at ease writing a text message to your best friend or composing in a journal, but you might feel completely lost as to how to start a 10-page essay for your tough history professor. Here are some situations that can cause writing anxiety:
- Adapting to a new style of writing, such as your first semester of a college writing course or a form of writing you’re not used to (a research paper, a senior thesis, a dissertation, etc.)
- Writing for a tough audience (i.e., a professor who’s been highly critical of your work)
- Thinking about criticism you’ve received in the past (even if the person who has criticized you isn’t the audience for your paper)
- Tight deadlines (See “Strategies for Managing” on how to deal with those)
- Not understanding the assignment
Strategies for Managing
- Ask for help. Writing doesn't have to be a solitary act. Your professor will be able to help you if you're having trouble understanding the assignment or you're stuck on an idea. She has familiarity with the assignment and hasn't had her nose as close to the problem as you have. An objective opinion might be able to steer you in the right direction. If you don't feel comfortable talking with your professor, feel free to drop into the Writing Center to talk to one of our skilled tutors. Don't be shy – we're here to help! You can also ask your roommate, your RA, your neighbor, or even your mother! You'll be surprised at what an outsider's eye can do.
- Avoid perfectionism. You'll never get your writing perfect on the first try. Professional writers can take years to put something together. A good method is to use the writing process: focus on the ideas first, and then move into organization and grammar. If you're stuck for ideas, try one of these prewriting strategies.
- Use time management strategies. In other words, don't wait until the last minute to write your paper: this alone can create unneeded stress, no matter who your audience is. Depending on when your essay is assigned, give yourself 45 minutes to an hour each day to work on the assignment, step by step. Give yourself a goal for each day ("Today, I'm going to construct my thesis statement." "Today, I'm going to write a draft for my conclusion."). Little by little, you'll see your essay come together, and it won't seem like such a big climb.
- If you're getting really stressed out, stop. You're not going to be able to write well if you're feeling tense. Take a breather from it. Go for a walk. Eat something. Go on Facebook for a few minutes. Just take some time to clear your head. When you come back, you'll be able to approach the assignment with fresh eyes.
- Keep a positive frame of mind. Even if you absolutely hate writing, keep those negative feelings at bay. If you can think of it as an adventure with a goal in mind, it won't seem so daunting. You may even enjoy it!
- Reward yourself. Once you've handed your paper in, celebrate. Go to a movie. Hang out with friends. You've worked hard; you deserve it!
The final thing to keep in mind is that nearly everyone (even the best of writers) gets apprehensive about writing. However, if you follow the suggestions listed above, you may be able to relieve a great deal of the pressure. Even if you do get a bad grade on an assignment, don't let the disappointment defeat you. Mistakes are a natural part of learning. It's what you do next time that counts, so keep a positive frame of mind, and you may be pleasantly surprised with the results!
The Writing Center. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 1998. Retrieved from http://www.unc.edu/depts/wcweb/handouts/writing_anxiety.html 2 August 2010. Web.