One big cause of anxiety for a lot of writers is imagining the negative response of a potential reader. This is a particularly potent anxiety trigger for people who have been harshly criticized for their writing in the past. A single harsh comment can emotionally resonate through years, adding to the emotional stress whenever memory of it pops into mind. Whether it was some authority figure of youth or a more recent cutting remark, such thoughts can really interfere with writing: not only do they trigger or amplify anxiety, they draw attention to the wrong aspects of your work. In a previous post, I discussed the difference between writing for practice (with no audience in mind) and writing for performance (with an audience in mind), and argued that you should write for practice to help reduce anxiety.
If you’ve been struggling with writing anxiety, getting started can be very hard. Anxiety-inducing concerns—do I write well? will my audience hate it? am I smart enough?—accompany the decision to write and crowd upon the writer, sometimes causing severe discomfort, or even paralysis. It can feel like writing is so hard that effort is futile. To approach your work when such anxieties hit, you want to identify small, easy, gentle steps to get started. Start with a tiny step that you know you can accomplish, then you can have small successes that help you move forward, and you can build comfort and confidence over time.
Like most writers, I keep bumping up against, and avoiding, articles on how to treat my writing more like a business. I know I should pay more attention to the articles, but they always seem to interrupt precious writing time. In an infrequent browse through an older business publication, though, I stumbled on an article that didn’t give me administrative agita. Even deep in creative bliss, a writer can hardly resist the title: “Ten Traits That Make You Filthy-Rich” by Jeffrey Strain (TheStreet.com, February 1, 2008).
The five points here from Strain’s evergreen article remind us what we need to do not only to become rich (yes, it’s possible) but to stay true to our writing potential, creativity, and drive.
If you struggle with writing anxiety, I want to assure you that it is possible to learn to love writing. Such love is the foundation and motivation for a healthy practice. Saying that it’s important to love your work and calling it “a labor of love” might suggest that I’m getting distracted by woo-woo new-age goals, so I want to be clear that my goal is to help anxious writers write more productively, any emotional benefits are secondary. It just so happens, however, that people often manifest high-level performance because they love what they’re doing and consequently spend a lot of time and effort on it. I imagine that anyone in academia has met at least one scholar who did good work and was truly, genuinely excited by and interested in the ideas they were pursuing.
Are you tired of feeling anxious, overwhelmed, or unconfident as a writer? Do you long to recover your love of inquiry and cultivate a joyful relationship with your writing?
Join us Thursday, April 7, 2022, 1-2 p.m. EST, “Beyond Productivity: How to Build a Joyful Writing Practice”, presented by Michelle Boyd of InkWell Academic Writing Retreats. In this one-hour webinar, she will explain why writing is so emotionally taxing, describe how scholars can use social writing to overcome their writing fears. By the end of the session, each scholar will better understand their own barriers and have a step-by-step plan for implementing their personalized social writing strategy.
In the previous tip, I argued for the use of exploratory writing—writing whose purpose is to explore ideas, not writing that helps you communicate with other people—and I’m going to follow up on that notion here to focus on the emotional difference between practice and performance—between writing to learn from the process and writing something that other people will see and evaluate. One of the main anxieties that people face is about how their work will be received, and if that can be put aside, even for a time, then writing anxiety can be reduced and writing productivity increased.