The dreaded blank page. Every time you start to write, you fight this battle. You sit with fingers poised over the keyboard, a head full of ideas ready to pour out, but all you get are beads of sweat and an overwhelming desire to scroll through your Twitter feed just one last time. You have plenty to say, of course, if you can just manage to write that first sentence, that first word. But writing anxiety keeps your fingers from moving.
The good news is that every writer faces it. The bad news is that it won’t go away no matter how long you stare at that empty screen or bare page. So what is writing anxiety, and how do you conquer it?
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Acknowledge your fear of writing
Typically, writing anxiety comes from fear. We fear making mistakes. We fear sounding dumb. We fear facing criticism, failure in general, not being understood, and just about anything else you can think of. We even fear success.
All these fears keep us from committing to the first word because it might not be the best word. And we face them whether we are beginning writers or professionals who have been writing for decades. The professionals just know how to write despite the fear. They understand that the fear is natural but often unfounded. But how does that work?
Embrace the writing process
Experienced writers overcome fear of writing by recognizing that writing is a process. They understand that the first words you write on paper or type on the screen are not a commitment. There is no contract forcing you to keep every sentence.
Start writing even before you fully know what arguments you’ll make and ideas you’ll cover. Just start and let those pieces fall into place as you engage in writing and thinking. You can also work on a couple free writes—or graphic organizers—to excavate your ideas.
Once you have a draft the next stage is to revise it. Revision is an essential part of the writing process and frees you from the pressure of getting everything right the first time. The first draft is your opportunity to move some ideas from your brain to the page. It is not the final product. So try to curb the habit of frequent editing. You don’t want to modify each sentence as you write them. Just let your workflow and start the revision process after you’ve created a strong first draft.
While it might feel like it at times, there are no writing police looking over your shoulder—judging every errant punctuation mark or instance of repetition. Just accept that perfect prose doesn’t usually happen on the first attempt. If you are too concerned with perfection, you will end up writing nothing.
Instead, focus on producing text, no matter how flawed, that you can work with. Knowing that you can come back later to refine it allows you to write more quickly and creatively.
Take a break
Writing is an intensely creative process, and sometimes your anxiety is your brain telling you that it isn’t quite time. So take a walk or do something physically active to get your mind off the writing. Be careful, though. You don’t want to use this as an excuse to never begin writing in the first place.
Share your writing
It’s important to feel comfortable sharing your work with others. After you have prepared a draft, and let a little time pass, see if family, friends, tutors or even your teacher can review your work. Ask them if you’re staying on topic, asking and answering important questions, and providing good evidence. They will catch things you’re missing—and compliment you on your strengths.
Rinse and repeat
All these ideas sound good in theory, but they really only work when you put them into practice. Writing anxiety is common—so you’re not alone. One of the best ways to conquer writing anxiety is to write more. The more often you push through the fear, the easier it becomes to do it again.