I’ve often struggled with writing due to my anxiety. I sometimes get so in my head about whether my work will be any good, or how it will be received, that I end up spending more time stressing than actually writing. I’ve experienced this with all kinds of writing, from fiction to professional memos. What’s more, anxiety can interrupt any step of the writing process.
Fortunately, I’ve been writing for many years now, and along the way, I’ve discovered a few ways to get past the anxiety. If you’ve struggled with your own writing-based anxiety, I hope these can tips can help you too.
Brainstorming and Rough Drafts
Occasionally, I’ll get so anxious about what to write that I can barely get a word on the page. I’ll end up rewriting a single sentence for ten minutes, or even just give up and come back to the project later.
The best way that I’ve found to break through this is to carefully divide my writing process into discrete steps: brainstorming, drafting, and editing. Doing this takes off a lot of the unnecessary pressure that I’m putting on myself.
In the brainstorming step, I just get down any thoughts I have onto a page. I go out of my way to not even bother writing in full sentences. Since I know that nothing I write during this stage will make it into the final draft, there’s less pressure and therefore less anxiety.
The rough draft step works in much the same way. I write in full sentences, but I do my best to resist editing even a single word. Since I know that I’ll be doing plenty of improvements in the edits, the pressure is again removed.
The editing step itself is the most mechanical of the three, so even though it’s the last step of the process, I still don’t feel as much anxiety as if I had done all three steps at once. Instead, it feels like I’m just following a straightforward routine.
My anxiety can also get in the way of publishing and submitting what I write. After finishing a project, I often immediately start thinking about deleting the entire thing. One of the things I remind myself of is how often I’ve been wrong about how my writing will be received. Several times, I’ve nearly deleted something, only to have it turn out far more popular than I imagined.
Whenever I’m posting something online, I have another trick that I use to reduce anxiety: I schedule the post in advance. Nearly all modern blogging software allows for scheduled posts. There are even third-party tools that allow scheduled posts on most social media.
The reason that scheduling a post ahead of time helps is that it removes the fear that I’ll immediately realize there’s something wrong with what I’ve written. It gives me the chance to back out later if I change my mind, so it doesn’t feel as permanent. In practice, I never actually back out, and by the time something posts, I’ve forgotten all about it.
The absolute most important thing that I’ve done to reduce my anxiety is simply to write more often. The first few times that I ever wrote in a professional context, I was incredibly stressed about how it would be received. Then I started a job in which I had to write lengthy memos every day, and they became so rote that I didn’t think twice.
I had the same experience when I started blogging. My first ever online post felt like an incredibly huge deal. I was incredibly anxious as I posted it, and nearly changed my mind at the last minute. These days, I blog so much that I rarely experience any anxiety when I do.
Like many types of anxieties, exposure can help to fight writing-based anxiety. Although it may feel crippling at first, it isn’t insurmountable. The more writing you do, the easier it gets to work through the anxiety. Eventually, I was able to reach the point where I rarely experience anxiety at all.