Confronting Writing Anxiety
by Lauren Cone, UR Writing Consultant
(printable version here)
Potential Situations Caused by Writing Anxiety—The Undesirable Effects of Stress
Having some level of anxiety associated with writing is normal, and often a sign that a writer cares about doing well. If this anxiety motivates the writer to devote thought and effort to their writing, this stress-induced attitude and mindset can have a certain positive value.
In excessive quantities, however, stress can be a hindrance; herein lies the problem. Here are some typical results of writing anxiety:
1.A writer might continually postpone working on their assignment and get a late start. Procrastination can then lead to more stress, as the writer may feel they do not have time to adequately plan and edit their writing.This procrastination adversely affects both the quality of the writing and reduces a writer's sense of control over the situation.
2. Sometimes a writer might become so nervous that you feel unable to write anything at all. This feeling is known as writer’s block. Writer's block can contribute to other habits, such as procrastination above.
3. On the other end of the spectrum, a writer might devote too much time to worrying about how to make your paper perfect. In addition to causing you unnecessary stress, this approach can take away time from other important activities or assignments (Ryan 43).
None of these is the ideal way to write a paper (nor the way to be a healthy, well-rounded college student). Thankfully, by assessing and adjusting one's approach to writing, a writercan confront both the personal and practical causes of their anxiety.
Causes for Writing Anxiety—Knowing the Enemy and Knowing Yourself
First, it helps to identify the cause(s) of the anxiety. If the writer can locate the factors that affect their attitude about writing, they can take steps to confront these factors and put their situation in perspective.
Writing anxiety can result from a variety of social and academic factors. A writer may worry about their grade in a class, nervous about the deadline for a paper, be pressured by their parents to excel, fear failure, be competitive by nature, be preoccupied with other issues and classes, or the professor may seem intimidating and relentless (Ryan 51-2, Sherwood 6).
Such circumstances are typical and understandable. They do, however, increase stress levels and turn paper writing into a fraut ordeal. The good news is that they do not have to dictate either a writer's state of mind or the paper they produce. Once a writer hasidentified if any of the factors above resemble their anxiety, they can then try to locate and evaluate these triggers. Recognition begins the process of reevaluation and relief.
Some tecqniques that writers can use to begin this process include:
- Being reasonable and fair: Ask: What are my expectations for myself? What are other’s expectations of me? Are these appropriate? Intimidating? Motivating?
- Using realistic language: Would a less-than-perfect grade on one assignment literally ruin my academic record?
- Living with balance and contentment Is my anxiety a one-time occurrence or a common situation for me? Does the pursuit of doing something perfectly keep me from participating in things I enjoy? How do my lifestyle choices affect my academics—and vice versa?
It may help to discuss answers with a trusted friend, family member, professor, or counselor.
Where to Go from Here—Practical Steps to Unlock the Writer in You
Understanding the assignment well is a basic but significant part of feeling confident in one's ability to begin writing.
- Read the assignment carefully. Circle the key terms. Ask the professor to clarify anything about which they are uncertain.
- If possible, arrange to meet with the professor during his/her office hours. Making this personal connection can be quite valuable. It can help a writer understand their professor’s expectations of them and of the assignment. Furthermore, it allows the writer to better understand they have resources, and make a daunting task seem more realistic. Also, taking the time to meet with him/her demonstrates that the writer treats the class and assignment with respect.If the writer repeatedly struggles with anxiety, or simply finds one particular assignment to be overwhelming, speaking with their professor ahead of time can keep him or her well informed, and make finding reasonable accomodations simpler.
Brainstorming and organizing your ideas can be just as important as the writing of your actual paper. Some helpful resources include:
- “Getting Started” Putting your ideas down on paper (or a screen) is an important step to beginning your writing process. In this section of Writer’s Web, you will find links to several sites that propose low-pressure pre-writing strategies. Experiment with different types of pre-writing techniques discussed in this section and see what works well for you.
- "Building Writing Confidence" Writing Consultant G. M. Smith shares some techniques to make writing an easier experience.
- “Where to Start a Paper” Here, you can begin to explore the thoughts you have informally. As you respond to the questions on this web site, you will begin to make sense of the assignment. You might be surprised by how much you are ready and able to write.
- “How to Write an Outline” Writing Consultant Kathleen Lietzau explains the different types of outlines and the steps to take to make an effective outline. An outline lays out where you are headed before you get started, and this means that you are less likely to get lost along the way.
A writer can decrease the levels of stress and anxiety that accompany writing a paper by treating it as something that remains within their control. Here are some techniques to turn the task monster back into just another assignment.
- Manage the paper so it appears to be anything but a huge, formless undertaking. Break up the paper into segments (a good number is about three) based on the specific areas or arguments the paper will explore. Then, work on one piece at a time. Try an outline to help create these segments. How to Write an Outline.
- Set goals, such as writing section “A” on Monday, and then take a reward. Breaks and small rewards (buying a soda, calling a friend, watching a favorite television program, etc.) keep one's mind from getting fatigued, and they reinforce positive behavior.
- Resist the urge to edit as while writing. This interrupts any thought flow, and it often wastes time in the long run. Focus on getting out the ideas first. The writer can stop and review later. If writing a full paper without precise edits is intimidating, try freewriting or clustering to open the creative floodgates.
- Meeting with a Writing Consultant can help make the paper more clear and coherent; a writer can discuss such issues as organization, support, and sentence structure. Click here to review walk in times and consultant aviliability.
Keep in mind that the University of Richmond offers a great, free resource: Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) . Academic concerns and stress are two of the biggest reasons why students meet with counselors. If you would like to make an appointment, visit the CAPS office at 138 Sarah Brunet Hall.
Ryan, Leigh. The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2002. Print.
Sherwood, Steve. “Humor and the Serious Tutor.” Writing Center Journal 13.2 (1993): 3-12. Print.
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Checked & proofread, fall 2018, Griffin Myers, Writing Consultant