Sometimes when you ask an author for advice on how to write a book they’ll tell you, “Just write.” They want you to know there’s nothing fancy about it. Like a baby learning to walk, you put one wobbly foot in front of the other, and voilà! The next thing you know you’re walking tall and steady like the big kids. But that’s not exactly the truth. Writing anxiety shows up in different ways for different people and at different times in the trajectory of our writing. For example, it’s very easy for me to write this blog post but I become more anxious when I’m working on my book.
The reality is that sometimes our thoughts do get in the way. We can have so much anxiety that we can’t “just write.” We can’t even move. I remember a time when I first started playing with the idea of being a professional writer. I joined a small writing group formed by some MFA students at a local college. Because they were getting their masters in creative writing, I looked at them as “serious writers” and I was nervous to be in their company. I marveled at the stories they shared, which I found sophisticated and fascinating. And the more I listened to them, the more I doubted myself. I don’t know how to write like that, I told myself, and helplessness set in. Although a professor had once pulled me to the side in undergrad to tell me how impressed he was with my writing and that I should seriously consider developing this talent, I felt like a complete failure among these writers. So, I always passed on sharing when it was my turn. The one time I mustered the courage to read, it sounded ridiculous to me. I shriveled in shame and never returned.
According to The Writing Center at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill “People aren’t born anxious writers; rather, they become anxious or blocked through negative or difficult experiences with writing.” I will add that we can also become blocked or anxious when our plate is too full or our stomachs are too empty. In other words, when we have too much on our minds or we are preoccupied with meeting our basic needs for survival. Other sources of writing anxiety include being worried about how our story might affect others involved, negative memories about the last time we tried our hand at something new and “failed”, or ongoing general anxiety of which writing is an extension. Whatever the case, Life-Changing Writing is here for you. Here are three gentle ways to ease into writing when you’re feeling anxious about it:
Read. Reading a book you like before you write can ease your anxiety because it’s a soothing activity and also because it provides an example to guide your writing.
Journal. Our journals are an experimental and non-judgemental space to empty our minds. We can be as nonsensical, whimsical, creative, or deep as we want in the privacy of our journals. It’s a great place to play around with story ideas and character development too.
Write for yourself first. Suspend the supercritical audience in your mind. Give them an intermission and write for yourself. The first draft is for you! Keep it simple and easy and make it make sense to you.
Remember, getting through writing anxiety is about putting one wobbly foot in front of the other. You may never get rid of writing anxiety 100 percent and that’s ok. There are many ways to harness that anxiety to fuel your creativity, which I’ll discuss in another post. But for now, at least you have some tools to help you get through it and pretty soon you’ll forget there ever was a time when you couldn’t write with ease.