5 tips for managing writing anxiety

academics expository writing High School writing

Some writing anxiety is inevitable and even useful. But if your anxiety is keeping you from producing your best work, try the strategies below to improve your writing process.

Write a "bad" first draft

Contrary to popular belief, revision is not a remedial task for weak writers. In fact, professional writers embrace revision. The writer Anne LaMott says that most good writing comes out of bad first drafts. Instead of pressuring yourself to create a polished paper on the first try, require yourself to explore, go off on tangents, and even make a mess. Draft your way to new, surprising ideas that would not have occurred to you if you had adhered rigidly and joylessly to a mechanical outline. Write without judgment in your early drafts, knowing that you can refine your work later.

Set small goals

Break writing projects into small steps that you can accomplish in a single writing session. For instance, aim to write a specific number of words, integrate quotations, or complete a particular section within a designated timeframe. Achieving these smaller goals not only makes the writing process more approachable but also gives you a sense of accomplishment and wellbeing around writing.

Write with a timer

Long, high-pressure writing sessions fuel anxiety. Instead, consider using shorter, focused writing sessions to increase your productivity. Start by setting a timer for 15-45 minutes of uninterrupted writing time. If you are experiencing so much writing anxiety that 15 minutes feels daunting, begin with just 5 minutes and gradually increase the duration. Encourage yourself to write quickly and messily, without judgment, for that time. During this designated writing time, remove all non-essential technology and distractions. When the timer goes off, take a mandatory 15-minute break. Even if you are in the zone, taking regular breaks helps maintain your stamina for future writing sessions. Just as running a marathon can leave you unable to move the next day, pushing your brain too hard can leave you intellectually listless.

Talk to ChatGPT

Yes, I am an English professor recommending ChatGPT. No, ChatGPT should not write your papers (it can’t yet write very good essays, anyhow). But ChatGPT can be a writing tool just as a calculator can be a math tool. Use it in as a sounding board for your ideas, as a brainstorming tool, as inspiration, or as a confidence booster to confirm that your ideas are on the right track. Of course, the analysis and final writing product must be your own.

Write the assignment as a parody

If you feel intimidated or bored by an assignment, write a draft of it as a parody. Playing with the genre you’re working in is a great way to learn its rules and structures. This tactic can also loosen you up to write creative, memorable work—often by accident. 

Writing your piece as a parody of itself can also help with boredom. Boredom and anxiety often live close together and can even be mistaken for one another. If you feel underwhelmed by the topic you’re required to write about, adopt the role of an actor. Write from the perspective of a character who is utterly, even comically, fascinated by the dry topic. You might even write a draft of the paper as a dramatic monologue. Ham it up, have fun, and revise later.

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