Writing is undeniably a personal process; everyone does it differently. A 200-word short answer on a Leonardo Da Vinci prompt could only take half an hour to complete for Person A (easy peasy lemon squeezy), yet take Person B six times that amount of time and eight times the effort. It’s individual. Because everyone has different ideas, distractions, strengths, weaknesses, etc., everyone has different writing processes. My own process just happens to be of the slow, difficult, dreadful variety similar to that of Person B. I have writing anxiety (and it sucks).
You’ve probably heard of test anxiety: as my fellow TP colleague Jillian Feinstein writes, “when your nerves prevent you from performing well on a test,” or, “when you’re unable to show everything you know because you’re so worried.” Writing anxiety is similar. I can’t quite pin down an exact definition, since anxiety differs from person to person, but the Writing Center of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill generally defines it as “a wide variety of apprehensive and pessimistic feelings about writing.” For me, that means procrastination, panic attacks, and ridiculous amounts of time staring blankly at a Word document. For you, it could be anything; like I said, it’s individual. If you think you might have writing anxiety, if you’re looking up at Mt. Essay-Everest and feeling completely downtrodden, or if you’re just caught up on that last college essay, here are some tips.
1. Lungs. You have them. Breathe. Take a minute and go do whatever you do that clears your head: meditation, going for a run, sketching out caricatures–y’know, whatever your thing is. Do it. Focusing on my breathing, trying not to think of anything else but my lungs expanding and contracting, is what works for me when I start hyperventilating. It calms me down and levels me out. Just make sure you set a time limit for yourself, so you actually go back to work eventually. It’s easy to take a break and never go back to work.
2. Find a place. Designate a place where you can concentrate very well as your writing spot. The library, a desk, under your bed (yes, I do that) are all pretty good options. Pick an environment that’s easy to access and fits your needs (do you want absolute quiet or some background noise?). Every time you write a letter, send an email, compose anything, come here to do it. Come here especially to write the compositions that are easiest for you, like writing in a daily journal. If you start associating this place without the normal anxiety you feel, then you won’t correspond it with negative feelings. Eventually you can start writing your anxiety-inducing papers in this place. Being in a location where you feel comfortable can dramatically reduce anxiety, although I don’t recommend your bed. Falling asleep while working on something you have to get done by tomorrow is the worst.
3. Make time. Speaking of a daily journal, take a bit of time every day to write something. This is kind of cliche, but it works. The more often you write, the less intimidating it feels. It becomes normal, a habit, so when that huge paper is assigned, it won’t feel like too much of a big deal anymore. You do this every day, so what’s there to be scared about? You got dis. So go show ‘em.
4. You’ve got a friend in me. Although I don’t personally follow this tip, some people like to find writing buddies. Like exercise buddies, they make you feel a sense of obligation to write. If you miss out on one of your meetings, you have to go apologize. Just that fact alone can motivate you to keep to your writing schedule. Also, sometimes it can be fun to share your daily writings with someone you trust. It keeps communication open, and it can improve your friendship. (Warning: don’t piss off your writing buddy. If you’re in a spat with someone you’re supposed to see every day, it won’t turn out well.)
5. Check yo’self ‘fo’ you wreck yo’self. Realize that writing is hard. No one’s perfect at it. There’s always room to improve. Just because you feel like you might need a bit more help than your classmates, that’s not a reason to feel inadequate. You deserve to be in that class, that high school, that college. And you deserve to be a person with important opinions you want to share. Remember that you’re not alone, and I encourage you to seek out opportunities to write more often. I’m a writer/editor for TP, and it’s given me practice and confidence in my writing skills. It’s great to be surrounded by others who support you. Look for those opportunities and pounce on them.
Anxiety is honestly the biggest pain in my bum out of all the pains in my bum I’ve ever had. It truly, seriously, no-joke sucks. Spending six hours to write three not-even-well-developed sentences is ridiculous (my true horror story of last weekend). If you’re part of this club, I’m sorry. I hope my tips have helped you. For more information, here are some resources to look into: the University of Richmond’s Writing Center and a piece from Inside Higher Ed.
I’m putting this on my “Reasons Why I’m Considering Majoring in Math” list. Good luck, peeps!