How To Overcome Writing Anxiety

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated April 5, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

For many people, writing can offer tremendous solace and be a fun and creative way to explore a new world and exercise their creativity. But if you have any experience with writing, you’ve probably also encountered the frustrations of writing anxiety and writer’s block. Understanding the situational nature of writing anxiety can empower writers to employ tailored strategies for overcoming it.

How to overcome anxiety in the writing process

Whether you're looking to embark on a longer project or just want to get the words flowing, the following strategies for overcoming anxiety may help you rekindle your writing.

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Anxious about writing?


When the words just aren't coming, it can be frustrating for it to seem like you'll never be able to come up with the right thing to say or the right idea to pursue. Instead of mulling over your setbacks, you may benefit from free associating. See what your unconscious mind comes up with and be sure to keep a notebook handy to jot down any interesting connections, phrases, or ideas. This is a great exercise to warm up your mind and get into a good writing mindset, and you might be surprised by what you come up with when you're not thinking about writing directly.

Keep a journal

From Sylvia Plath to Virginia Woolf, many renowned writers have been avid journal keepers. Journals can be a great way to instill a daily practice of writing in a less stressful environment; they can be a refreshing change of pace, allowing you to play around, explore your thoughts, and get into the habit of writing just for the pleasure of it.

A journal is like a garden, where the seeds of phrases, fragments, and ideas may one day flower into poems, stories, or essays. Since your journal is just for you, you don't have to worry about the quality of the writing or the expectation that someone might someday read it. You don’t even have to explain things that another reader might not understand. This is just for you to write as you like.

You may experience anxiety when writing life experiences that may have brought on negative feelings. Giving yourself a writing task that brings these negative or difficult experiences to the surface can be a great way to process what happened and how it may have affected you. That said, working with a mental health professional through online therapy may provide helpful structure and encouragement along your journaling journey, all from the comfort of your own home. 

Try writing by hand 

Whether writing for work, school, or creative endeavors, there are numerous benefits to writing by hand. Writing things down by hand often pushes you to be more concise and to think more carefully about your words. On the flip side, however, writing by hand also discourages editing and encourages the practice of completing an entire first draft before going back to reread your work.

Conversely, in writing situations where you’re typing, it's easy to get stuck on the first sentence, writing and removing the same words many times over. Writing by hand encourages you to continue on, even if things aren't perfect. You can always go back to it later with a little red pen and make things better.

Go for a walk

If you're stuck on writing deadlines — external or self-imposed — it can be tempting to force yourself to sit at your desk until you complete the assignment. However, staying in one place for too long isn't always good for creativity or productivity and may exacerbate your writing anxiety.

Walking can help us think better by letting our minds work through things at their own pace. Exercise also improves memory, attention, and cognition and has lasting positive effects both physically and mentally. Walking is also conducive to thought in that it lets our minds wander, freeing us up to follow new trains of thought or simply to dwell on thoughts, ideas, and sensations without the pressure of writing them down. Writers have long used walks to work through their thoughts before writing them down.

Create something physical 

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Feel overwhelmed by writing? Try activating a different part of your brain by making something with your hands. Creating something physical rather than verbal can be a great way to engage your creative faculties without the pressure and anxiety that sometimes come with writing. Similar to walking, physical creation is also a great way to let the mind work through ideas and problems without focusing on them directly. Whether you're into knitting, baking, carpentry, or some other creative physical enterprise, switching activities can shake things up mentally and help you overcome writing roadblocks. 

What’s more, the finished product will be something tangible you can eat, wear, or hold, marking physical progress. So, when your mind is too burnt to write, or you're facing writing anxiety, start your palms on a different project.

Read widely and often

Some of the best writers in the world are also avid readers. Whether you write for work, school, or pleasure, it's common to find that your pieces become stale or repetitive after a sustained period of writing. Reading and writing only your own words is often a recipe for stagnation. If you're frustrated by your writing, try picking up a book or magazine and seeing how professional writers approach their tasks. For further reading about academic writing in particular, Oxford University Press offers a range of reference texts.

Reading widely in various genres and styles can help introduce you to new tactics and thinking methods that will inevitably improve your work. Reading works by authors with different backgrounds or opinions than you can be similarly fruitful — and books aren't the only things that will enrich your creativity. Other media like magazines, radio, TV, and games can also do the trick. When your creative mind feels like it's running on empty, be sure to fill it up with quality fuel.

Consider a challenge

Sometimes, the best way to break out of a creative rut and overcome writing anxiety is to set a challenge for yourself. One of the most popular creative writing challenges is the National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, which takes place each November, encouraging hundreds of aspiring writers to attempt to write a novel before December.

The key here is to break down the elements of your future novel into manageable tasks to complete for each of the 30 days in November. Goal setting like this is a great mechanism to avoid overwhelming and negative experiences with writing. You don’t have to write the whole novel today; perhaps you just have to map out the plotline — and suddenly, the project becomes lighter.

A similar project takes place during National Poetry Month in April, where poets from around the world set goals to write a poem a day for the month. Whether you're attempting fiction, poetry, or another genre, an ambitious goal can be the perfect thing to kick-start your activity and overcome writing anxiety.

Avoid stressing about the first draft of a writing task

Trying to make your writing perfect on the first try is tempting. Whether you're a writer by trade and inclination or are just trying to complete a writing assignment for work or school, a polished first draft is a common goal to have in mind. But first drafts are rarely perfect — they often take several drafts and a lot of sustained effort to emerge as a solid, finished product. Instead of focusing on perfection, try letting the first draft be a place to explore ideas, try out turns of phrase, and experiment with your writing. 

You can always go back later and smooth things over. For most writers, a couple of drafts are often necessary, so it's a great time to experiment, have fun, and get as many words down on the page as you can. After all, the first draft doesn't have to be perfect — it just has to be done.

Avoid procrastinating on a writing assignment
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Anxious about writing?

Whether you're working on writing assignments for school or work, trying to hit the deadline for a call for submissions for creative work, or have told yourself for the past year that tomorrow will be the day you'll start writing the next great American novel, procrastination is a familiar beast to most. Procrastination also goes hand in hand with writing anxiety and often intensifies it. Many people first use procrastination as a tool to churn out high school papers and assignments the night before they're due, and it can be a difficult habit to break. 

Sometimes, it's easier to create under pressure — but procrastination can also result in lukewarm first drafts and not enough time to go back and edit. Instead of procrastinating, try to break up writing projects into chunks and complete a little bit at a time. If a time crunch helps you write, try instituting a self-imposed deadline several days before the work is due. That way, you can pull an all-nighter, sleep all afternoon, and edit with rested eyes the following day.

Once you've finished a draft or two of a project, it's tempting to read and edit it continuously until it's perfect. But at this stage, you're often too close to the work to do it justice. Whether you're having trouble getting the next chapter down or aren't sure how to polish a rough draft into something better, the best option is often to walk away. Take some time for yourself, work on other projects, and try to forget about the draft sitting in your desk drawer or computer drive. After enough time has passed, be it a few days or a few weeks, you can return to your work with fresh eyes and more accurately judge its merits and areas that could use improvement.

Edit courageously

Even if you're proud of your first draft writing, editing can provoke a whole new round of writing anxiety. Writing, rewriting, and editing take courage. It's good to remind yourself that even if your writing needs work, there are worthwhile things about your writing. Editing can often be like carving sculptures from marble or polishing gems from rough material. Beautiful things are waiting underneath the surface, but they need a little help to take their true form. 

Don't be afraid to edit your writing, and then send it off to others and see what they think, whether that means a close friend or family member, a beta reader, or a professional editor. When the process is through and you think it’s done, try not to fear stepping away and sending it out into the world.

Seek assistance from a writing center

Sometimes, a writer’s inner critic gets too difficult to ignore. When critiquing your own writing gets overwhelming, it may help to turn to a trusted writing buddy for constructive criticism. Alternatively, you might prefer to join a writing group whose focus is on workshopping drafts. Group settings can provide a place where you can learn from experienced writers of various ages and backgrounds.

If you are writing from campus, your college or university may offer a writing center, where an academic advisor or other colleagues of the school can help you with the writing process and formatting citations. This will help with meeting deadlines and avoiding getting negative feedback or a “bad” grade from your professor.

Collaborating on a writing project with a partner or partners serves as an effective strategy for managing writing anxiety and acquiring diverse skills. The process allows for the exchange of ideas, feedback, and insights, offering as many skills and learning opportunities as there are people involved.

Takeaway

While writing anxiety and stress are common, it doesn’t need to have a hold on you forever. From free-associating to taking time away from the draft you’re working on or finding bite-sized chunks to work on, there are numerous tools and tips you can implement in your daily life as a writer at any level. You may also benefit from working through your anxiety online with a trained mental health professional. Learn more about .
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