Do you suffer from writing anxiety every time you sit down to work?
You are not alone. I have been there, and so have thousands of writers like you.
If you feel writing anxiety whenever you start to write a new piece, I want to share the tactics I use to overcome it.
Let's get started.
Write Every Day
“It is by sitting down to write every morning that one becomes a writer.” — Gerald Brenan
Writing requires discipline.
If you feel anxious about the idea of writing, it means there’s something about it that scares you.
- You think you need to write everything in one sitting.
- You think your content can’t have any mistakes.
- You think you have to write as much as possible without stopping.
Your conception of writing causes your anxiety, not writing itself.
You can break that idea from your head through mere execution. The more you write, the easier writing will become. The more often you write, the faster you will break your anxiety.
If you are reading this and have a project, you have to write with a close deadline and stop postponing it.
- Open your computer.
- Open the first writing editor you have available.
- Start writing.
What you write will depend on your project. First, I recommend you write an outline with the central ideas you want to write about—one sentence is enough. Then, fill in the blanks. That's why I do it in my writing app, Bear.
Repeat the process every day. You want to develop a habit, so the more consistent you can be, the faster you progress.
If you can develop consistency with your writing, you can shut your anxiety until it doesn’t scare you anymore.
- How often do you write? Look at your to-do list and calendar and write it down.
- Create a daily task in your to-do app that says, "Write." Later on, you will make this task more specific.
- Set up at least 10 minutes in your calendar for writing.
You Don’t Need Expert Writing Skills
It requires years of exposure to the writing craft to develop a style you can call your own. It requires a lot of experience to know:
- What to say;
- What not to say, and;
- How to say it.
And to develop such an experience, you need to write consistently, not just for work, but for yourself.
Your content may not be as eloquent as the New York Times’, but who cares? You don’t write for them, so no one will ask you to write like an expert. At least, not yet.
If you are afraid that your content quality is subpar to your audience’s preferences, get an editor. An editor will read your content, come back with detailed, specific feedback, and will correct any grammar mistakes they may find.
And if an editor is too expensive, you can always rely on a tool like Grammarly. It's the closest to working with an editor you will get for free.
The more you write, the more experienced you will get, and the better your content will be. But you have to start somewhere.
Start writing today; the skills come later.
- Write down the limiting beliefs you have around your writing. Do you think you need to write like Malcolm Gladwell to be a writer? Do you think you need perfect grammar? Write everything down.
- Write a counterargument to each belief. For example, "I only need the reader to understand my ideas, even if I don't write them perfectly."
Focus on the Process, Not the Goal
Management gurus like Peter Drucker and motivational speakers like Brian Tracy popularized goal setting as a panacea for progress. "Set goals, and you will conquer the goal," they said.
I have nothing against goals—they have great benefits—but they can be counterproductive when you have writing anxiety.
A goal-obsessive mindset can distract you from a writer’s real goal: developing the craft of writing.
You can’t define a goal that says, “I want to write engaging articles and awe readers with my prose.”
What’s “engaging content”? What’s “awe-inspiring” content?
Your eyes shouldn’t be on the prize, but on the process.
You want to write every day. That’s your goal.
It’s ambiguous and general, which is wrong according to the goal-loving mantra, but it’s what you need.
The goal of writing daily focuses on the process—writing consistently—and not the goal—writing engaging content, or whatever your goal may be.
Yet this “ungoal” will help you reach your ultimate goal—writing a book, writing for The New York Times—because you focus on the process to help you achieve your goals.
It may take you years to get to the level you dream of. What matters is that you improve your writing skills.
Focus on the process of writing, not on your goals.
- What is your writing goal? Is it to write a book? To become a thought leader?
- Make your goal for the next month to develop a writing habit. That's all you care about; nothing else matters.
Use the “Zero Days” Method
What if you want to write every day, but you lack time to do so? What if you sit down to write and you can't think of anything to write about?
No one cares. You have to write every day.
If you don’t have a writing habit, you can never find the time to write. And you can’t find the time to write if you don’t have a writing habit.
The solution? Have no zero days.
The "zero days" concept was popularized by Reddit user ryans01, who explains:
What’s a zero day? A zero day is when you don’t do a single fucking thing towards whatever dream or goal or want or whatever that you got going on. No more zeros.
Didn’t do anything all fucking day and it’s 11:58 PM? Write one sentence. One pushup. Read one page of that chapter. One. Because one is non zero.
Turning into productivity ultimate master of the universe [sic] doesn’t happen from the vortex. It happens from a massive string of CONSISTENT NON ZEROS. That’s rule number one. Do not forget.
Here’s what a non-zero day looks for a writer:
- You have five minutes to write? Then write.
- You don’t have a computer? Write on your phone. Or with pen and paper.
- You don’t have an Internet connection? You don’t need one; you only need a writing app like Google Docs or Microsoft Word.
If you just write 100 words, it’s still better than writing no words. What’s more, it’s manageable.
If you dream of writing books, making six-figures, and becoming an authority in your field, hitting a non-zero day is much easier than writing a thousand words in one sitting.
You have no excuses: no more zero days.
- Promise yourself that you will not tolerate any zero days.
- Add an alarm to your to-do task to remind you to write.
- Get an accountability buddy.
- Go to r/NonZeroDay and write about your experience.
Chunk Your Content
Writing 100 words every day may seem achievable, but what if you have a week to write 10,000 words for a project you have been assigned to? What do you do?
Break your project in chunks.
A "chunk" is a specific number of words you need to write every day until you hit your goal.
To get your daily target, divide the number of words you have to write by the time you have to write them.
In this example, that’s 1,428 words per day (10,000 divided by 7).
With this target, you only need to write 1,428 words today. And tomorrow. And the following day. By the seventh day, you will have 10,000 words.
I know the example ignores the research and the edit phases, critical to writing without stress. In reality, you will have to add a buffer day for outlining and researching your piece, and one for editing.
If you did that, then in the example above, you would have to write 2,000 words per day (10,000 divided by 5). Still, that's easy compared to the idea of writing the entire ten thousand words in one sitting.
Do you know how I wrote my monster piece on guest blogging (which has somewhere 7,000 words)?
By chunking it.
I remember I was in Bali, working for several clients. I was busy, enjoying my time, meeting people. I knew I wanted to write a massive piece on a topic that I knew a lot about, which was popular.
After I wrote the outline, I knew the piece would be over 5,000 words. It was a lot of work, and it was scary.
But instead of getting paralyzed, I defined a simple goal: write 500 words a day.
Every day, no matter how busy I was, I wrote 500 words. For me, that’s about 15 to 20 minutes, which I took from my breakfast time.
Ten days later, I had finished the piece. By that time, I realized I had written a monstrosity. I couldn’t believe it. But I did it because I didn’t look at the entire project; I just looked at my 500 words.
If I had thought I would have written that much, I would have never done it. But 500 words a day got me there in a few weeks.
When you define a small writing goal, you will realize that writing isn't so hard. You will get into a "mood" that will drive you to write more than your plan.
In my case, I wrote way more than 500 words per day. Some days I doubled or tripled my goal.
By taking the pressure off my ultimate goal and focusing on the small daily target I had to hit, writing that article was fun.
Are you paralyzed with the enormity of your task ahead?
- Start with 100 words a day.
- Then 200.
- Then 300.
Before you know it, writing 1,000 words in one sitting will be a piece of cake.
- Define a daily target. If you have a project, you know requires a certain number of words, divide the total number by the time you have until your deadline. If you have no deadline, define one still.
- Every day, write until you hit your target. Once you hit it, you can continue, but only if you have to. It's better to leave some extra oil in the tank, so you start your next day with energy.
Use Writing Prompts
If you don’t know what to write about, you can use writing prompts.
The idea behind writing prompts is similar to chunking:
- You take a prompt about a specific topic (e.g., “write about your first overseas trip”).
- You write about it.
If I told you to write about your first job, it would be easy to write about it, wouldn’t it? You can write about anything related to it—who hired you, what you did, how your coworkers treated you, etc. The point is you write about that experience until you have nothing else to write.
The fact it's easy to write using prompts is why so many writers use it. They don't have to think about the topic to write about; they only focus on writing.
You can come up with your own writing prompts, or you can grab the ones from the following websites:
- Make a list of prompts you would like to write about. Alternatively, go to one of the sites in the list above and pick one prompt per day.
- Write your prompt until you have nothing else to write.
Write, Then Edit
“The first draft of everything is shit.” — Ernest Hemingway
All creative people have a perfectionist streak. We don't want to be vulnerable and show our "art" to the world. For a writer, this means:
- You write a sentence or paragraph.
- You stop and read what you wrote.
- You rewrite it slightly.
- You write some more.
- You stop and re-read everything.
- You delete everything and start over.
Has this ever happened to you?
If so, you need to understand that writing and editing are different activities. They are even separate professions.
Editing has its place, but when you sit down to write, you write. As I explained in my guide on writing an article, write without stopping.
Your goal is to put your ideas on paper. You want to express yourself; your message and ideas. You aim for meaning, not clarity.
Once you have done that, you can then untangle your words, polish them, and get them ready for the public to read.
Edit only after you write everything you have to write about.
To make this even easier, don’t write and edit on the same day. Give time for your ideas to marinate. You want to edit with a clear mind as if whoever wrote your content was a stranger and not you.
By separating writing and editing, you will have a clear goal: to write.
Doing so will put the process of writing first, with its outcomes second.
- If you see yourself editing your content as you write it, stop. Keep writing. You may hate yourself, knowing that your ideas aren't clear, but that's fine. There will be time to put everything into place once you have set the pieces in front of you.
- Create a task in your to-do list for editing. Schedule it for at least a day later after you finished writing. If possible, more—a weekend is a good idea, a week even better.
Outline Before Writing
I like outlining my articles in one day and writing it to the next one. In my outlines, I define the angle, the structure, and everything I want to write about in each section.
I put all the work I get from my research, whether that’s quotes, examples, ideas, or whatever they may be.
I find that the more I put in my outline, the easier it is to write because I have already put the dots in place; all I have to do is draw a line between them.
Stop Your Writing Anxiety Once and For All
You suffer from anxiety because you think writing is a complex, overwhelming activity. But it doesn’t have to be this way. All you have to do is destroy this idea and make it a docile, easy task.
- Write daily.
- You don't need to write like an expert; just write.
- Put the process above your goals.
- There are no zero days.
- Chunk your projects and hit your targets.
- Use prompts as guides.
- Write today, edit later.
The more you write, the faster you will destroy your anxiety. Take action now.