For academics, writing is the public face you show to the world. It’s the basis on which you are judged by your peers, for both jobs and promotions. There is a lot riding on the written word, so its no wonder that writing can be a source of anxiety and fear.The apprehension that writers feel generally takes a recognizable form. In my work with clients, I have noticed three types of fear that prevent them from writing confidently.
Fear you have nothing to say.
We can all think of a time where we sat in front of a blank document, whether on our screen or our desk. You feel as if you literally have nothing to write down – you can’t think of any ideas, arguments, or anything. This feeling of paralysis is common for writers, and it stems from a lack of confidence in your own ideas.
Fear that what you say isn’t smart.
You can already hear the counterarguments as you start writing. You just know your argument makes no sense, that you’ll be embarrassed to share it with anyone else. Everyone has felt a sense of impostor syndrome, and this feeling is even more intense when we are faced with the prospect of distributing our work.
Fear that you’ll have to revise it.
You dread the fact that what you put on paper will not be the final product. You don’t know where to start the revision process, and you are worried that you can’t possibly produce anything better on the second or third try.
Ways to conquer your fears:
Prepare for writing: Make sure you ready to write, and keep in mind that “ready” can have different meanings. Take notes on your readings, be sure your data is organized, and have any writing guides handy. You’ll feel more prepared, which in turn can alleviate some anxiety.
Acknowledge that the first draft will be bad: There is absolutely no shame in writing a first draft that is bad. It’s called a “rough” draft for a reason. Your fear in part comes from unrealistic expectations. If you are thinking that your writing won’t be as good as a book or article you read, it’s because that book or article is a finished product, a result of multiple drafts and revisions. Think of your drafts as a form of practice, akin to the practice of athletes or musicians. All of these professionals consistently work on their craft, tweaking their strategies or approach, exploring new ways to get the best results, and so forth. You should approach your writing in a similar manner. Embrace the fact that you will revise, and with each revision you will see the quality of your manuscript improve.
Join a writing group: Seeing other people’s writing evolve will serve as a useful reminder that every writer works through various stages of completion in their writing. It can be reassuring to know that you are not the only person who writes rough drafts! A writing group also creates a sense of accountability that can motivate you to write even when you’re feeling nervous.
Work with an editor or writing coach: This isn’t just a plug for my own services. Working with a disinterested third party can be useful, especially if you are nervous about sharing your work with others. An editor will be objective, but will never hold your writing against you. You’ll never have to worry about seeing your editor in the hallways or at a conference, knowing they read work that you’re not proud of. You might feel more confident sending your manuscript out for review by peers or mentors after you’ve been assured that it “makes sense” and that there are no glaring inconsistencies or mistakes.
Do you experience anxiety about writing? How do you work through it?