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What Writer Anxiety Looks Like

Photo credit: Vic

Photo credit: Vic

Some anxiety is normal for all writers. Knowing which is “normal,” or anxiety we can work with, and which is potentially crippling, is important. It helps us locate areas to work on.

Fear looks different for every writer and we all find our own “original” methods for placating that anxiety. In last week’s post, Writer Anxiety, we looked at the kinds of fears writers face.  But what does writer fear look like? Honestly examining your writer’s life for signs of anxiety that hold you back is key to moving forward.

I like to organize when I’m not ready to write, so I spent a bit of time organizing into categories what writer anxiety looks like in my world. For me there are three basic branches: preparing, distracting, and pretending.


Preparing can feel productive. It can feel as if we’re moving forward, but it isn’t writing.

Examples of avoiding writing through preparation:

  • You spend all your writing time doing research and developing back story but never progress to actual prose.
  • You tell yourself you’ll write after another writer conference or a coveted grant or fellowship.
  • You insist on having your writing space (or notes, research, etc.) perfectly organized before you can write.
  • You outline and plan your writing instead of writing.
  • You promise yourself you’ll write as soon as you get a new computer, keyboard, laptop, <fill in the blank>.

Distractions are the devil in the best of times, but for an anxious writer, distractions grow to fill our field of vision until they become obstacles to overcome. While part of us works to scale these mole hills, another part of us is secretly satisfied we have avoided words for another day.

Examples of avoiding writing through distraction:

  • You find too many other “urgent” things to do during writing time.
  • You “sacrifice” writing time for the perceived needs of others.
  • You continually seek the right environment or right circumstances before you’ll put a word down on paper.
  • You don’t maintain a regular writing practice or often miss scheduled time.
  • You’ve used the words “someday” and “write” in the same sentence.
  • You tell yourself there’s no point sitting down to write until X happens, or Y is resolved, or Z arrives because you just can’t give words your whole focus.

Pretending can also feel productive, but with a twist. We’ve written enough to gain entrance into the world of writers, but only just, and we go no further.

Examples of avoiding writing through pretending:

  • You work on writing or editing the same scene over and over instead of writing new material.
  • You abandon one writing project for another and do this over and over instead of finishing any.
  • You talk about writing instead of writing.
  • You attend writer’s group, conferences, and classes, often trotting out the same short story, instead of writing.

The best part about writer anxiety is that most writers go through it, so it’s not too difficult to find a friendly ear and a little commiseration. The worst part about writer anxiety is that so many people get stuck there.

Anxiety is not a bad thing by itself. Anxiety can clue us in that something is important or personal. It can indicate our story is going off track (or possibly that it should). The only bad anxiety is the one that keeps you from writing all together.

Next week: Some ideas for overcoming (or at least getting along with) fear.


Did anything in the above lists feel familiar?

2 thoughts on “What Writer Anxiety Looks Like

  1. Unfortunately, yes, all of these seem familiar 😉 But, I guess recognition and self-awareness is the only way you will ever overcome any problem, or fear in this case. Looking forward to the dealing with, coping with, getting along with article next up in the series 🙂

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