What anxieties do you have about writing?

Many times people avoid writing because of fears or anxieties they have about writing. In this section, some helpful questions guide a discussion about ways you can calm fears of writing and begin to work. Understanding where fears generate, and then understanding ways our writing influences others, can help lessen the fear of writing.

What is your response to this question about anxieties? Here are some typical responses:

"I can't get started writing."

"I can't think of anything worthwhile to say!"

"I don't write very well."

"I am afraid my writing won't make sense to others.

Notice that each of the responses above addresses a negative aspect about writing. Also, each of these responses is quite vague. Generalizations about your ability to write may be both crippling and incorrect! In answering this question for yourself, we encourage you to think about specific things about writing that bother you. The following examples help pinpoint specific reasons for having anxiety about writing:

"It takes me a really long time to write."

"I don't type easily, so writing on a computer is very difficult."

"I can't spell, and I have trouble with grammar."

"I can't come up with something to say until I've written several pages."

The more specific you can be about your anxieties, the more assistance you may be able to receive.

For example:

  • If you know that writing takes you a long time, plan ahead for writing assignments. Start a paper a week before the due date rather than a day before. Your anxiety may lessen, and you may enjoy writing a bit more!
  • If typing is difficult, explore voice recognition software programs that record your spoken words.
  • If spelling or grammar is a problem, make use of spell-checkers, buy a grammar handbook, or have a tutor review your work with you.

Once you are able to identify your specific anxieties, you can start to do something to alleviate them.

If you could improve any aspect of your writing, what aspect would you want to improve?

Answering the question about anxieties may help you identify aspects of writing you want to improve. For example, if you are anxious about spelling or grammar aspects of your writing, you might target that area to improve. Here are other aspects of writing that you might consider improving:

Aspect: Consider...

Audience: Addressing more fully the persons who read what you write (could be multiple layers of audience).

Purpose: Explaining why you are writing (to inform, convince, instruct, entertain).

Content: Including accurate and complete information in your writing.

Context: Acknowledging the situation that gave rise to the need for written communication.

Organization: Using reader-centered strategies to make sense of your writing: paragraphs, sections, headings.

Design: Following the guidelines for format, page layout, or page design.

Expression: Using appropriate voice (first, second, or third person), using correct grammar and mechanics.

Support: Using documentation, evidence, facts, statistics, examples to back up your argument.

Why do you write? 

In thinking about why you write, fill in the blank of the following sentence: "I write because...." Jot down some thoughts about pressures, requirements, or requests that prompt your writing.

Here are some examples:

  • I write because it is assigned.
  • I write because I can express my ideas more easily when I write.
  • I write to record things (like work hours, reports of tasks I have completed).
  • I write because it helps me brainstorm further ideas.
  • I write because to document my research.
  • I write because it is a way for me to express my creativity.
  • I write to communicate with others (e-mail, letters, memos).
  • I write so that I can convince others to provide funding for my projects (like grants).

When you begin to think about the reasons you are writing, you are thinking about purpose. Purpose is the "why" behind writing, and it drives a communication act. If you are stuck and cannot think what to write, think about the overall purpose you are writing.What are you trying to accomplish?

What do you write?

In answering this question, think about the types of documents that you write. Once you begin brainstorming, you'll see that writing takes place in a number of forms-not just in academic papers.

Here are some example documents:

  • Reports
  • Instructions
  • Articles
  • Memos and letters
  • Newsletters
  • Academic essays
  • E-mail correspondence
  • Brochures
  • Task reports
  • Web pages
  • Advertisements
  • Proposals


How do you write?

This question addresses another area of writing called process. Process involves the steps you take from beginning through finishing a piece of writing. Many people don't think about their process of writing, but identifying one's own individual process can be quite empowering! When identifying your process, you can begin to plan for your process and eliminate some of the stress from the writing activity.

Here is one person's process of writing.

"I guess I begin writing by cleaning. I have to have a clean desk where I am working, or I cannot think or begin to write. So I clean. If I am at home working, sometimes I clean my house before beginning to write! Or I might wash the dishes or clean the kitchen before beginning to write. When my environment is clean, I seem to have a clearer mind. Then I often take a piece of scratch paper and write ideas in pencil-like brainstorming. After that, I might begin typing on the computer. After I have written a draft, I often leave it overnight before reviewing it again for revision. Revisions sometimes take me up to a week, because I sometimes make major revisions like changing the organization or moving paragraphs around. I don't like to edit much, so after making major revisions, I often give my paper to a friend to proofread!"

Some scholars have identified steps that seem to occur in the writing process. These steps may include invention or brainstorming ideas, planning or outlining, drafting (or writing the paper), revising or making substantial changes, and editing (proofreading for mechanics and grammar). While these steps occur frequently in the writing process, they may not happen in the same way for each person. However, they often are fluid and recursive in a person's writing process. For example, a person may draft or revise several times before finishing a piece of writing.

How can we feel better about our writing?

Sadly, there are no quick fixes to eliminating anxieties about writing. But learning more about your writing can help ease anxieties you experience.

You might answer the following questions:

  • Why do you write?
  • What do you write?
  • How do you write?

These questions help us understand a few things about the genres, or forms of writing, that we use most often. Examples of genre are poems, correspondence (letters), reports, academic papers, Web pages, proposals, and so on. Understanding genres we most use also helps us understand what community to we belong to, what types of documents we are expected to write, and what rules must we follow when writing.

The more information we can collect about our reasons for writing, our types of writing, and our processes for writing, the more we know how to address anxieties we feel about writing.