Writing Anxiety

I’ve been struggling for a few weeks with writing anxiety. Every time I  think about my novel my heart races and I want to break down and cry. I’m beating myself up for starting a novel in the first place. Why is novel-writing so much harder than essay-writing for me?

After researching writing anxiety, I found an article on The Writing Center’s website at The University of North Carolina that explains writing anxiety and writer’s block:

“Writing anxiety” and “writer’s block” are informal terms for a wide variety of apprehensive and pessimistic feelings about writing. These feelings may not be pervasive in a person’s writing life. For example, you might feel perfectly fine writing a biology lab report but apprehensive about writing a paper on a novel. You may confidently tackle a paper about the sociology of gender but delete and start over twenty times when composing an email to a cute classmate to suggest a coffee date. In other words, writing anxiety and writers’ block are situational (Hjortshoj 7). These terms do NOT describe psychological attributes. People aren’t born anxious writers; rather, they become anxious or blocked through negative or difficult experiences with writing.”

In my particular case, the term writing anxiety is more accurate than writer’s block. I’ve never felt this type of anxiety associated with writing.

My anxiety is from writing about the unknown. In college, I wrote academic papers, and I’ve done a lot of personal essay writingbasically I’ve written a lot of non-fiction. Aside from a few poems, this novel is my first attempt at fiction and it’s a HUGE project. My expectations are too high for my first draft. I’m frustrated with the narrative discourse, and I’m having a really hard time grasping my character’s motivation. My story is all over the place and I need a way to wrangle it together.

I made a rookie mistake; I didn’t have a thorough outline. By using Jamie Gold’s romance beat sheet, I’m able to observe and organize my novel on a high-level and dissect the details.

I’m still dealing with writing anxiety, but the beat sheet has given me new direction. I also found a few methods for coping with writing anxiety that I would like to share with you:

  • Brainstorm/Outline/Organize

Sometimes you have to take a few steps back from your project and instead of writing your story you have to build your story. This is where the beat sheet can be extremely helpful.

  • Free Write

Give yourself 10 minutes with a pen and paper and  write whatever you want about your current project. If you can’t think of anything, or your mind goes blank, just write “nothing” “blank” “blah” until something comes, but you have to commit 10 minutes.

  • Find A Writing Buddy

Find someone who you can share ideas with and who is open for peer review. Try to find someone who has experience reading/writing the same genre you are writing. You will get invaluable feedback and will help with creative isolation.

Have you struggled with writing anxiety? How did you push through it?

Love & Cheers,

Rachel McKee




Author: Rachel McKee

I love reading about everything. I'm not a book snob. Lately I have been "reading" a lot of picture books to my toddler and baby. In my past life before motherhood, I was a professional technical editor and writer.

33 thoughts on “Writing Anxiety”

      1. That’s true, sometimes I wonder if I should just stick to essay writing. Maybe I’m forcing a writing style that isn’t right for me. Anyway, I guess this is all part of the journey. 😊

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’m certain you shouldn’t stick to just essay writing. I was in a similar situation with my novel, and when I was about to pack it up I began the blog, and that has given birth to the journal. The novel is still there, it just needed me to take a different path beforehand is all. Maybe it’s the same for you, too x

        Liked by 2 people

      3. I think the journey wouldn’t be worth it without all the twists and turns. Thank you, I’m so touched you enjoy my words, I really am. I wasn’t like this a few years ago, but things have a way of falling into place for everyone 🙂 x

        Liked by 2 people

  1. I take writer’s block as a break for my imagination to flow better. In this time, I stretch back and take some time to think about my story, my world, my characters (though I don’t write anything, still there’s a lot going on in head) and we writers know already, writing the novel isn’t the only part of novel, world building character development and so many other things are also there!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Writing anxiety often does come from our own internal pressures. Sometimes it comes from outside influences. But most of the time it’s our personal insecurities making us panic.

    When I was about 16, I started the first draft of a story that I proceeded to re-write about 5 times, and then I finally liked the whole plot, all the characters, and the ending. Then I woke up one day and decided I hated the entire thing, and deleted the project. Yup, a lot of work gone. But, what the biggest problem was, was this: I’d based the whole premise (character motivation, plot, setting) on what I thought other people would think the story should be. The cardinal sin of writing fiction.

    So, I really don’t regret trashing that project. It taught me a lot regardless.

    My current WIP started life as very different in a lot of ways, but I figured out where I was, again, trying too hard for others, and focused more on my characters (after all, they exist only in my head, I control them), what they needed/wanted, and what their story really should be (in my eyes).

    If the outline is helping, then go nuts with it. Outlines don’t work for me, but I know a lot of people do find them helpful. Basically, getting over my writing anxiety required reaching a moment of “to hell with it” – ultimately deciding that I can’t care what others think the story “should” be, and that I need to stay true to my voice, my purpose, my goal in telling this tale.

    Hope some of this helps!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ahhhh Thank you so much for this reminder! I really appreciate you sharing your experience with me. I feel like I lost the connection to my characters and I need to find them again.


      1. Our characters are only our creations. When we decide what’s going to happen to them, or what they’ll choose to do, we’re playing their shrink. For example, only we ultimately select a plot point/motive for them, and we base it on what we’ve made them. Not to get close to a God complex discussion 😉 but it’s the truth. You’re welcome!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I think other people are going to be a lot more interested in your writing, and more generous and enthusiastic in their reviews, than you will be. Our own writing sucks to us because we’ve seen it a million times; others have never seen it and will find it fresh, and some will love it.

    Don’t try to make everything perfect the first time. Just get the raw materials down and then shape them. Someone at Pixar said that every Pixar movie was, at one point in its production, the worst movie ever made.

    Don’t give up!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. The quote from the Writing Center’s website was really interesting and for me–definitely true! I still remember when I was plodding through my dissertation, back in the nineties, I constantly wrote fiction.

    It was as if the creative writing was an antidote to the research writing which to this day I don’t really care for. I enjoy reading well researched non-fiction, but not writing it. BUT I still love crafting my stories.

    And yes, I can relate to what you say. I finished an outline for my novel two weeks ago. Why do I hesitate? Why the doubts? Ah Rachel, the path is long and time is short. But keep heart. You’ll definitely get there!

    Your post is a welcomed read!
    Thank you so much.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Great post Rachel. I think there would be very few writers who haven’t suffered from writing anxiety. It’s all part of the journey. I really like your tips and glad you found Jamie Gold’s beat sheet helpful. I have learnt to try not to stress out over my writing and trust my instincts that the answer will come. I find walking and music helps because when my brain is distracted I get really good ideas. Please feel free to flick anything my way if you want a review – would be glad to help! Good luck, keep going and never, ever give up!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Anxiety – in my opinion – is a positive sign.
    True: anxiety blocks creativity or make it difficult.
    The strength of anxiety increases with 3 causes:
    * The ambiguity of the objective or the general philosophy of theme / project.
    * Have more readers in the number in the space (cities, states, countries ..)
    * Have a respect “special” to a man or group of men who read our creations.
    The solution – always in my opinion – is self education strong increase confidence be same: Make training every day to write without thinking of any person or group of people. I write because I’m like that. I write because I have a good brain. I write becaufe others should accept me and love me as I am. I write and I do not expect ANYTHING feedback from readers. I write for myself in history. I write because I have a talent and a system of thinking “personal”.
    [That’s my thinking when done painting]

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This is really useful feedback. The three reasons for anxiety that you listed are correct. You are so wise! I just ordered a few books from the library that are “help” guides to writing fiction. I started to free write yesterday and actually got a few more pages down, I had to turn off my inner-critic. Thank you for your input, I really respect your opinions.


      1. I have a little advice to add:
        Let your dear husband help you with 2 actions:
        1) prepare you the ideal conditions for writing with – also – his sweet gestures.
        2) He will give you his little remarks and encouragement after each finished chapter.
        Your husband is the only one who has this right, and that will
        (Passes him my salvation)

        Liked by 1 person


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