Writing Anxiety Part I: Writing as a Daily Practice
After years spent teaching at several universities and coaching clients, I have heard many students express anxiety about writing. They fear staring at a blank Word document, worry that what they produce in a first draft will not be acceptable, or find writing to be a burden and a hassle rather than an opportunity to formulate new ideas. For example, in the conservatory where I am finishing my PhD in musicology, many DMA performance majors find submitting their lecture recital proposal to the thesis committee to be an insurmountable challenge, and they give up on completing their degree! I think it is so sad that students do not achieve the honor of completing their doctorates because they find the written proposal to be an overwhelming task, because with the proper tools anyone can achieve this goal!
When students express angst over producing some sort of written work, I emphasize that writing is like anything else: the more you do it, the easier it gets! For example, the performance majors I work with have spent years perfecting their ability to play a musical instrument. Because of the time spent developing this skill, some music probably feels easy for them to play, and similarly, practicing writing on a daily basis makes the process feel easier over time.
What does this daily practice look like?
To start, it looks much like practicing a musical instrument, a sport, or any other skill: making time to write every day.
In January 2017 I adopted the practice of writing thirty minutes a day, and while I wrote much more than this to complete my dissertation, the practice of writing for a minimum of thirty minutes a day put me in the flow of the writing process to produce a substantial piece of written work.
I have to credit the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity for helping me start this practice, as well as Dr. Stephanie Schlagel at CCM for holding a semester-long writing workshop. I will talk about the NCFDD in more detail in a future blog post, but if you are a graduate student, I encourage you to ask your graduate school to subscribe to the program in order to access its resources.
The NCFDD’s semester-long program centers around the practice of writing thirty minutes a day. Kerry Ann at the NCFDD works to dispel several myths or “limiting beliefs” that can interfere with your daily writing practice, and eventually interfere with your writing success. I like to think of one myth as the following thought: “I have to produce something perfect when I write.” My response to this is the adage “The perfect is the enemy of the good!” When you adopt the daily writing practice, much of what you write will change or will not be included in your final proposal, essay, or thesis. Try to work past your fear and remember that what you write in your daily practice can be changed later, but “writing is thinking,” so this daily practice provides an opportunity to work out your ideas. Moreover, thirty minutes is a manageable amount of time, and might feel less threatening if you have writing anxiety.
Next week I will work to dispel the myth around procrastinating and explain why a daily writing practice will help you produce better work over time. I will also suggest ways that you easily fill the daily writing practice with exercises that are low stress but will help you produce a substantial written work. In the meantime, I encourage you to set aside thirty minutes in your day for any type of writing: journaling your thoughts about material you are working through, taking notes on sources, or outlining ideas for your project. Additionally, feel free to like my page and follow me on Facebook @alyssawritingcoach!