University Writing Center Blog

Posted on March 5th, 2019 in Writing Strategies by University Writing Center

Written by: Abigail H.

Most of us have been there at some point – staring at the cursor as it blinks on a blank page, waiting for the perfect words to hit, feeling the dread and anxiety run down your back as the deadline looms ever-nearer. For many, writing isn’t an easy, sit-down-and-let’s-get-started task. It’s filled with uncertainty, reluctance, procrastination, and writer’s block. It’s listening to voices screaming “Perfection!” so loudly that you can’t even hear your own thoughts. It’s waiting until the last minute and then spending all night frantically typing up a paper, promising yourself you’ll never let it get this bad again, only to repeat the process on the next essay. This becomes a major problem when you’re a college student whose academic well-being practically depends on writing.

So, here are a few tips and tricks that can help you push through “writing anxiety” and make the process a bit easier:

  • Break the assignment into manageable pieces.

Sometimes just dividing the assignment into a series of steps makes it feel a lot more do-able. Creating multiple steps also has the benefit of lengthening the time before you actually begin writing. You can schedule in time for research, brainstorming, and outlining, giving you the chance to work on the project without actually having to write. This not only helps you avoid procrastination (as you are consistently working on the project), but it also makes it much easier to write when you’re ready to begin (as you already have everything planned out).

  • Start writing with a no-stakes draft.

If you dread actually writing something (like me), or if that editor in your head won’t stop nitpicking every little thing, give yourself one draft where you absolutely let loose. Don’t worry about grammar or word choice, just look at your outline or your prompt and write. Set a timer for 15-30 minutes. Create a word limit for yourself. Turn off your monitor so you can’t see what you’re writing if you have to. Just keep going until the timer goes off, or the word limit is reached, or you’ve exhausted all your ideas. Sure, you’ll end up with an absolute mess at the end, but the hard part – the getting started – will have already been done. And in that mess will be everything you need for the paper – all your ideas and the connections between those ideas, all the possibilities you could explore, all the goals you have. All you’ll have to do is reshape it.

  • Create a writing ritual.

There is comfort in familiarity. And just as you have a certain way you get ready in the morning, having a ritual for writing can make the act so much easier. Find the specific time (morning? afternoon? middle of the night?), place (corner of a coffee shop? your kitchen counter? the great outdoors?), and conditions (hot? cold? quiet? loud?) in which you work best, and continue to write in those situations. Eventually, the ritual will become habitual, and simply setting yourself up in that location will get you in the writing mindset. Feel free to play around and explore with this. There’s no rule saying your ritual has to make sense – just do what works best for you.

  • Be realistic with yourself.

Is this paper actually going to ruin your life if you don’t get it just right? Can you really create the most amazing essay in the universe in one go? And are you truly a bad writer if you can’t? Pause before you begin writing; be kind to yourself, look back at how much you’ve already grown, and set a few realistic goals for the paper (“I want to improve my thesis statement,” “I want to get better at integrating sources,” “I want to create a solid introduction,” etc.). Don’t worry about becoming the world’s next best writer. Just take a breath and do the best you can do at that moment. Everything else will fall into place.

  • Bribe yourself.

There’s nothing wrong with giving yourself a little extra incentive to get writing. Make a cup of your favorite tea or coffee right before you begin. Plan an evening out with friends after you finish an essay, or binge watch a few Netflix shows. Promise yourself a piece of cake if you need to. Having something to look forward to can give you that extra push to get finished. And the quicker you get the assignment done, the faster you’ll get your reward.

  • Come visit the UWC!

We’re always happy to help you with any type of writing, at any stage, and with any issues you may be having. Sometimes just talking through an assignment with someone or brainstorming a few ideas can be all the push you need to get started. And we’re always ready to provide a little extra encouragement or talk about your concerns with writing in general. At the end of the day, we’re here to support you, and we wish you all the best of luck!