Writing with Anxiety: Be Afraid and Write It Anyway

Anxiety in writing often derives not from a fear of writing itself. In truth, we writers fear audience judgement.

Word Nerd Scribbles Turns 100 Posts Old

We hit the 100 posts mile marker last week with the review for All Systems Red. Such a momentous occasion deserves something special, so today’s 101st post will mark the beginning of the addition of semi-regular Tuesday posts, complementing flash fiction publications on Thursdays and book reviews on Saturdays.

While in search of ideas for a spiffy 101st post topic, I ran across The Writeous Babe’s article 100 Blog Post Ideas and My 100th Post, stuffed full of excellent suggestions. If you writers ever run dry on post ideas, I suggest wandering over there. Two of the suggestions that intrigued me were “Write the story of how and why you got started blogging” and “Post an inspirational quote and what it means to you.”

We will, in a way, cover both as we explore my personal methods for dealing with anxiety as a writer.

Be Afraid and Do It Anyway

As a young person harboring both anxiety and ambition, I had to adopt the mantra of be afraid and do it anyway just to accomplish anything, including my goal of becoming a writer. The phrase echos Susan Jeffers’s book entitled Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, which may be where I got the idea. I’ve never read her book, but the basic premise of my attitude runs thusly: accept that you are afraid–impossibly afraid, too afraid to ever make the move, submit to the contest, post the article online–and then make it, submit it, post it, even if you do so blind with panic. Being afraid and doing it anyway landed me my first job, got me into (and, when necessary, out of) relationships, and convinced me to start showing readers my written work.

(Disclaimer: I’m fully aware that anxiety is a difficult disorder to deal with, especially when it involves actual panic attacks. When applying this principle, your mileage may vary.)

Anxiety in writing often derives not from a fear of writing itself. We like writing; it’s fun and brings us satisfaction. Lots of writers write just for themselves or trustworthy friends and while this may involve its own sense of anxiety, I myself haven’t experienced such in my own experiments with personal journaling.

In truth, we writers fear audience judgement–how our work will be received by friends and strangers, whether it will be “good enough.” By good enough, I mean entertaining. We hope so much for those likes and kudos and gushing comments, which follow effective entertainment, and fear the lack of them. Yes, yes, we’ve read those remonstrations that writers must develop a thick skin (all true), but anxiety cranks that fear up to eleven. If you write with anxiety, you may never develop that thick skin. May never feel ready to share your work with an audience.

Do it anyway.

Methods for Writing Anyway

Every anxious writer starts somewhere. While my experience may differ from yours, below are my suggestions to get you started writing in spite of anxiety, based on what helped (and helps) me write while afraid.

Because I write fiction, my suggestions live within the realm of crafting story more than in the various aspects of creating non-fiction. Be afraid and do it anyway still applies to all types of writing, as well as to living life in general.

  • Show it to a very trusted friend

Make sure you’re presenting your work to an audience that will be receptive to what you write. So don’t show it to just any friend. If you hand off your piece to your friend who doesn’t read much, you’ll probably get that “it’s nice” response that no artist wants. You stand a better chance of getting useful feedback/a desired response from friends who read, especially if they like the genre you write (i.e. if you write mysteries, hand it to your friend who likes solving puzzles and/or reading mysteries). Matchy-matchy.

I started this (and discovered who my First Reader would become) by offering to write fiction about characters my friends were playing in a tabletop game. People love reading your words about something they made, so you could even offer to write about the original characters your writing friends have created. Just ensure that you do those characters justice.

  • Write (and post) fanfiction

Writing fanfiction has a freeing effect on the anxious writer. Since the characters, backstories, settings, and plots have already been established, have already drawn in what might be a huge audience depending on the franchise’s popularity, you as a writer can capitalize on the readership of fans who like the same thing that you do. They’re hungry for more content and you want to improve your craft, so churn out coffee shop AUs and original plots and everything in between to hone your skills, drawing in enthusiastic readers who expect to be forgiving of amateur work.

I wrote and posted four Fallout 4 fanfictions before I got serious about creating original work. It’s gratifying to watch that views counter rise (in active fandoms) and even receive a kudo or a comment. More importantly, comparing the progression of your works shows you how much your writing has improved with practice. You can take the lessons learned in writing fanfiction and apply them to crafting your own original fiction.

I suggest Archive of Our Own as my favorite fanfiction forum, with Fanfiction.net as a close second. AO3 is much easier to navigate and post stories, but requires a request to join, while FF.net lets you get started immediately, even if the document uploader can be tricky to use. No reason why you can’t sign up for both for more wider audience variety.

  • Put it on your blog

Got a Tumblr? WordPress? Blogger? Reddit? Even if you don’t, it’s not hard to get set up on these websites and start posting your content, be it fanfiction or original work, short-stories or novel snippets. All of this for free with no gatekeepers to turn you away. Consider making your own little writing domain on a more open website like WordPress or Blogger and then crossposting your work to forums you must join like Tumblr. All of these boast an anonymous function if keeping your own name off your work will help you be braver about posting publicly. Liberal use of tags helps readers find you.

Keep in mind that what you post on the internet, most magazines, quarterlies, journals, and contest websites will consider published. It’s great to post original fiction on your blog, but make sure it’s work you’re willing to give away for free. Hold back any pieces you hope to submit or sell.

Word Nerd Scribbles (a blog I had created but rarely used) became a great place to post my profile pieces written about friends and family for a Facebook social project. You can read about how that went here.

  • Write it for you

In the end, the audience member who matters the most is you. Whether you write just for yourself or you want to garner as many appreciative readers as possible, you are the one who has to like what you write. Don’t be too hard on yourself, accept your own criticisms with a grain of salt, and remember to forgive yourself as much as you would forgive another writer.

In On Writing, Stephen King says, “Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.” Meaning to help alleviate that anxiety, forget about audience altogether. They don’t matter until you get to the revision stage; your writing is for you.

Do you as an anxious writer have any tricks for powering through that fear and writing anyway? If you’re willing to share, I’d love to hear about them in the comments. Happy 101st Post!


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Author: S. G. Baker

S. G. Baker has spent her entire life on the eerie High Plains of the Texas Panhandle. Her most recent short-story, "Thirsty Ground," is featured in Road Kill: Texas Horror by Texas Writers Vol. 2. She’s graduated from West Texas A&M University with a degree in English and two short-stories published in the WT English, Philosophy, and Modern Languages periodical The Legacy.

2 thoughts on “Writing with Anxiety: Be Afraid and Write It Anyway”

  1. This is a great article. It not only addresses general writing anxiety, but also the anxiety of figuring out how to digitally share one’s creative efforts. I will definitely be bookmarking this and referring to it often.

    1. I’m so glad you found it helpful! I hope all anxious creatives take a chance on getting their work out there; you never know when a reader might be looking for exactly what they have to offer.

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