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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The Hopeful Wanderer.012 – Artificial Illumination

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Between one town and the next, I spied in the distance twin lanterns casting steady, white light into the night, throwing tree limbs and grass blades into sharp, black relief. One lamp hung above the other, appearing like the eyes in a face cocked sideways. Perhaps in curiosity, perhaps madness. No matter how close my steps drew me to them, I never quite reached the house I thought the beacons must illuminate. No turnoff marked the way to them. Eventually, I passed by, expecting to plunge back into utter darkness.

Yet the path ahead of me remained bright, like the cast of an LED flashlight. My own shadow wandered before me, lengthy and alone. Even the furthest reaches of light should have faded by now.

Two sounds reached me at once: water gurgling against rocks, and a strange, electric hum. I dared not look back, knowing I would see those lamps, one cockeyed above the other, following behind, homing in on me like spotlights. Heat radiated against the back of my neck where they stared. That humming grew louder and louder until it buzzed in my ears and down to my bones.

I broke into a run. With little chance of stumbling on that daylight-bright path, I stretched my legs as far as they would go. Satchel thumping against my back. Metal jangling behind, the hot scent of burning filament in my nose. Closer, closer.

The path dipped and then I was splashing into cool water up to my knees. Mossy rocks rolled beneath my feet and I fell headlong into the shallow river. When I resurfaced, however, gasping and bruised, the lanterns had vanished, replaced with natural moonlight and the hum with the throaty croak of nearby frogs.


I’m always tired, so please consider buying me a coffee to keep me awake while I write the next story.

The Hopeful Wanderer.006 – A Chance of Light Showers

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While passing a farmhouse late one summer evening, I overheard the weather forecast through an open window, the local meteorologist calling for light showers very soon. Though I saw no clouds in the sky, I took shelter beneath an overhang out in the field behind the house, making myself comfortable as the sun finished passing below the horizon. Hands in pockets, parked on a squashy hay bale, satchel at my feet, I would wait out the coming rain in comfort.

From a nearby barn, some farmhands emerged, the weather report blasting from a radio within. One of them turned it down. The farmhouse back door opened and several of the family members crowded onto the porch. They waved at me and I waved back, puzzled at all their expectant faces turned toward the sky.

Then from nowhere fell drops of light.

They arced in ribbons, showering the field with streaks of gold. Pouring almost faster than the eye could detect, slashing across the inky sky and lighting up the field and surrounding woods as bright as day. As each honey-bright gleam hit the ground, it exploded like tiny fireworks, scattering across the grass in a network of shining webs.

I couldn’t help it; I put out my hand. The sparks glancing off my skin felt like warm afternoon sunlight, nothing more. I let the droplets gather within my cupped palm, collecting there like a pool of golden sunwater, weightless as air. But soon the glowing substance destabilized and broke apart, disappearing into invisibility. The flash left sunspots on my vision.

I supposed it didn’t do to keep the sun. Blinking, I lowered my hand, only a little regretful, and witnessed the bright, brief spectacle until the final drop of light fell to the earth.


I’m always tired, so please consider buying me a coffee to keep me awake while I write the next story. 

The Hopeful Wanderer.005 – The Wretched Well

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Photo by Úrsula Madariaga from Pexels

When I stopped at a well in the woods, I found within not water but a wretched waif. A pale figure curled up on a bed of grass and crushed flowers, the hands cupped over their head the picture of abject sorrow. Their voice bounced off the stone walls up to me, distorted and muffled. “Do not drink here.”

Warm sunlight beat down on the back of my neck, a contrast to the chilly air rising up from below. “I would not,” I replied, leaning my arms on the well rim, where grit bit at my skin. Surveying the prison below, I searched for a way to free the stranger. No cracks marked the smooth inner walls, no handy rope dangled down. “How do I get you out?”

Grass rustled when the well-dweller turned their head to look up at me. My stomach plunged at the sight; for a moment, the face was mine, or that of someone I had once known. “I would rather stay here,” they mumbled. “I have poisoned the well, but the well contains my poison.”

“You will suffocate, then,” I replied, though I suspected they already understood that.

“Leave me.” The wretch curled up tighter, face hidden from me once more.

I tapped my fingers against the stone, gaze on the mossy middle distance. At a loss, but unwilling to leave. After a minute or three, I dug around in my satchel and withdrew two climbing picks. They thumped against the soft dirt next to the well-dweller’s head and they flinched back in surprise.

“For when you’re ready to get yourself out,” I explained.

Before I moved on, one pale hand reached out and grasped a pick, clenching it in a tight, shaking grip.


I’m always tired, so please consider buying me a coffee to keep me awake while I write the next story. 

The Hopeful Wanderer.004 – A Silent Eclipse

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Photo by Johannes Plenio from Pexels

When the moon drew too close, we retreated indoors and barred the windows shut. Mystified, I helped with the task of preparing for a siege, but once the work was done, I tried to be on my way. The townsfolk would have none of it.

“It’s just a lunar eclipse,” I argued. I was standing in the night dark dining room, satchel over my shoulder.

Shh!” my host hissed at me. She held a trapdoor open while her children filed into the basement beneath her kitchen, ladder steps creaking under their feet. One of them, a dark, curly-haired child, glanced at me with alarm written across his face before he vanished below. “You’ll bring them on us,” she continued in a harsh whisper.

Outside, a low rasp echoed from the driveway. Every one of us froze, listening. To me it sounded like a plastic bag of wet aquarium marbles rolling across concrete. Rattling. Squishy. Through the dining room window, I spied twin beams of moonlight, roving independently of each other like small, pale spotlights. The creature crossed into the yard and then back to the driveway, around and around the cars parked there. Its slow, insidious motions had a questing, hunting nature.

The moonbeams cut across the window and I dropped to the floor, holding my breath. Glancing to see whether the creature had spotted my host, I found that she had already scuttled downstairs in the wake of her children. She had the door cracked just enough to see me, her eyes wide in the gloom. I crawled to join her on quiet hands and knees.

As I descended into the dusty basement, lowering the trapdoor behind me, I murmured, “Maybe you’ve got a point.” They shuffled to give me space and I let the door fall closed.


I’m always tired, so please consider buying me a coffee to keep me awake while I write the next story. 

The Hopeful Wanderer.003 – The Bravest Thing

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One evening, the stars looked down at me and asked, “Wanderer, you have traveled so far. What do you seek?”

I sat below them on an open, grassy hill. Points of light blazed overhead, like colorful jewels set in a black velvet cloth, twinkling expectantly.

“Hope, I think,” I replied.

For a moment, they said nothing. A light breeze shuffled blades of grass around me, bringing the cool scent of night with it.

“You are very brave,” the stars said at last. “We will keep watch for you.”


I’m always tired, so please consider buying me a coffee to keep me awake while I write the next story. 

Mattie McAlavy: On S.G. Baker

By Mattie McAlavy

She isn’t aptly named.

Summer the season is heat, heat, heat and dappled skin and sweat and laughter on a breeze. Popsicles melting, sweet tea sweating, heavy green boughs sighing in the sun. A feeling.

Summer (the) Baker is “dynamite with a laser beam” – pinpoint-direct and molten and focused, focused ‘chaos.’ A bright grin, sharp laugh, a sharper, heart-stopping wink. A true killer queen.

Hers is an overwhelming abundance of assertions, spunk, spitfire…and sorrow: The off-kilter feeling when you find yourself sitting in the shade with an old friend, commiserating (sometimes darkly) and gulping the last of the day’s lemonade as the streetlights and fireflies filter on for the night.

She is incredibly aptly named.