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What is Writing Anxiety?

The American Psychological Association (n.d.) defines writing anxiety as: Feelings of tension, worried thoughts, and physical changes like increased blood pressure when faced with a writing task. When approaching a writing task, many students may feel a sense of panic, tension, anxiety, or apprehension. These tumultuous feelings can and do occur no matter what kind of writer you are and no matter one’s skill level. Basically, these feelings are a natural reaction to a potentially stressful situation and you are not alone in feeling them!

When Does Writing Anxiety Occur?

This may be from the specific assignment, the perceived expectations of the professor, one’s perceived ability, facing the unknown, or general anxiety. The heightened levels of anxiety can interfere with the rational part of your brain (Peña, 2018). From there, a spiraling effect can happen as your brain thinks of everything that could go wrong until you are overwhelmed and blocked from the free-flow of writing.

A common reason for writing anxiety is that people often view writing as a bundle of concepts that are too abstract to clearly think through. This causes them to lose sight of the concrete steps one can take to write a paper. Everything that one reads, learns, and feels while reading or writing a paper can actually be highlighted and pointed out. Writing is concrete, words on paper, and many people need that concrete view to approach writing with a clear mind.

What are some strategies I can use to overcome writing anxiety?

  • A good place to start if you’re feeling lost is always to carefully review the directions, highlight key terms, and ask your professor for clarifications; they are there to help you!
  • Once you have a grasp on the directions and expectations, it is time to begin brainstorming ideas. If you work better without structure, free-write your thoughts on the given prompt or directions until you find what interests you about the topic. If structure is more your style, coming up with a main idea first and brainstorming from there may work better. Peña (2018), an educator, suggests starting with a simple main idea for your paper and writing down what comes to mind when you think of this idea–it needs to be simple enough that you can understand it without much mental struggling. Then ask yourself:
    • What is it missing?
    • What are the potential errors in logic?
    • Is the main idea clear?
    • What is essential and what is unnecessary?
  • From here, you will have a rough thesis that will change as you write or outline your paper. Then, you can free write. Highlight and add comments to places in your writing that need more support, stronger arguments, and sources. This last part can be repeated until the final draft is done.
  • If you work better with physical materials, print out your sources, the instructions, your paper, your outline, and/or your brainstorm. Highlight, underline, mark up, cut up and rearrange; do what you need to do to organize and better understand the material.
  • Remind yourself: you are not a bad writer, just an anxious one. You have strengths in writing that others don’t: remind yourself of those strengths. You are a student of writing, not everything you make will be perfect, as you are in the process of learning! Writing is a skill that you are developing. Self-talk and reflection is important for increasing your confidence and creating realistic expectations. Cone (2018), a university writing consultant, suggests:

Being reasonable and fair: Ask: What are my expectations for myself? What are other’s expectations of me? Are these appropriate? Intimidating? Motivating?

Using realistic language: Would a less-than-perfect grade on one assignment really ruin my academic record?

Living with balance and contentment: Is my anxiety a one-time occurrence or a common situation for me? Does the pursuit of doing something perfectly keep me from participating in things I enjoy? How do my lifestyle choices affect my academics—and vice versa?

  • Additionally, getting support is one of the best things you can do! Struggling in silence doesn’t help your emotional well-being, your learning, or your writing. Sharing your experiences and struggles with a classmate, professor, or a writing consultant can be a relief and can open up pathways for you to get the help you need. The Writing Center is a safe space for writers at all levels of learning and ability. As a free resource, you don’t have to go through the writing process alone and suffer in your anxiety. By making recurring appointments, you will learn tools to use in future writing projects so you feel more prepared as a writer. We also highlight your strengths to improve your writing confidence, decrease your anxiety, and help you to become a stronger writer.

Mental Health Resources

Sometimes it’s not just the writing. Mental health is the largest factor affecting students’ academic success at WOU. Whether you need support now or want to build better mental health for when times get tough, visit WOU’s Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Promotion website.


Cone, L. (2018). Potential situations caused by writing anxiety—The undesirable effects of stress. Retrieved from

Peña, E.S. (17 February, 2018). College writing: How to begin writing when you have crippling anxiety. Retrieved from