Have you ever used the term “hate” to describe your feelings about writing? Do you postpone writing assignments to the very last minute or cringe at the idea of having someone else read them? If any of this rings true for you, chances are you suffer from writing anxiety, “a collection of behaviors that include a writer’s tendency to avoid situations that involve writing, to find writing unrewarding, to fear having one’s writing evaluated, and develop increased anxiety over having one’s writing viewed in a public forum.”[i] Now, before you dismiss the notion, keep in mind that writing anxiety can pose a significant barrier to written communication skill development and prove to be quite detrimental in the long run—specifically in the workplace.
Employers consistently rank written communication as one of the most important skills their employees should possess, and some even require writing samples as part of the hiring process. Though some positions are more writing intensive than others, employers still expect prospective employees to develop the skill as it is strongly linked to professional ability and overall competence. Novelist, George Orwell, once wrote that “If people cannot write well, they cannot think well, and if they cannot think well, others will do their thinking for them.” I don’t necessarily believe this wholeheartedly, but I do believe that for some of us, the true depths of our minds are best displayed in written form.
What many people suffer from is not so much the inability to write but more so a lack of confidence in doing so. If you’re stumbling over that next sentence, staring at a blank page, or even avoiding that writing assignment all together, the following techniques may help to reduce your anxiety and get you on your way.
Organize Your Thoughts
When it comes to writing, no two things are more important than clarity and organization. If you’re planning to write on a particular topic, you probably have tons of ideas rolling around in your head. Before regurgitating all that information onto the page, take some time to think about the message you hope to convey. What exactly do you want your readers to come away with after reading this? Make an outline of your key points, and determine if additional research will be needed to support them. By organizing your thoughts early in the writing process, you can save yourself from a great deal of confusion down the line. As you become more and more consumed by your writing, it can be easy to lose track of your thoughts, but having a rough outline to refer to will help you stay on course and effectively communicate your ideas.
Make it Plain: Reduce the Clutter
A common misconception among writers is that word count is somehow a direct reflection of our intelligence. If your writing tends to be a bit wordy from time to time, know that you’re not alone. Clutter has often been described as “the disease of American writing,” but luckily it’s curable. When writing, especially for business, keep in mind you are not competing in a word contest. The goal should always be to ensure your readers understand the message you are trying to convey, and doing so successfully means eliminating any unnecessary language. For instance, if you find yourself describing something as “superfluous,” do yourself a favor, and don’t. Make sure your language is clear and concise, and when editing, try to eliminate language that does not add value to the sentence.
Distance Makes the Eye Grow Stronger
There comes a time in every relationship when you just need some time apart. This is no different with writing. We build relationships with our writing projects. We bond and grow familiar with them—re-reading and re-working them over and over, but a little creative distance is both healthy and necessary.
In a perfect world, having a few days or even weeks to refresh your eyes and mind would be ideal. However, if you’re under a tight deadline and simply don’t have that kind of time, you should at least take a small breather. Step out for some fresh air or have one of your peers take a look at what you’ve written. A fresh pair of eyes always makes for better editing.
Re-reading and Sculpting
After taking a break from your project, hopefully you’re feeling recharged and ready to re-read and revise. Now that your eyes are refreshed, you may notice typos or other errors that didn’t seem to stand out before. Take advantage of this newfound strength, remembering to reduce wordiness or even rewrite paragraphs if necessary. This is your opportunity to sculpt your project into the masterpiece you imagined it to be.
Read Your Work Aloud
Now that you’ve finished writing and adding your final touches, it’s time to put all your hard work to the test. In some cases, you may not have time to complete this next step, but I speak from personal experience in saying it can be a writer’s best friend. Imagine reading the lyrics to a song. If you’re someone who happens to be into lyrical prose, this might be somewhat enjoyable, but add music to those lyrics, and you’ve just turned “somewhat enjoyable” into “absolutely incredible.” While it’s great to see what our words look like on the page, it’s even better to hear how they sound aloud. If a sentence sounds a bit off, chances are it should be tweaked. Believe it or not, words have rhythm, and the more we write to this rhythm, the more enjoyable it becomes for our readers.
If you’re still toiling away over that first sentence, remember your first draft doesn’t have to be perfect or even “good.” Concentrate on getting your ideas down. Professional writing should be clear, concise, and free of any unnecessary jargon or fluff. Bear in mind there will be plenty of time for perfection during the revision process. By incorporating these techniques into future assignments, your writing anxiety could soon become a thing of the past.
[i] Mascle, Deanna DeBrine. “Writing Self-Efficacy and Written Communication Skills.” Business Communication Quarterly (2013): 216-25. Web.
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