Dealing with Writer’s Performance Anxiety

Write something to suit yourself and many people will like it;
write something to suit everybody and scarcely anyone will care for it.
Jesse Stuart
American writer

Rubber Ducky' Copywriter's Ducks
Sketches courtesy of Rubber Ducky

Last week on the train, I sat across from an artist drawing in his sketchbook. As I secretly watched, I admired how absorbed he was in his work.

He drew as if no one was watching.

But the moment he realized that someone was looking, he shifted his sketchbook to his lap and turtled.

We know that feeling: performance anxiety.

People are watching? How can I write if I know people are going to read it? Too…much…pressure… I don’t wanna I don’t wanna I don’t wanna I don’t wanna

For the full effect, sit on the floor, cross your arms and pout.

There’s the shakes, the nausea, the sweats, the tripped words. But the worst part is that it compromises your Voice, that fearless authenticity that made people read your stuff in the first place. Counterproductive irony at its finest.

Performance anxiety won’t go away on its own. You have to face it.

Which could give you a nice diversion from writing in the first place. Win-Win!

Ask, then answer “Why?”
Close your eyes and find out what’s making you so nervous. Dig deep. Every self-doubt that makes putting your authentic voice out there for the world to see—drag those little suckers out in the open. Give them no place to hide.

Take away their power to sit on your shoulder and whisper fear in your ear. Know your bugaboos, then draw a battle plan to shut them up.Get a shrink if you have to.

Write for your hard drive.
This one’s courtesy of a comment from Peter Shallard on the Men with Pens post The Key to Producing Outstanding Content.  In his comment, Peter defines this as:

“…the act of basically writing for no one but your computer’s hard disk – giving yourself permission to put words on a page without thinking about who they’re for…”

I love this concept. Your computer’s hard drive is the perfect audience because it doesn’t judge. All it does is store your work.

And it doesn’t even matter if you’re a Mac or PC devotee. See? Non-judgmental.

Go back to when writing was fun.
Reconnect with that little voice that first said, “Yeah, I wanna do this some more and it’s gonna have aliens and fluffy teddy bears and fluffy teddy bear beating up the aliens and slime running down my little brudder’s head and e-e-e-e-bbryting.”

Revisit pencil and paper again. Better yet, make it pen and paper so you can’t erase what you put down.

Step away for a bit.
Regardless of what hyper-productive writing gurus say, a little time away from the keyboard won’t kill you. Take a moment, a day, a week if you want. A month even. But give yourself permission to step away and come back with a fresh outlook.

I took a day off and drew some of my rubber ducks (see above). And I drew when no one was watching.

Just make it for a predetermined amount of time. And when that time is up, get your tail back to writing. Otherwise it’s just wussing out. 😉

How do you keep your momentum going to get through performance anxiety?

8 thoughts on “Dealing with Writer’s Performance Anxiety”

  1. Lately, I just remind myself once: If I want to get paid, I have to write. That usually works :S

    I like Jesse’s idea of the informal interview, I’m going to try that next time.

    I did something similar once – I had to write about a new technology and in trying to understand it, I explained it to myself out loud and things started to click from there.

    Cute duckies, you’re very talented!

    1. I heard somewhere (exact credit lost to time-my apologies) of someone taping a dollar to his monitor to keep that motivation in view at all times. Another one put a picture of his family because that’s who he supports through his writing.

      Sometimes it doesn’t matter if anyone is looking or not; it just matters that your bills are paid. And very often, that’s plenty good enough. 😉

      And thanks – it was nice to pick up a pencil and play.

  2. Hey Erica,
    Love these points – especially Peter’s “hard drive” tip. When I’m stuck, I step away. I have a small ritual that doesn’t take long. I pretend I’m a coach, screaming at myself in the locker room at halftime.

    “Write crap! Write crap! Nobody cares about this! Nobody’s going to see this! Stop acting like a moron and JUST WRITE CRAP!” On it goes until I’m tired of hearing the sound of my own voice. Then I sit down and write, as fast as I can, leaving out punctuation and misspelling words on purpose.

    Sometimes, I turn my monitor off. When I’m still stuck, I grab the headphones and my crappy Windows speech to text software. I talk about the topic for a few minutes, as if I’m being interviewed. That usually snaps me out of it.

    The biggest favor I ever did for my productivity is to give myself permission to suck. It works!

    The faster you write, the closer you come to your natural speaking voice.

    1. “The biggest favor I ever did for my productivity is to give myself permission to suck.”

      Exactly! It feels like we already have enough pressure to be perfect; we don’t need to pile on any more. Today, I’m doing most of my writing in a blank doc instead of the outline I made. And I made the program window smaller. It’s like I’m writing in totally neutral territory and it’s working. I was stuck, but now I’m flowin’.

      I can’t bring myself to turn off my monitor though. That’s just brave.

      Thanks Jesse!

  3. Rubber Ducky, you are talented in so many ways! Thank you for the artistic rendition with this installment. And thank you for addressing a serious issue for professional writers — self-confidence.

    1. You are very welcome SunnyBunny (I hope I spelled and capitalized that correctly). And welcome to Rubber Ducky Copywriter. 😉

      It’s an issue we all deal with. We all get nervous when we realize that someone’s looking over our shoulder. Or at least think someone is watching us, whether they actually are or not. But we can still do it. We can still shine.

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