Magazine article Training & Development Journal

The Cure for Writing Anxiety

Magazine article Training & Development Journal

The Cure for Writing Anxiety

Article excerpt

The Cure for Writing Anxiety

Almost 60 million people have to write on the job; by some estimates, more than 60 percent of them are reluctant to do so.

Of course, everyone who has to write has occasional attacks of writing anxiety, but for reluctant writers, the anxiety accompanies most writing tasks.

Such anxiety exhibits itself in certain ways.

The Write Way to Write

The writer may stare for long periods of time at a blank screen or page, worrying about the final product rather than knowing how to get started.

Various internal messages may come into play. The writer may express apprehension ("I don't think I can do this.") or complaints ("Why do I have to do this?"). He or she may worry about evaluation ("My boss always thinks my writing is stupid.") or may procrastinate ("I can't start this now because I've got too much other work.")

Writer's block

According to researchers, writing reluctance comes in different levels, ranging from low-level anxiety to high-level writing blocks. In Writers Block (Southern Illinois University Press, 1984), Mike Rose identifies six cognitive reasons why some writers get blocks: * inappropriate and overly rigid composition rules * misleading assumptions about composing * editing too early in the process * lack of process strategies, or inflexibility in using process strategies * conflicting rules and assumptions * inappropriate or inaccurate evaluation criteria.

Significantly, Rose's work is empirically based. Using what he called "stimulated recall," he gave writers a writing task and asked them to verbalize what was going through their minds as they worked through the task. From that work, he collected those six reasons for writer's block.

Other researchers have attributed writing reluctance to fear of exposure, excessive internal criticism, myths about writing, and teachers who emphasized grammar too much and too negatively rather than stressing the substance of papers.

As students, many reluctant writers avoided taking classes that required writing. As a result, they tend to lack writing experience. But reluctant writers are not necessarily poor writers; they may be good writers who have misconceptions about writing.

The realities of writing

Most reluctant writers want help in gaining the confidence that comes with competence. Trainers may need the help of managers and supervisors in identifying such people. Performance appraisals may also yield useful clues.

You may want to survey all the writers in your organization. Rose's book provides ideas on what to ask; he includes a questionnaire that asks people how they feel about their writing.

All reluctant writers, trainers of writing, and appraisers of those who write need to know these six realities of writing: * Perfect writing doesn't exist; effective writing does. * At least two distinct mental activities take place when a person writes - generating ideas and generating structures. * At least two distinct frames of mind, often conflicting, exist when a person writes - the creative and the critical. * The creative mind should direct the planning and drafting phases. The critical mind should direct the editing phases. However, a cautious mind - creating and critical - should direct the revising phase. * A flexible (not rigid) process approach to writing is best. Each phase in the process overlaps others; phases are not hierarchical. * Professional writers have editors correct their work; non-professional writers should have some help, too. …

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