Writer’s Block, Anxiety and Perfectionism
The results are in from my online survey investigating whether “anxiety” is associated with writer’s block for experienced Australian authors. Anxiety for this study is not just an ongoing level of worry, but a seriously negative mood state characterised by bodily symptoms of physical tension and apprehension. Overall, I found that writer’s block is strongly associated with anxiety. Writer’s block is also associated with both perfectionism, that is, being fearful of not doing good work, and fear of evaluation, being judged badly (even by themselves). However, anxiety is more associated with fear of judgement.
Gender, age or the genre of writing didn’t influence the levels of anxiety or writer’s block, but non-fiction writers scored highest for perfectionism. It could be that for non-fiction writers, where the parameters of what they write are outside their control, there is more anxiety around their mastery of the subject. For academics, there may be anxiety around peer review. The accuracy of their material is also an important element of their work.
High scores on the scale for anxiety were the most striking result I received. A third of the writers who took part in the survey were clinically anxious. It may be that those who have experienced writer’s block are more likely to feel greater levels of anxiety; that writers are generally more anxious people; or that writing by its nature is a solitary pursuit leading to anxiety. Previous studies have found writers and creative people are more likely to experience mood disorders.
Most respondents said that they had experienced anxiety or writer’s block, and for those who said they did not, there was a mismatch with their scores on the test scales for anxiety and writer’s block. This could indicate a lack of self-awareness or even an inability to recognise that they are experiencing distress.
The written responses were equally divided between those who experienced external judgements as positive, and those who found them to be a negative experience. For instance, one writer wrote, “I think you have to believe in what you are writing. You need to be interested and want to share your enthusiasm”. In contrast, internal judgement was more likely to bring up self-critical responses, which suggests that a harsh inner critic is a common experience among writers.
Perfectionism is also related to thoughts about the technical process of writing. As one person said, “Sometimes – the inner critic tells me my writing is terrible, so why do I bother?” When they reflected on the causes of writer’s block, writers did focus on mastery of content, particularly the more perfectionist writers of non-fiction.
For overcoming writer’s block, some authors said the main strategy is to just write; for example, “Putting my butt in a chair and writing”, others stressed adequate preparation and having a writing routine. While the main strategy for overcoming anxiety was exercise and using positive affirmations, such as, “I look at the body of work I have had published and think of good reactions and reviews”. Reading other material and changing activities, such as doing some gardening or housework was seen as helpful for both anxiety and writer’s block. These activities may aid in avoidance of anxiety or as a helpful change of perspective. Some authors also found an acceptance of the process and remembering past successes was helpful. Unhelpful thoughts focused on a loss of confidence in their writing ability or in the outcome.
With such high level of anxiety emerging in the survey’s responses, it may be that counselling with a focus on reducing anxiety and negative self-talk may assist with overcoming the sometimes, debilitating anxiety that can accompany writer’s block.
For the full report: https://www.academia.edu/25786833/Writers_block_and_its_association_with_anxiety
Women’s Weekly Wealth Special 2014 – I’m interviewed about coping with redundancy.
To hear me interviewed about my counselling: