Here's what it feels like: You sit down to write and, you can't.
You might feel a sense of panic. A tightening in your gut. Nerves. You might get stuck on the first paragraph - or worse, the first sentence. Your mind might start whispering, "Not good enough," and you feel the urge to scrap everything.
It's a terrible feeling. And performance anxiety can crush your writing efforts.
Worse, it could absolutely destroy your business and bring it to its knees. Let performance anxiety get out of control, and you might stop blogging, never write another newsletter, feel nauseous each time you need to write a client email.
Take hope: I know people say they suffer from all kinds of writer issues, like the dreaded writer's block or the blank-page syndrome or yes, even performance anxiety. I also know these problems are all in your head. I'll even go so far as to say writer's block doesn't exist.
It's just you letting your mind take control.
But you have complete control over your mind.
Think of it this way: I write for a living. I have an entire writing course for business owners. I can't have a bad day. I can't stare at a blank page or indulge in writer's block or tell clients, "Sorry, I just wasn't inspired." I can't afford eccentricities so commonly associated with creative artist stereotypes.
I can't afford the luxury of performance anxiety. I have a job to do.
I bet you can't afford it either.
So here are some tips to help you smash performance anxiety and get on with your writing. Practice them well, and you'll soon be joyously sweeping through every writing task that hits your desk.
Practice Fake Deadlines
Pretending you have a strict deadline is a great way to train yourself to handle performance anxiety. Nothing bad happens if you miss it, and you can practice writing under pressure until you can handle the real deal.
Here's what happens when you fake a tight deadline:
You go into survival mode. You don't have time to procrastinate and avoid work. There's no time to wait around for your Muse. You need to get words on paper, come hell or high water.
So for every writing task you have to tackle, set a three-day deadline and follow these steps:
- On day one, come up with an idea and create an outline.
- On day two, write a crappy first draft.
- On day three (that's deadline day), give your draft a good edit.
That's it; you're all done!
Okay, three days isn't really a high-pressure situation, but start there, and then begin shrinking the time-frame until you can write well and quickly when the heat's on.
When there's no other choice BUT to write, you'll find your brain simply accepts the situation and gets on with it. You'll never jam up again!
Practice Getting Practical
You need to get practical. You need to get prepared. Most nerves come from lack of knowing what's ahead, but proper preparation before you write sweeps nerves away like blown dust.
Here are some handy tips:
- What's the purpose of this writing project? What are the guidelines? Write those specifics down, then read them over two or three times until you practically have them memorized. This sounds obvious, but when you feel panicked, stuck or rushed, it's easy to overlook important details.
- Figure out exactly how much time you have to complete the whole project, and then divvy up the work accordingly. Budget time for prewriting, drafting, revising and proofreading. Set a timer to stay on track and make sure you don't get jammed in any phase of the process.
- Create an outline. The more structure and guidance you give yourself, the better.) Structure is key to writing well, and you won't waste a second wondering what to write or what comes next. You have an outline; you already know!
- Keep moving forward. Never let yourself obsess over getting a particular sentence or section "right". If you find yourself struggling, just write something crappy, and keep writing. You can always come back and rework the section later.
- Take breaks. Leave your work and come back to it with fresh eyes. Consider this a reminder to budget your time wisely, and give yourself a day or two between the writing and editing process. Your finished work will be much more polished than if you had written and edited it in one sitting.
Find Your REAL Motivation
Think about this: Let's say I offer you $25 bucks to write an article in 30 minutes. Meh. You might do it, but that's not even enough money to take your kids to the movies. Not a very exciting deal, is it?
Now let's say I offered you $250 for the same 30-minute article.
Think you'd feel motivated to write?
We write much better when we want to finish, when we feel motivated to do the work, and when there's a reward that matters enough to us (financial or otherwise) at the end.
And we screw ourselves up with self-sabotage, procrastination and fear-obstacles when, deep down, we don't really care about finishing the work.
So if you have trouble writing, sit down and think about your motivations. Do you have any? What are they? Do those motivations matter enough to you? If not, which ones would?
You may find that you're not interested in that type of work (and so you can decide not to take more on), you don't like that client (and so you fire him and find a better one), you aren't excited by the project (and so you stick it on hold to pursue that project you've always wanted to start), or the money just isn't worth it (and so you ask for a raise, go work for someone else, or rework your rates).
Motivation matters to performance. Motivation has to outweigh inaction. Motivation means you want to win - and you want to finish the work ahead of you so you can reap the rewards.
Dig a Little Deeper
And then suddenly you realize the truth is that you're scared. You're afraid of failure. Or embarrassment. Or criticism or success or lack of approval or green flying bananas. (Hey, it happens.)
Excellent! Now that you've uncovered that truth, take action. You know the problem - find ways to solve it! Look for methods and strategies that will help you boost your confidence so you can sweep away fears that hold you back.
Take a course. Find a mentor. Boost your skill level. Hire a shrink if you'd like.
Do whatever it takes to stop living in fear. Living in reality is a far nicer place, and it lets you accomplish your goals without stressing over every little imagined situation that could possibly go wrong (but almost never does).
Or just do it. Take a deep breath, realize you can handle whatever happens and finish the work. Publish it, send it to your client or post it to the web and be done with it.
You'll be just fine.
Take It Easy
But many people take it too far. They work hard to increase their speed and content-production ability, becoming mass producers that compromise value for output. Very little of their work is any good.
With a bit of time and attention, some of those writers could have produced much better material!and could have had much better results because of it.
So remember: Anyone can write, but writing well takes time. You can write under pressure in a pinch and get away with it every now and then if you have to, but quality always takes a hit.
Writing rushed never beats writing well.
And writing well is what gets results.
About the Author: James Chartrand
If you enjoyed the writing strategies in this article, you'll find plenty more in the Damn Fine Words program. Designed to teach business owners better writing skills for more results, it'll change the way you feel about writing - and bring you heaps of confidence too.[Note from Ed: I've personally checked out this program and I think it's fantastic. That's why we're a proud affiliate for James. This means that we may get paid a commission if you end up enrolling in this program using the link above.]