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Writing Scared: How to Overcome the Perfectionism, Procrastination & Fatigue That Get in the Way of Your Writing


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How do you overcome perfectionism, procrastination, and fatigue? Or more concerning, What do you do when you face writing anxiety that goes beyond “normal”? Based on personal experience, studies of post-traumatic stress recovery, and the work of University of Houston professor, Brené Brown, this webinar walks you through the issues underlying these common challenges. This presentation then offers practical how-to’s to overcome stressful or traumatic writing/feedback experiences to develop writing resilience and perseverance to achieve your potential.

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Writing Scared: How to Overcome the Perfectionism, Procrastination & Fatigue That Get in the Way of Your Writing

  1. 1. HOW TO OVERCOME THE PERFECTIONISM, PROCRASTINATION & FATIGUE THAT GET IN THE WAY OF YOUR WRITING PhD Candidate, History Creator of Dissertators United Writing Boot Camps Ashley Sanders (Writing Scared)
  2. 2. What we’re talking about today…  What is writing anxiety?  Common Effects  How it feels  Common Causes  Why do we experience it?  What do we do about it?  Q&A C. Jorge Cham 7/23/2014 ?comicid=1733 Accessed: 27 September 2014
  3. 3. Can you identify with the following? C. Jorge Cham 7/23/2014. Accessed: 27 September 2014
  4. 4. Have you ever…  Experienced a writing block?  Procrastinated on a writing project?  Had to clean the house, repaint your room, [insert any other stalling tactic] before you could start writing?  Felt terror grip your heart when submitting writing to a professor or a colleague?  Worried that you wouldn’t be able to organize your ideas coherently?  Felt anxious about how others would respond to your writing?  Conflated the quality of your writing with your worth?
  5. 5. Then you’ve experienced writing anxiety.
  6. 6. Signs & Symptoms of Anxiety Source:,_Wikiversity_Motivation_and_emotion,_Slide_2.jpg Used under CC license
  7. 7. What is Writing Anxiety? C. Jorge Cham 7/28/2014 ( Accessed 27 September 2014.
  8. 8. Common Causes  Fear  Perfectionism  Magical thinking  Confusion about department or committee expectations  Perception/reality? Insufficient data or sources
  9. 9. Perfectionism & Procrastination: Two sides of the same coin C. Jorge Cham 9/3/2014 ( Accessed 27 September 2014.
  10. 10. Perfectionism Four Signs of Perfectionism  Setting very high standards and placing high importance on these standards. Feeling that you will be a second rate person if you do not live up to these standards  Preoccupation with details, rules, lists, order, and organization.  Concern and negative reactions to mistakes. Having a tendency to interpret mistakes as failure and believing that you will lose the respect of others for your mistakes.  Doubting your ability to do a task. NOTE: Perfectionism is not to be mistaken for effort and desire for excellence What’s at the root? Fear.  We are more than our academic writing; it does not define us.  We must believe we are enough, even as we work to improve and refine our skills. Source: Susan Meindl, “Grad School Perfectionism Creates Stress, Anxiety and Depression Rather than Excellence,”
  11. 11. Procrastination/Non-Productive Busyness Sound familiar? C. Jorge Cham 8/6/2014. ( Accessed 27 September 2014.
  12. 12. Procrastination  Endlessly reading and taking notes  Obsessive and never-ending “Planning”  Doing seemingly important, urgent tasks rather than write  Unnecessary preparation (Do you really need to sharpen 20 pencils?)  Complete avoidance – cleaning the house, watching TV (instead of working during work time)  What’s at the root? Fear.  We are more than our academic writing; it does not define us.  We must believe we are enough, even as we work to improve and refine our skills.
  13. 13. What do we do? First Steps  Calming music  Calming sounds (ocean waves, rain, white noise)  Deep breathing exercises  Meditation  Journal about your writing anxiety 15 min a day for 4 days.  Contact your counseling center on campus to begin processing and moving beyond the trauma  Contact your ombudsmen or Graduate School (administration) if you are experiencing any kind of abuse How to reduce physiological response to anxiety: Stop the academic hazing and abuse
  14. 14. What do we do? Create a toolbox!  Use grounding techniques:  Identify everything in your space that is {color}  Set a timer for 5 minutes and just focus on your breath, noticing each inhale/exhale  Say kind statements, as if you were talking to your best friend: “You are a good person going through a hard time. You’ll get through this.”  Repeat a favorite mantra  Describe in detail a time when you felt your writing flowed well and you received positive feedback on it  Hold a physical object (small stone, book, phone, pen) and pay attention to how it feels in your hand
  15. 15. What do we do? Create a toolbox!  Find a picture that represents calm/peace for you and put it where you can see it while writing  BSDR Player  Relax M.P. – Concentration Binaural Beats  Create a writing playlist
  16. 16. What do we do? Create a toolbox!  Make permission slips for yourself  Write out & repeat positive affirmations
  17. 17. What do we do? Create a toolbox!  Free-write  Pomodoros  Make a list of favorite writing warm-ups:  Journal  Visual thinking (mindmap, sketch)  New vocab  Read about writing (Write Your Dissertation in 15 Minutes a Day; Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks, etc.)
  18. 18. What do we do? Create routines 1. Do something you find calming for 5-10 minutes 2. Set your intention/goal for your writing session & share with your accountability partner 3. Choose & complete your favorite writing warm-up 4. Set your timer and get started! 5. Use grounding techniques and free-writing when anxiety rises 6. When your session is over, make note of what worked well & what you accomplished 7. Fill out your writing log & note what to work on tomorrow 8. Reward yourself!
  19. 19. What do we do? Organize…  Find or start a writing group Share your writing OFTEN! (especially your rough – read chaotic, f*&!$’d-up – drafts)  Find an accountability partner  Create a timeline and share it with your committee and ask them to hold you to it.  Create a personal support system
  20. 20. What do we do? Resources Reading  On Trauma:  Trauma Resource Institute  National Institute of Mental Health: PTSD  International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies  The Perils of Perfectionism  For more information on EMDR therapy, check out:  EMDR Institute, Inc. Brené Brown’s Books & Talks:  I Thought it Was Just Me (but it isn’t): Making the Journey from ‘What will people think?’ to ‘I am enough’ The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are.  Brené Brown’s TED talks
  21. 21. What do we do? Resources – Apps & More Apps More Tips  BSDR Player (Bilateral Sounds Desensitization and Reprocessing)- This app is $9.99 and available for both iPhones and Android.  iChill: This free app is available for both iPhones and Android and provides guided steps to bring you back into the present and out of a panicked state.  Relax M.P. (Premium) ($2.99): This app is also available for both iPhones and the link in the title takes you the Google Play Store for Android devices. I’ve found the Concentration Beta waves really helpful in promoting focus for set periods of time.  Writing prompts in this worksheet will help you recognize your physiological response to stressors.  Practice mindfulness meditation.  Try an app like Rest and Relax ($0.99 on both iPhones and Android) if you’re just getting started  Meditation Oasis (iTunes podcast)  Eva Lantsoght’s GradHacker article.  UCLA also has an excellent podcast series of mindfulness meditations (search iTunes)
  22. 22. Finally… stick to it! This is not easy. You have to stick to it and surround yourself with supportive, understanding people. Don’t be surprised by the roller coaster. It will get better!