Avoiding Anxiety during Exam Week

Being an English major who is currently pursuing his master’s degree, one might assume that I have this whole “writing thing” figured out. I am here, on record, admitting that is far from the case. I am no stranger to writer’s block or the everyday anxieties that accompany the writing process. When asked to write this piece I was enthused and the creative juices actively flowed, but as weeks passed and the dead line approached the stress of writing quickly began to take hold. Those great ideas quickly took flight and I was left with a blank canvas that begged to be transformed into the “greatest blog ever written,” which transformed into the “greatest sentence ever written,” and again, was reduced to “the greatest word ever written.” Once you boil it down, writing is simply choosing words to best represent your ideas; however, in this case, that equates to approximately 1,000 words. That is a lot of choices—and where there is choice there is anxiety.

I could easily write this blog and stress the importance of beginning early: “Writing is an exploration where one explores multiple drafts and rewrites mining away the bulk to discover one’s true assertion…” but I won’t. Today is Friday and May 2nd, the beginning of finals week here at Marshall University, is just around the corner. Seriously it is in like two weeks! So, I will save the “start early,” “brainstorm,” and “revise” pep-talks for another day. At this point, if you’re a procrastinator like myself, you really just want to know the “best process” for overcoming writer’s block and breaking through the anxiety to get started on your paper that is most likely due sooner than later. That being said, I will give you my “professional” approach to writing with a fast approaching deadline.

Change up the Medium

I myself am a dinosaur; I refrain from using any technology outside of my smart phone. Although, on occasions—as mentioned earlier—I will set down at my laptop and give it the “good ol’ college try.” However, from my experience, the blue tint of a blank word document only increases the anxiety of writing. If you are really struggling with getting that first paragraph, sentence, or word down I strongly suggest returning to the pen and paper—I prefer a pen and legal pad! I wish I had some strong evidence to support this claim, but let’s be realistic, I don’t have the time to do that research nor do you have the time to read a 15 page essay. With that said, take my word for it and give it a shot. Pull out the five subject notebook and get to work. I strongly encourage the process of writing freely. By writing freely you are putting words on a page and even if they end up being scribbles or marked out, these edits take up space, unlike using the backspace key to erase what you have done. Remember, writing is psychological and if it looks like you have made progress the anxiety will surely start to subside.

Change up the Venue

            Again, let’s be honest, I am a procrastinator. If I am in a room with a television, gaming device, internet, or anything I could be doing other than writing, I will take that avenue. To alleviate the stresses of the technological word, I urge you to “unplug.” Take your writing elsewhere; go outside, go to a coffee shop, go anywhere that switches up your writing routine. Because I am a social being, coffee shops or public places prove to be more of a hindrance than a help so I often set up the fold out table, sit in a rocker, and write on my front porch with my cell phone in an inconvenient place. The fresh air does wonders for me, but if you can handle the busy atmosphere of a public place, go for it! Moreover, writing is not a one-shoe-fits-all process, do whatever fits your personal tastes. I even encourage those of you who have the will power to write in social setting to form a writing group—accountability is also a great way to alleviate the anxiety.

Change up Your Approach

If your experience with writing is anything like mine, the five paragraph essay has been engrained into your head: First, write your introduction paragraph with a strong thesis and road map. Second, write your three body paragraphs. And lastly, write your conclusion. Although this structuring has its purpose and is useful at times, I encourage you to break this habit. Again, when attempting to write an introductory paragraph where you state everything you’re going to do before you do actually do it produces a lot of anxiety. With that said, earlier I refused to talk about brain storming, so sketch out your paper’s body. Figure out the issues you want to talk about and start writing about them and write your introduction last. This particular process has worked wonders for me when faced with a deadline. Once you have a body to the text written, it is much easier to write an introduction that fits your piece and the anxiety that comes with starting is thwarted.

I hope these personal tidbits come in handy as you begin preparing for finals. Again, I am no professional; I am just a struggling writer like yourself. However, I strongly believe these few tips will help you out. If they don’t, I hope they have at least given you a spring board to develop your own framework for developing your own strategy for overcoming the anxieties of writing. And if nothing else, they say misery is company, therefore maybe I have given you some solace by reminding you that everyone is a struggling writer, even the best. You are not alone! Good luck with your finals.

 

-Andrew

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