The Dread: Dealing with writing anxiety

Okay, first things first. Don’t get me wrong. Writing is my job, and I love my job. I enjoy writing stories where people fall in love and have happy endings, and it amazes me that people actually buy them, and read them, and like them. This will never get old. And I count myself very lucky that I can do this for a living.

But… (you knew there was a but coming, didn’t you?). With writing, comes The Dread.


So here’s the thing: writing will never not be hard for me. A few authors make it look easy, but actually when I talk to other authors most of them agree that it’s hard. Getting those words down on the page takes a lot of effort, it’s often boring, and usually involves a constant battle against fear and insecurity. “Is it crap? Am I crap?”

Today, I started a new WIP (Housemates #3). Starting a new story is usually one of the most stressful times for me because I’m more of a pantser than a plotter, so I tend to feel as if I’m lost in the middle of a forest without a map. The only way out is to write.

Once I get going, it usually gets a little easier, and every now and again I have a magical day where the words flow, my characters behave and everything is awesome. But this pie chart is a pretty realistic breakdown of my brain on any writing day.



Then along with that hot mess of insecurity, add in a deadline, and yep. Starting that new WIP feels a lot like going back to school after a holiday, with an overdue essay and exams looming. The Dread creeps up on you, lurks in your gut, and makes you crave chocolate and a blanket fort.

But I’m here to tell you, that it gets easier. If only because each time you manage to finish a story, you prove to yourself that it’s possible to beat The Dread. And also, each time you push through and finish a first draft, you learn a little more about the process, about what works for you and what doesn’t, and how to challenge those pesky inner voices.

Top Tips for feeling The Dread and writing the damn book anyway


Have small, manageable goals – whatever suits you, whether it’s 500 words a day, 3000 words a day, or a weekly goal with more flexibility. Make goals, and try and keep to them. Nothing makes me feel empowered like achieving my goals, and an empowered writer is a confident writer.

Time Management

Whether you use timers, productivity apps, social media blockers or write sprints with other authors, find something that makes you sit and focus. My current method is writing in 45 min blocks with 15 minute breaks. That suits me, but your mileage may vary.

Prioritise writing time

Tempting though it is to use editing, promo, admin, cleaning, laundry, or stroking the cat as an excuse for leaving your writing till later, don’t do it. Write first and try and avoid getting sucked into procrastination. If you don’t write more books then you won’t have anything to edit/promote. Writing comes first.

Baby Steps

If you’re like me, the big picture is sometimes too scary. I try and forget how many words the story is likely to be when it’s finished, because the thought of writing 40, 50, 60k words is overwhelming. I think in days (2000 is my usual goal), and weeks (10k is my weekly goal). If you break it down like that, suddenly it seems like less of a mountain to climb.

Cheerleaders and companions

Find other writers to write with. Support each other, kick each other’s arses, don’t let each other give up. FINISH THE DAMN STORY. Remind each other that there is nothing in a first draft that can’t be fixed. I belong to the m/m sprint club on Facebook and sharing goals and progress in there is really motivating. Plus who doesn’t like a bit of office banter to get them through the day?

If you like feedback as you write, find a critique partner who will read as you go, and who you can bounce ideas off or talk through ideas if you get stuck. Annabelle Jacobs is my writing partner and I couldn’t do it without her. I can’t write into a void, I need feedback as I go. But even if you prefer not to share your words until the draft is completed, writing on your own is pretty lonely. I like the camaraderie of shared goals and writing sprints.


How do you keep going when you’re struggling to stay motivated? Please share your tips/experiences in a comment 🙂



About Jay Northcote

Author of LGBT romance. Trans (he/him), Parent, cat herder, professional procrastinator.
This entry was posted in ramblings about writing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to The Dread: Dealing with writing anxiety

  1. annabowling says:

    I can’t write into a void, either. I’m a big ol’ extrovert, and need to talk, so having a good critique partner is crucial. Right now, I have two for one project, and one each for two others. If the writing won’t come, talking it out usually unsticks me, and quickly, too.

    • Yes! that’s very similar to me. Talking it through is usually the best way for me of unsticking myself. If there isn’t a person to talk to, I go for a walk and talk to myself instead 🙂

  2. Katinka says:

    I talk to my therapist. LOL. I need to feel motivated everyday because I have bipolar I disorder and am mostly depressed. I used to want to make a living as a writer. I had decided I was boing to be a writer when I was about seven-years-old, but now I am on disability because I can’t work due to my illness. So, I don’t feel the pressure to write lots of novels to pay my rent. My goal for my novel is simply to write something everyday, even if it’s just a sentence or an idea, as long as I keep moving forward and keep believing in my novel. I spend a lot more time writing book reviews than crafting my novel, but that’s okay, because I consider writing anything practice. The other thing that blocks me is my inner critic, so I have to remember what my therapist told me that I shouldn’t worry about whether it’s good or important enough but to keep writing, because my writing matters so much to m it makes my life worth living. I don’t feel like I need a critique partner while I’m writing my novel, but I do have a first reader who’ll read anything I write as long as it has a happy ending 😉

  3. lennanadams says:

    Thank you so much for this. It is so great to get the chance to see inside your mind and process. You are so generous with your time and thoughts and I so appreciate your vulnerability and transparency – it is EVERYTHING to know that I’m not alone in The Dread. I know The Dread well but I had actually kind of forgotten about its existence with regard to my other creative pursuits till I read this (it’s still there, I guess I just don’t DREAD it as much these days, haha – it’s just part of the deal and I push through bc I know that my end result will be OK bc it always IS, regardless of what the DREAD says it will be). I’ve never really pushed through that with writing but you have inspired me (as usual) and I’m going to remember that while it doesn’t go away, exactly, it will become the devil I know and therefore will someday be less terrifying and paralyzingly.
    I love the list of practical steps, too. Do you have advice on how to find a writing/critique partner? I have a few friends IRL who write but not in this (m/m romance) genre, which seems important. I read for one friend who writes post-apocalyptic stuff and I’m always trying to turn her MCs gay, haha.
    Anyway, thanks, you are the best!

    • Thank you! it makes me feel even more vulnerable sharing my ‘weakness’ but I know I find that honesty helpful in other authors.
      Re the critique partner thing, I found mine through fanfiction writing… but I think there are a lot of aspiring writers in your position. When you wake up and get online you’ll see I’ve made a new FB group for GLBTQ writers to connect and network. So, as this is all your fault, I hope you’ll want to join 😉

  4. Have you been monitoring my brain, to get the percentages in your pie chart so accurate? 😉
    Mostly, I prefer not to share my stories (or even tell people the bare bones of the plot) until the first draft is done. Criticism at the wrong time can plunge me into a spiral of “This is crap, I’m crap, everything’s crap” so deep that I lose all interest in the WIP and won’t finish it.

    The worst type of mid-story criticism is from friends who are trying to help, e.g. “It’s great, but why don’t you make him a vampire/wizard/billionaire like in Twilight/Harry Potter/Fifty Shades? And why don’t you set it in Hawaii, and give them a baby? And instead of the airplane crash, why don’t you…” (I don’t hear the rest, because I’ve locked myself in the bathroom to cry)

    The only exception is my critique partner, who I know won’t tear holes in it.

    • This is why I only have two people who I trust to read as I go – because they know the sort of help that’s useful at that stage. I think it takes a special kind of trust to allow people to see your raw WIP. The wrong comment then can result in something that never gets finished. When I’m drafting I mostly want someone to pat me on the back and reassure me that what I have so far is worth carrying on with. Then once it’s finished, they can (and do) tell me how to make it better 🙂

  5. I really relate to this. I’m a pantser, too, and I’ve been in that forest! Let’s face it–writing is a lonely occupation. It’s just you and the computer. Motivation is important!

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