Skip to Main Content

Anxiety about academic writing: I'm a bad writer

Learn more about techniques and tools to help you if you feel anxious about academic writing

You might be feeling:

  • I can't write - that's what my teachers told me when I was in school.
  • I'm bad at writing; I always have been, and I always will be.
  • I'm a bad writer because my work isn't perfect.
  • My writing will never be as good as my colleagues' work.
  • I have writer's block, which just shows that I'm a bad writer. If I was a good writer, I would be able to write.
  • I'm not comfortable with using computers, so the process of creating my documents is really hard for me. Even typing is hard for me, so how can I be a good writer if I can't type well?
  • I work really hard at my writing, but my grades on my assignments are never as good as I expect them to be.

What can you do right now?

Emotional strategies

Persistent negative inner self talk can create quite a block to your ability to flourish at university.  It's not easy, but there are definitely some strategies you can try to help calm the little voices and help you create a more realistic story of you as a writer:

  • Do a reality test: Are you actually a "bad writer" or are you holding on to something that was said to you when you were previously in school?  What's the evidence that you are a "bad writer"? Is there actual factual evidence or are you just jumping to conclusions and believing the negative self-talk?
  • If there is evidence that you really are a "bad" writer, what steps can you take to solve the problem? See the writing strategies below for some great tips to get you started.
  • If there's not much evidence, can you think of a more accurate way to describe yourself as a writer? Could you describe yourself as a novice writer, an adequate writer, or a developing writer?
  • How would you know that you were a good writer? What is one small change you could make to move you in that direction?
  • If your self talk is still getting in the way, please book an appointment with Counselling Services so we can help quiet the unhelpful inner chatter and build up your confidence.

Writing strategies

Writing involves many complex thinking and communication skills, and as with all skills, all writers are constantly in the process of learning and improving. People are never "done" as writers; rather, we're all writers-in-development. Try to think of yourself as someone who is learning new skills, versus that you're a bad writer, and be patient as you learn those skills. Skills take time, information, practice, and feedback to develop, and it's inevitable that mistakes will be made along the way. While no one enjoys making mistakes, they're a normal part of learning a new skill. Consider someone who is learning how to play a musical instrument; they wouldn't be expected to play a complex piece of music the first time they pick up the instrument. Similarly, as a developing author, focus on learning the individual skills, rather than expecting you'll be perfect every time you write.

  • Try the exercises in "Assess yourself as a writer" to learn more about your strengths and areas for development as a writer.
  • Writer's block happens to everyone and is seldom an indication of ability. Rather, it tends to happen when people don't have enough information or haven't planned their works. See "Overcoming writer's block" for suggestions.
  • If typing is a struggle, try speech-to-text software to capture your ideas. See "Speech-to-text tools".
  • Contact your instructor to request a conversation to learn more about why your grades aren't as high as you expect. While receiving the feedback might not be easy, the conversation will identify specific skills for you to develop. Once you have that information, book an appointment with the Writing Centre so that we can assist you.

Where can you learn more?

Counselling Services

Writing Centre

Ask for help

Counselling Services
(250) 391-2600 ext. 4515  
Book an appointment

Writing Centre
(250) 391-2600, ext. 4353 or 1-800-788-8028
Book an appointment