Learn How to Overcome Writing Prompt Anxiety: Easy Practical Tips and Strategies

Why writing prompts can be anxiety-provoking?

Writing prompts are open-ended questions designed to elicit a certain type of response.

Because writing prompts are open-ended, you may wonder whether you’re getting it right.  Are you actually answering the question correctly?

In school, we learn to respond to essay prompts to produce written pieces that will be evaluated based on set criteria.  

Did you fully answer the question?  Did you include evidence to back up your claims?  Does your thought process make sense?  Do your words and ideas flow consistently?

When we don’t get it right, we lose points, get a bad grade, and have to redo our work until it is deemed acceptable.

This experience can create anxiety when answering writing prompts for self-reflection.

Those who are neurodivergent may especially feel like they’re getting it completely wrong, when they come up with a tangent that is perceived as completely different as everyone else.

You may have a hard time understanding or translating the language of a prompt.  What does it really mean?  With the history of past difficult academic experiences of getting it wrong, you may feel an internal pressure to get it right. 

It can also be awkward in a group setting where you can hear others’ responses.  

You might find yourself comparing your answers with theirs.  Measuring yourself up with the information you have about what’s acceptable.  Questioning whether you belong in the group.  Wondering why your responses don’t look like theirs.

Writing prompts for self-reflection and creativity function differently than academic writing prompts.  

These prompts are more intended to serve as a container for self-exploration.  A spark for a flame.  A microphone for your inner wisdom to speak through.

Because of this, each person’s interpretation of a prompt is different.  This is okay.  Good, even.  

What’s important is getting to the core of your truth, whatever that means and looks to you.  

Not getting it “right” in that your answers make logical sense, you can provide evidence, and you answer the prompt entirely without missing any segments.

It’s more about hearing yourself.  Discovering insight.  Integrating your inner being through written language.

Some prompts just may not resonate, or make sense to your brain, and that’s okay.  Of course, there are times when it’s more appropriate than others to disregard a prompt.  

It may not be you – Writing prompts may make assumptions based on culture, history, shared knowledge or experience, etc.  

While the intention of writing prompts is to be open-ended and inclusive, sometimes the language is limiting and falls short.  It’s unfortunately common for writing and language to be ableist or biased in ways that don’t feel good, particularly when you fall outside the “norm.”  In addition, you may have different definitions of words than the prompt’s intention.

In cases like this, I wouldn’t want you to get caught up in trying too hard to understand a writing prompt that isn’t making sense.  

Sometimes prompts aren’t cerebral; they’re more about activating some deeper part of you that is harder to put words to.  

What to do when you feel disconnect with a writing prompt:

  • Write about whatever stirs you instead. 

    It’s okay to go on a tangent based on what you’re inspired by at the moment.  This can lead you to a new discovery.
  • Explore whether there’s a trigger in the language of the prompt.
    What sensations are coming up?  What do these sensations tell you?  Maybe the writing prompt is calling you out, or inviting you to explore places you’re not ready to go. 

    When I’m coaching someone and they take a series of prompts in a completely different direction than originally discussed, I get curious about what’s come up for them.  Is there something in the prompt that’s uncomfortable to confront?  If so, this is valuable information to explore.
  • Acknowledge that it may not be the right timing. 

    Sometimes it’s okay to not have an answer at all.  Simply holding an intriguing, charged, or meaningful question in your mind is enough to receive answers at a later point.  

The point, ultimately, is to get honest with yourself, without force.

The goal is to hold space where you can hear your inner voice in a way that you may not be able to otherwise.  

Don’t let the anxiety of getting it wrong stop you from listening to your heart.

About the author

I help people reconnect to themselves and tell stories that make their soul sing.

I am a certified coach, writing mentor, writer, and group facilitator who enjoys helping people who’ve felt different to write from the heart.

Since 2008, I’ve worked with writers in every messy step of the creation process. I’m passionate about delving deep into the story underneath the story — the root cause of the struggle with self-expression — so you can feel good about the results.

For more, I invite you to sign up for my mailing list or explore how we can work together.