Overcoming essay-writing phobia

Posted by | September 30, 2011 | Uncategorized | 83 Comments

A few years ago another academic and I were walking with a student (“Kiki”) who said that she always handed in essay assignments two weeks after they are due — the last day before she would receive a 0. Each time she lost 20% of the total possible points due to an automatic penalty of 2% per work day late. Over the long run she was ruining her chances of going on to postgraduate study. The other academic walking with us started to tell Kiki that the university had now extended the penalty period to three weeks with a maximum penalty of 30%, but I elbowed him right away and shook my head. I knew that if Kiki heard this news she would change to submitting three weeks late and suffer an extra 10% penalty. I knew that because I understand phobias, and Kiki had one — essay-writing phobia.

This phobia involves fear and avoidance of writing an assigned essay and/or submitting the essay. In addition to lateness penalties, the avoidance can lead to last-minute writing with its attendant stress, poor quality, and low marks. This phobia is more common than you might think.

What causes essay-writing phobia? The causes are similar for all types of phobias. The main factors likely to contribute here are genetic, biological predispositions to feel anxious, perfectionism in general, setting an unrealistically high goal for the essay, low self-efficacy for writing in general or for the specific essay, and low levels of self-control. Two other possible factors: Avoidance helps the person feel much better in the short run by reducing anxiety, and avoidance with frantic last-minute writing gives the person an ego-protecting excuse for earning a low mark.

So what is the way out of essay-writing phobia? I’ll suggest 10 strategies in order of value for most individuals:

1. Change your goal to something realistic and valuable, like doing your best under the circumstances or submitting on time or ending your avoidance. Put aside goals of being perfect and impressing the heck out of someone.

2. Gradually expose yourself to what you fear. Write the easiest part of the essay first — start with your name or the title. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Then write the next easiest part and so on, all the way to submitting. Praise yourself for courage at each step. Use my favorite definition of courage: Doing the right thing even tho scared. There is a great deal of research evidence that gradual exposure helps eliminate phobias.

3. Discuss your fears with someone who cares about your welfare or write in a journal about your fears. Bringing them out in the open will help you deal with them.

4. Calm yourself thru deep breathing, meditation, or some other means.

5. Focus on the task at hand — tell yourself what to do next on the assignment. Think that you are writing a draft that you will improve later, if necessary. Positive thoughts often lead to positive behavior.

6. Challenge self-defeating thoughts such as “Ï can’t do this” by thinking clearly about what “this” is and by looking for evidence from the past about whether you can do it.

7. Think of times you have written good essays and submitted on time.

8. Think of how you overcame some fear before in your life.

9. Think of individuals you admire who acted bravely.

10. Write in a new location or using a different method, e.g., paper rather than laptop. The change of procedure might give you a new perspective or expectation.

Those are my thoughts. For a case study describing treatment of essay-writing phobia, see http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0005796786900422.

What helps you reduce essay writing fear and avoidance?

John Malouff, PhD,
Associate Professor of Psychology

[Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash]


  • Leon says:

    One of the most effective ways I’ve found to avoid procrastinating is to plan what I’m going to write thoroughly and to break it down into manageable chunks (introduction, arguments, conclusion, for instance). Often, I think we put off writing because we don’t know where to start or we’re afraid of getting lost halfway through. If you have a good plan, you always know what you have to write next, and if you chunk it, the job becomes less daunting, because you can take it a bit at a time.

    As professional project managers say: first you need to plan the work, then you need to work the plan.

  • Sandra says:

    Dear John
    I have had this battle for a few years now, although not usually late with assignments, essay induced anxiety levels are high, especially close to submit time.
    My motto is still working on it – Never give up.
    So thanks for giving me something to help me “work on it”.
    I look forward to reading the case study, when, I my essays are finished.
    Kind regards

  • Julie Bodin says:

    This is brilliant! While I have never submitted an assignment late, I do procrastinate and worry every time I start an essay! I have to admit I have phaffed about for half a day over the abstract and introduction for a recent postgrad essay. Years of part-time study and I still agonise! :o)

    I have often wondered whether we sometimes set ourselves up for failure so we have an excuse for not doing as well as we could.

    Unfortunately though, setting high goals for an essay is often necessary for some students who need to maintain high GPAs in order to be competitive for places in honours and masters programs. I have found that this pressure added to my anxiety levels during my UGRAD. The old saying “You still get degrees with Ps” is true but not really helpful for a stressed out Psych UGRAD!!

  • Kathryn says:

    I think I have the opposite going on…..I can’t bear to leave an essay to the last minute. I need weeks (or months) to write, reflect, write and rewrite, write, reflect etc etc in order to arrive at a place where I feel ready to submit my work. This is the ONLY way I can handle the pressure of the task. And it actually gets me engaged with the task, and motivated to keep chipping away at it.

    I agree, breaking it into chunks works. And on a hard day I’m writing the reference list or something more light on. I know on the next or the next day I’ll feel ready to tackle the bigger stuff………..but in the end it does come down to sheer hard work and putting in the time – including doing the painstaking research, and having enough time for reflection. And the feeling that you’ve put that sort of effort in is satisfying in itself, and even more so if receive a good grade.

  • Barny says:

    Thanks for the article. Having worked in the Australian Public Service for 19 years, writing is not something that scares me – but having returned to post-grad study, the concept of submitting an academic piece of writing has been more confronting. A different sort of pressure! Some great suggestions there – especially no. 10, though my wife might wonder what the heck I am up to tapping away on a keyboard in the buff! 🙂

  • Elke says:

    Thank you for your article. The bodies of the essay seems to be the main part for me. I found if I break this up in chunks, topics are a lot better, ideally. Physically a relaxing massage may trigger more thoughts. Finally organised and finishing the task ahead of time.

  • jmalouff says:

    Thanks to all of you for your comments. Many of you point to breaking the assignment into manageable parts. That, of course, is what we do in eating. We cut up our food into small chunks and then we chew it into even smaller pieces. Good process!

    I like the other ideas too — planning carefully, starting early, getting massages, consistent hard work, persisting, What thoughts do use to combat anxiety about essay performance?

  • tjarlz says:

    Arguably, the behavioural treatment of “phobias” is one of psychology’s paradigmatic successes. If the problem is with the submission of work, I think that what is required is a program of systematic desensitisation. Treatment could be integrated into an academic course, and as with all such programs would be fairly labout intensive. We would start with the submission of one sentence, delivered immediately upon receipt of the task, and after feedback had been given on that sentence, increase the task demand by an agreed on ‘trivial and immediately deliverable’ amount, give feedback, maintain salience by set a proximal deadline and so on until the task was complete.

  • jmalouff says:

    Hi tjartz. I also favor gradual exposure treatment for phobias.

  • Miriam says:

    Holy crap this is a legitimate phobia? Like, a phobia that is actually recognized by professionals? I’m not just lazy/a neurotic perfectionist? I’m going to look at the link OP provided to the case study because that would explain so much. I am stunned.

    Background info: I am taking a year off from my undergraduate studies on account of abysmal grades and burnout. I am not a bad student, per se—I graduated in the top 10% of my high school class and was accepted Early Decision into a prestigious research university—but even since first grade, my experiences with essays and the like have been very similar to Kiki’s.

  • jmalouff says:

    Hi Miriam. Not only is it a real phobia, it is a common one among university students. I see evidence of that in the many, many individuals who access my posting on the topic. Also I know students who partly defeat themselves by avoiding work on assigned essays.

  • tjarlz says:

    Hi Miriam,

    In the nicest way… I don’t think that there are any illegitimate phobias. Everyone with a phobia is suffering, and often unnecessarily.

    You might like to have a look at Carol Dweck’s work on ‘self theories’. In particular how we can be scuppered by implicit beliefs about intelligence and achievement.



  • jmalouff says:

    Hi there. I agree — there are many different types of stimuli that lead to phobias in at least some people.

  • C.M. says:

    This was really helpful. Right now I cannot give up any essays on time and I have a very low GPA. I am therefore gonna seek help and use some of these to help move forward in my academic life. It is also good to know I’m not the only one sufering

  • jmalouff says:

    Hi CM. You are not alone with that problem. Good luck!


  • David says:

    The problem I have is It seems that I can’t write something good without the anxiety spurring me on. It seems to give me some extra ability to focus but also makes me hate the process. I can start writing an essay really early, but the good stuff does not seem to come out until the deadline approaches and the adreniline kicks in! It is really annoying. I would love to sit calmly and write an essay and even enjoy the process, but everything I seem to write is trite until I am backed into a corner. It is so frustrating!

  • jmalouff says:

    Hi Davenwillow. It seems that you need challenge or high arousal to write your best. If you use your imagination, you find find other ways than an impending deadline to create challenge or high arousal when writing. Please write again if you find an alternative that works for you.

  • Sheryl Friedman says:

    My writing anxieties are beyond paralyzing. I become physically ill from the start of my writing, until my grade is posted. This information is so helpful, thank you!

  • Sadbot says:

    It is really nice to see someone acknowledge the topic of essay phobia in students. I have been struggling with phobia for taking tests and writing papers for a while now. During my school years I feared preparing for my final exams but now that I am in college I have a strong fear of writing papers. I have tried making outlines, setting concrete time limits, writing from the body of the paper, taking anxiety medication but none of these methods help to counter my anxiety/phobia. I know this might seem like excuses to prevent myself from writing academic papers but this is truly how it is for me. I try to talk about my writing problems with psychologists however it is hard for them to grasp just how bad it is for me and they chose to focus on other problems instead.

  • jmalouff says:

    Hi Sadbot. I know a student who describes her avoidance much as you do. If you solve the problem for yourself, tell the world how you did it — you could help many individuals.

  • Tracy says:

    Thanks for your thoughts, John, and everyone. I may have a ‘phobia’ now, but I didn’t start out that way. I’m an adult who returned to college 25 years after leaving, so learning how to write academically after years of e-mailing and Facebooking conversationally, has been really difficult. I think my phobia has grown out of my self-imposed perfectionism and the tedium in attempting it. Everything I write TAKES ME SO LONG. But, I agree that breaking into chunks, however one chooses to do it, is very helpful. Graphic organizers would be helpful, but I have yet to find a program that’s really cooperative with a newb. I spend all day trying to learn the program rather than getting started on my writing. Ugh. I’m sorry you all struggle, but it’s nice to know I’m not alone.

  • jmalouff says:

    Hi Tracy. Albert Bandura would say that low self-efficacy about doing an assignment adequately is at the heart of essay-writing phobia. For students with a phobia, a better goal than doing the assignment adequately (which to some of them means perfectly) is to do the assignment as a good (or perfect!) student does: following a preparation/writing schedule, starting early, making continual progress, and submitting on time or early. In the long run of a career, timeliness in writing is more important than perfection.

  • C.Q. says:

    I’m so glad I came across this discussion. But I wish I saw this 5 years ago.

    I’ve always had problems submitting essays on time back in my college days. I majored in both Psychology and Linguistics, and took a bunch of other social science electives so understandably there were a lot of writing to do. At some stage I gave up on myself and thought I was just a lazy ass procrastinator who will never amount to much.

    Before I start on an essay I would spend a lot of effort doing my readings, planning my structure, and extracting the relevant information. But when it comes to typing out the actual essay, I get stuck. The untitled word document can sit on my laptop screen for days and we just stare at each other until its finally a week overdue. Consequentially, I usually get a good raw grade for content but the late penalty takes it down to a mediocre grade.

    Fast-forward until today, I have worked in a stressful(but boring) corporate environment for a while and never had a problem with time-management or punctually. A possible explanation I’ve thought of is that, ironically, I cared more about the quality of my college assignments than the tasks at my current job.

    Lately, I’ve been thinking of going back to pursue a Master’s Degree but my undergrad grades make me weep with regret. How could I possibly tell the admission panel that my subpar GPA was due to late assignments and expect them to wave their wands of forgiveness? I probably can’t…

    Thank you John and everyone here for sharing your thoughts and sorry for my long post in secondlanguage-English!

  • jmalouff says:

    Hi CQ. You are not alone in suffering consequences of essay-writing phobia. You write well — look for a way ahead.

  • NWM says:

    Wow- sums me up to a T! I’m doing my second undergrad, but my first one almost never got finished because I wouldn’t submit a thesis…it’s not that it wasn’t written, it was. In fact I wrote it one night but then spent the majority of the term “tweaking” it…which really just meant trying to fact check and double fact check, look for grammar problems and pick it apart to peices for no reason 🙁 I went as far as ruining my computer with some weird virus and was so relieved that I had a LEGIT reason not to hand in HAHA. My cousin is a computer whiz so that didn’t last for long. I took it to him to get it fixed but he was aware of the situation and ran my document through some of his editor friends then printed and submitted it for me omg! I got an A, but I felt robbed of my intellectual property- does that make sense?! I forgot about it for a while, but now I’m writing papers again and I can’t help but feel the same feelings as before. I know I have a problem with submitting papers but was too embarrassed to tell anyone. I finally did and thankfully my school has counsellors who are totally aware of this problem so now I get extensions and stuff but I try my hardest not to take too much advantage of that because I know in real life there are no extensions 🙁 I wanna “fix” this problem so bad…sooooo exposure exposure exposure! I may just try that writing naked tip too HAHAHA! Thanks for the great post and all the lovely dialogue going on here. Makes me feel a lot better about this 🙂

  • jmalouff says:

    Thanks for your comment, NWM. Persistence is important in changing a habit.

  • Jtxz says:

    Hi! I just wanted to say I really liked this article – I’m so glad I finally have a name for what I’m going through! I hate, hate writing essays; when I’m faced with a deadline, I’m sometimes tempted to grab a hammer and smash my head or hand in just so I won’t have to write it. The weird thing is, I didn’t always have this phobia or feel terribly anxious about my essays. I did pretty well for my first 2 years of college, I would submit my essays at the deadline or maybe a day or a few hours late and get maybe an A- or a B+ with a late penalty.
    I’m in my fourth and final honours semester now, and for the past 2 years, I can’t seem to meet any of the deadlines. My procrastination has gotten really bad – I sometimes submit in my essays one week late. For every day I’m late, my profs dock my grade by one half grade, so an A becomes an A-. I start crying almost uncontrollably when I know I have an essay due; I go into denial mode and consider quite seriously jumping out of the window to make the task of writing an essay go away and I start to seriously consider the benefits of jumping since it would mean that I would never have to do another essay again. I know this is absurd, it is my last semester and after this, I’ll never have to write another academic paper again. I also know that once I’m done with my paper, I’ll feel really happy and totally at peace and in love with the world and I will no longer want to jump.
    I don’t think I’m a bad student, I’m actually quite academically inclined and really like sitting in classes, listening to the profs teach. If I keep my grades up, I’ll likely graduate with a second upper class honours which is crucial for me if I want to enter my country’s civil service. But I am so scared that I won’t be able to make it because I keep submitting my essays in late. Every essay is a living hell I have to go through :(.

  • jmalouff says:

    Hi jtxz. I sense your suffering — I feel sad thinking about it. Part of your suffering comes from an approach-avoidance conflict (I think that you want to complete your assignment and get a good grade but you feel anxious about doing the work). If avoidance of writing assignments is your only avoidance, your problems will soon end when you graduate — you will be free!

  • Moe says:

    i cant write my essay. i just cant. im in college i should be able to write aa paper by myself.

  • jmalouff says:

    Hi Moe. Phobias, though irrational, are common. I used to have a phobia of diving into water. I also had a phobia of public speaking. I am happy to say that I have left these phobias behind.

    If the strategies in my blog don’t help you overcome the problem, consult a psychologist on campus. Phobia treatment usully works well.

  • liza says:

    it’s a relief to know that i’m not the only one. I failed a course in April because of this problem. now i’m taking it for the second time but the same thing is happening. the dateline was yesterday. and to avoid myself from thinking about the penalty, i play game on the smartphone. it is so hard to overcome this kind of problem. i wish i never do this master degree.
    i hope the lecturer still accept my essay assignment although i know there is no chance coz he is so strict kind of person.
    thank you for this post anyway. i will continue my essay now.

  • jmalouff says:

    Hi Liza. Persistence often pays off in overcoming a phobia or any other type of problem.

  • jcz says:

    This hits close to home, so close that even my nickname is Kiki! And as I am writing this comment, my deadline for a 1500 word essay is in 23 minute and I haven’t started >.<
    I have no problem studying for exams and doing assignments that do not include academic writing but just the thought of writing academic essays makes me break out in sweats! I have always either submitted my essays in late at uni or submitted in essays that only reached half the word limit. I would procrastinate until the last possible minute to start because usually the pressure of deadlines makes me less inclined to be perfect with my writing and just produce anything. In saying this, I have never failed an essay but also rarely ever achieved a great mark. My friends are always baffled by my phobia as I am an avid reader so they assume this means I am a great writer.
    My new years resolution to tackle this phobia is to write more. I will try to give myself things that I am interested in to research and write about. Hopefully I will be able to go through with this resolution!

  • jmalouff says:

    Hi Kiki. You are a member of a large group (millions worldwide?) of individuals who fear and avoid academic writing. To leave the group, go right on Courage Street and then right again on Persistence Boulevard. If you submit a written assignment on time, with a proper word count, after starting early, and earn a high grade, your improved student behavior will be reinforced by the grade. If the grade is not so good, you may learn that you are not harmed by receiving a mediocre grade for maximum performance.

  • Leksa says:

    I ended up reading this blog because I have an essay due tomorrow which I haven’t yet started. I’ve done all the background reading and research, and even written a detailed outline, but I have a complete block on writing the essay itself until I’m almost out of time.

    I used to think it was something to do with the adrenaline kick when I finish something half an hour before deadline (I’ve never actually missed one, but at my college being five minutes late means the mark is capped at 40% – if the policy was 2% deduction a day, I’d be even worse) – now, though, I’ve realised that it absolutely is perfectionism gone horribly wrong. I know my writing isn’t anywhere near the quality of published work, therefore it’s automatically terrible and the marker will think I’m an academic failure (and a failure of a person, too, because why stop there?) Writing it all at the last minute gives me a protective excuse for submitting something imperfect.

    I’m trying to overcome this, but when I do start early I agonise over every single sentence and an assignment that should take a day or two of solid work takes weeks instead, with the bulk of it still being written at the last minute! It’s an improvement on high school, which I dropped out of after missing literally every deadline I had there, but still.

    Interestingly, this isn’t the case with written reports and evaluations I’ve had to do at work – because my manager either just thanks me for them or, if necessary, asks for revisions. It’s the grading that’s the trouble for me, as if the entirely of my self is being reduced to a number. Of course that’s going to be stressful, even if the number isn’t a disappointingly low one.

    Thank you for this post! I know it’s a few years old now, but at least I know that I’m not alone.

  • jmalouff says:

    Hi Leksa. You are not alone. I hope that at some point you will care much less what markers think of you — you are not on this earth to please markers, or to be perfect.

  • Nita says:

    Thank you for this article. I have struggled to explain my writing anxiety to others but when I do, I become frustrated because they don’t seem to understand. And I can’t make sense of it either. This has been an academic struggle for me going back to grade school. It has even negatively impacted my professional career.

    I graduated a semester late from college because I didn’t turn in a paper and had to retake a class. Attempted to get my masters but after twice trying to complete my thesis class I gave up. It is not that I can’t write it is just such a difficult task…it is mentally and emotionally exhausting. I know that it has to do on some level with perfectionism and a fear of criticism. Like many I have the mindset that if I don’t try then I didn’t succeed by choice. Not sure were the mindset originated from but that is the inner voice that I battle with. This is the only area academically that I struggle with, I excel in all others.

    I am currently back in school and picked an academic track that isn’t heavy on written assignments. Thought that with less writing that I could “will” my way through the writing but it is so bad that I look at the syllabus to determine how much a written assignment is weighted to determine if I will turn it in late or even at all. Which means that I have to work harder to sustain grades that can sustain the loss of points.

    My issue isn’t organizing my thoughts because I can create an outline, have everything in order and can verbally recite the contents of the paper if asked. But when I put my fingers on the keys I feel like I am going into battle. It is a horrible experience that sometimes I just choose not to fight.

  • jmalouff says:

    Hi Juanita. I can feel your suffering. I hope you will try psychological strategies or see a psychologist — anything that might help you overcome the problem.

  • Jaappy says:

    oh dear… Could I use this as an ‘extenuating circumstance’ to stop my essay being capped at 40%?

    My university is totally draconian. 1 minute late and its capped at 40%!

    The ironic thing was that it was the first time I started an essay early, I chipped at it slowly and got over my fear. I was 1 minute late to submit and all the effort I made dealing with my ‘issue’ was in vain. It’s really discouraging to want to start something early again.

    I was under so much stress, i pretty much skipped Christmas celebrations to work on my frigging essay that drove me to tears and unexplained increased heart rate for three weeks!

    I still submitted something subpar because I broke it into too many little chunks that took me beyond the submission date so i still pulled a 42 hour all nighter to reach the word count by the date. Imagine my blood shot, teary eyes when the woman told me I am a minute late.

    God I am crying now remembering it now (This was three days ago). And I am on this website because I am back to my essay avoiding ways. Sigh.

  • jmalouff says:

    Jaappy, you suffered mightily due to be slightly tardy in submitting. Although you did not receive the grade reward you wanted, you did show yourself that you can start early and submit at about the due time. Your next step is to start early and submit early. You are very close to that level of performance, which may gain you the grade you want and positive emotions.

  • anonyme says:

    Thank you so much for this article! I’ve been struggle with this problem for years (since high school). And I feel like it has gotten worse as each semester goes by. I meant have to graduated from my undergrad degree last semester but I failed a subject (which wasn’t even meant to be hard in the first place) due to the exact same problem as Kiki in this article, in that I have this bad habit of submitting assignments a week or two weeks after the due date. I think it has a lot to do with my perfectionism which I have trouble dealing with, like I’m always re-writing and correcting everything before I even get to the rest of the essay. Even as I am writing this comment, I’m constantly either correcting myself or rewording my sentences.

    But I also think I have a problem with academic writing in general – I found that my ideas lack coherence and/or depth (or they’re simply all over the place). I also have problems paraphrasing an author’s words or explaining particular concepts, as well as putting forward my own arguments. Often my teachers comment on how I’m just summarising what these writers are saying. It seems that I’m really terrible at critical analysis.

    Everytime I have to do a journal article/literature review, research project or a combination of both, I get extremely anxious. But generally whenever I have to do an assignment, I get anxious, even just reading the subject guide which outlines the assessment tasks for the semester stresses me out.

    I’m really tired of making excuses and apologies for having to submit assignments after the due date. I’ve gone to three different counselors in the past about this and I didn’t feel like they were very helpful. I feel like I need a personal academic tutor or something. At the same time, I feel really embarrassed about it. I also think I need to learn how to stand on my own and not rely or depend on other people all the time. Every time I ask help from people and end up getting good marks for a specific task, I feel like the credit’s not mine to take. It doesn’t help that I’m slow and disorganised (mentally and physically)…

    I might have to give couseling another shot for this problem is literally starting to drive me insane. I hope what I’ve written here makes sense (I’m almost tempted to discard this comment but I’m going to leave it here because I think I need to get this off my chest).

    Many thanks again! 🙂

  • jmalouff says:

    Hi Anonyme. Many other individuals share your difficulties. Persistence in overcoming the problem is your best bet.


  • anonyme says:

    Thanks, John! I really appreciate your comment.
    (Just realised, I have a few typos on my post, e.g. *I’ve been struggling)

  • jmalouff says:

    I did not notice any typos.

  • nina says:

    I feel so identified with this! I’ve had a big problem sitting down studying since high school, difficulties to find and stick to topics, organize myself and, well, I’m afraid of writing essays.
    During my undergrads I kind of managed to either hand in on time and get ok grades or hand in late and get (very) good grades. My university didn’t mind, but my sense of self-worth really suffered! I’m not really motivated to hand in some last-minute crap anymore (if I even had something written) when I know that in theory I could do so much better. I do try to sit down early, I love to learn, I love all the academic environment etc. It just doesn’t help.
    Last autumn I started a Masters, which is really heavy on writing papers and this university is much more strict than my former one. From the beginning I felt inferior (which adds to my anxieties) due to how late I handed in my papers during my undergrads. Result is that until now I haven’t managed to submit even one (of many), am blocked from future courses and scared to be kicked out. Should I talk to someone about it and whom? I always feel that this is my battle that I gotta go through alone and not bother University staff with inappropriate requests :/
    In fact, a couple of months ago I contacted my University’s psychologist who sent me to a psychiatrist who told me that I’m lazy, a fake student (procrastinator!), not made for studying and should stop torturing myself and instead look for a job (knowing myself I would do the same in a job). I was supposed to have more consultations but this one crushed me so much (and increased my fears and reduced my self-worth even more) that I promised to myself to battle it alone. Now I have realized that I can’t do this alone and contacted another psychologist, but I don’t know if it’s too late to save my studies, especially since my university doesn’t seem supportive.
    Anyway, I was so glad to read your post and to know that I’m not the only one suffering through this. I’m determined to win this fight and learn to love my papers, though I don’t yet know how…

  • jmalouff says:

    Hi Nina. I can sense your frustration. I am glad that you have sought help from another psychologist and that you are working toward overcoming your problem.

    You seem to have low self-efficacy about writing essays. The comment you wrote on this blog shows excellent writing ability.

    You could try the methods I suggest in my blog. Also, you could read this book and try some of its suggestions:
    You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life Paperback – April 23, 2013
    by Jen Sincero

    Best wishes,

  • Worried Mom says:

    Wow, I’m feeling anxious just reading these comments. I’m searching for help for my college-age son, who is extremely bright but can barely write a word without intense self-loathing (and I know he inherited that from me).

    He’s worked with therapists and tutors but still he suffers to the point where he drops classes if he feels he can’t manage the writing–which is all too often. His last tutor said he needs to be on anxiety medication, but we’re wary of side effects. I’m wondering if anyone’s tried hypnotism?

  • jmalouff says:

    Hi Worried Mom. He might benefit from using the methods I describe. If those fail, next he could consult a psychologist who provides cognitive-behavioral therapy. After that: a psychiatrist, who might prescribe an anti-depressant or an anti-anxiety drug. Hypnotherapy might help, but i wold not bet on it.

  • Jane says:


    I have an extreme case. I have very unrealistic goals when it comes to essay writing and perfectionism issues. I usually end up doing well in everything like tests and exams except writing essays. I fail courses and have been on academic probation and kicked out of university twice now. Once in 1994 and once now in 2016. My problem is that when it comes to writing an essay, I spend alot of time researching the material and trying to come up with great ideas and a great thesis. I have sleep disturbances during the time when the essay is assigned and due. I do all the leg work but have nothing to show. I can get 70 percent in a course without the essay component that is worth 20 percent of mark. But without handing in the essay, I fail the course.

    The very few times that I have handed in my essay, they have been late and I have received penalties. I can’t even say I procrastinate. I have fail of failure and don’t want to hand in a crappy essay but also am plagued with this phobia I guess.

    Background is that I have been diagnosed with bipolar since 2004 and am on meds. However, when it’s time to write essays, it effects my sleep and mood. I see people with mediocre grades getting through the programs, not to insult them at the least, while I am failing. I have spent so much time and money and have more than enough credits to have two degrees by now. However, I have none to my name.

    I just can’t leave it alone. I love studying and learning and every time I go back to college or university, I think it will be different this time. Somehow, I will be able to hand in the paper even though it is not what is up to “my standard”. I also have a fear of plagiarism as well.

    To make the long story short, is there anything you can suggest to help me. My motto seems to be I will die trying.
    Thanks for reading my comment.

  • jmalouff says:

    Hi Jane. Your fear of imperfection leads you to fail. Perhaps it is time to view yourself and your writing as imperfect. That is how I think of myself and my writing. With your academic writing, switch your goal from perfect writing to submitting on time. Later you can add the goal of getting a passing grade. Go forward one small step at a time.

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