Now in my second semester of college, I can look back on the first as a definite learning period, a time of trial and error. Nowhere else was this apparent was my schedule. Going in as an English major, my classes sapped all of my creative energy, leaving me with apparently nothing else left for my personal projects. Eventually, I adapted to my busy schedule, and learned five important lessons along the way.
1. Write what you can, when you can
I’m prone to perfectionism. I can work for weeks on the same poem or chapter, looking at every angle with often needless scrutiny. In college, I didn’t have the luxury of extra time to ruminate. Whenever I had time, I would open up my draft and write whatever came to me in the moment, worrying about revising later. Not that I didn’t have any preparation whatsoever, but it was more precise, focusing on the current spot I was working on.
2. Use the lessons you learn from academic writing
I found academic writing to have more in common with creative writing than I realized. Of course, there is the area of proofreading and editing, but the similarities go further than that. Learning the rules of academic writing is helpful, if only to know how to break them. As well, it’s helpful to know and master different varieties of writing, not solely creative writing. One never knows what skills one could need later in life. I took a journalism class last semester, and that broadened my writing horizons immensely.
3. Focus on meeting deadlines
As yet unpublished, I have no real deadlines. I can easily set a project aside and come back to it six months later with fresh ideas. However, when on a contract, it’s harder than that to relieve the pressure to write. Academic papers, while mostly not in the realm of fiction and governed by much stricter guidelines, can nonetheless help us in this area. I’ve always had trouble beginning projects, and have a tendency to spend 90% of my time drafting, rushing through revision right before the deadline. College taught me the importance of revision– multiple times if necessary.
4. Don’t be afraid of experimentation
In a way, this seems contradictory. Most academic papers, as I’ve said, seem to follow a clear-cut format. Fortunately, papers are not the only expression of thought in college. In my literature classes, I’ve been exposed to multitudes of literary styles, techniques, and themes that I had known about, but had not been influenced by. I had only been drawing from a couple of springs in high school: Dickinson, Whitman, the typical heroes of Americana. Those streams are already growing into rivers, both in poetry and prose. I feel more at ease exploring those different styles, with or without the intent to eventually publish whatever I write.
5. Carefully balance writing with outreach (but actual writing always comes first)
As if the writing itself wasn’t hard enough, it seems nigh impossible to promote oneself in college, when most people are just trying to stay afloat the workload. My entire first semester, this blog collects cobwebs. Due largely to a creative writing class, I’m thankfully posting again, but the point remains. A very careful balance is needed. Of course, actual writing comes first– what’s the point of promoting something that isn’t there? On the other hand, posts on blogs/social media can take far less time and effort to compose, and tide readers over while the real work is dragging on.
While I still have seven semesters left of college, my first one has already taught me invaluable lessons that I am sure will only compound with time. Of course, knowing the lessons doesn’t mean that I will have the motivation to follow through with them. Any fresh start can get bogged down into unforeseen circumstances and only repeat the process. But the falling down isn’t the important thing– only the forging ahead.