Balancing the Academic and the Creative

I have spent the better part of my Wesleyan career hunched over a book. I don’t know whether to attribute this to the fact that I am a slow reader or the history department’s apparent determination to win a prize for greatest volume of pages assigned per week. What I do know is that I spend far more time reading for class than I do just about anything else and, while the reading itself is often quite interesting, the sheer volume of it can get exhausting.

Needless to say when I do get a break from the books, the last thing I want to do is pick up another one. Enter in: television, online shopping, thinking about cleaning, deciding to bake cookies instead of cleaning, etc. As the semester progresses and the work piles up, the simple act of reading for pleasure seems to become more and more difficult to schedule.

The same goes for writing. I’ve personally found it exceptionally challenging to find a balance between writing for class and writing for pleasure. While if I stay focused, I can read all afternoon and still retain most of the information, I find that after a few hours of writing my syntax always takes a hit. I’m far more likely to succumb to writer’s block than reader’s block (is there such a thing?) and with all the papers I have to write for class, I often feel as though I can’t afford to squander precious mental energy on work that won’t be graded.

Unfortunately, this means that more often than I’d like I neglect my own writing in favor of schoolwork. It’s a habit I’m determined to change. While class papers are certainly important, personal writing – short stories, opinion pieces, journal entries, etc. – has long been a source of pleasure and stress-relief that I am not willing to sacrifice. If you have been experiencing a similar lack of balance, I have listed a few strategies you can incorporate daily routine to make sure that your academic responsibilities don’t suppress your creativity.

  • Write in a journal. Even if it’s just a few sentences, writing about your day will help stimulate your creative energy.
  • Make an effort to read for pleasure. I know I was just rambling about how difficult it is to do this, but I truly believe that to produce creativity you have to consume it as well. Turn off the TV and grab a book!
  • Set aside time for your own writing and stick to it. Schedule a mandatory, non-negotiable hour into your day planner simply to sit down and write. Even if you can’t think of anything to say, force yourself to scribble out whatever you can. With time, it will become a habit.
  • If you feel too unfocused or busy to set aside a full hour each day, relieve some of the pressure by committing to a mere fifteen minutes! A great way to keep up with this pattern of short, focused writing is to follow a series of writing prompts. You can subscribe to a website like Journal Jane that will email you a prompt every day, or pick at random from a list like this one from Writer’s Digest. Just keep it simple and limit yourself to fifteen minutes so that you don’t get overwhelmed.
  • Relax! Don’t hold your creative work to so high a standard that you give up entirely when you’re stuck, pressed for time, or dissatisfied with your output. Not everything you write is going to be fantastic, but the only way to improve is to keep writing.

Has anyone else been struggling with balancing your creative and academic lives? What are some solutions you’ve employed to handle this problem?

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