Writing 101 for Struggling College Students

By Savannah Lopez

Have you ever compared yourself to your peers and felt discouraged?  Do you sometimes find it hard to stay inspired? It’s okay, we’ve all been there.

I’ve been in college for almost six years and it wasn’t until 2017 when I realized I wanted to become a creative writing major.  I transferred to Purchase College in 2018 and commuting back and forth makes me feel behind. There’s times my peers would want to host a workshop outside of class and I can’t attend because I live over an hour away.  Or, me not being able to meet with the Writers Club because they meet late during the week. These are opportunities to improve my writing, and I have to miss out.

There are also times I read my peers work and think, damn this is so poetic, how can I compete with this?  I would also sit in class listening to discussions about authors like Jane Austen and Toni Morrison (at the time I had no clue who these legends were) and I would awkwardly smile and shake my head up and down like Wow I’m so lost.

When you’re feeling overwhelmed or discouraged it can be hard to get that confidence and inspiration back, but not impossible.  Here are some tips on how to fix that:

  • Never compare.  We’re human, so we’re bound to have thoughts of not being as good as someone else but it’s crucial to remember that in five years, that person will be long gone, doing his or her own thing.  Realizing this has helped me gained confidence in my writing. Your dedication and performance determines how far you go in life, not your peers. How far will you push yourself to succeed? I’ve had to ask myself, Savannah are you going to watch another episode of Friends or start brainstorming ideas for your short story?  As a result, I’ve saved myself a lot of stress by starting my work early and getting it out of the way.  If you leave it for the last minute, the pressure of getting your work done will increase the chances of mistakes and submitting poor work.
  •  Keep a planner handy and start using sticky notes.  Having your life together will make you feel in control. Use a planner to jot down ideas, to-do lists, and assignments. I place sticky notes around my room to give myself reminders about a meeting I have or even something positive like, “You are worthy and resilient.” I also plan my week out in my planner so I know exactly what I have to do each day.  Writing is not something that can be rushed. Try writing a page a day and always carry around a small book for new ideas. It’ll help you not feel so overwhelmed.
  • What motivates you?  An easy way to stay inspired is to do things you enjoy.  If long nature walks or car rides inspire you to write beautiful scenery details, then go more often.  I first started writing in high school because it helped be cope during dark times. I even gave myself closure sometimes.  I think if you’re ever feeling angry or hurt, you should immediately write those feelings in your notes on your phone or a notebook.  These raw, powerful feelings can end up turning into an amazing poem or short story. 
  • Remember self-care.  Your wellness is important. If you’re feeling too overwhelmed with life, take a personal day. Put on a face mask and unwind to some Alicia Keys.  I love to buy my favorite cookies, snuggle with my pets, and binge watch The Walking Dead.  It’s okay to skip class occasionally, but make sure to stay on top of what you have to do so you can avoid falling behind.

Nothing is too big for you to overcome.  You must believe in how awesome you are and, in your ability, to make your goals happen.  You’ve come this far, keep going!

Writing as Medicine

By Ingrid Kildiss

Its 3:30 pm, I’m sitting in class and my mind is racing. There are at least two more hours until my professor lets us out of class, but I can’t sit still. I’m anxious about the argument I got into with my mom this weekend, all the work I need to do, and the mess I left in my apartment, but I’m determined not to leave class. I open up a blank page in my notebook and write. While it’s not easy to write about the things that make me anxious and uncomfortable, it is much much better than remaining in an anxious mindset for the rest of class and risking spiraling into a terrible mood or leaving in the middle of a lecture.

Journaling and creative writing can be helpful in dealing with the potential trauma, stress, and anxiety of school and everyday life. In 1997, the American Psychological Society along with James Pennebaker published a study titled “Writing About Emotional Experiences As A Therapeutic Process,”  in which they argue that individuals who wrote about emotional or traumatic experiences for as little as fifteen to thirty minutes a day for three to five days experienced significant mental health improvements. Self-reports from subjects of this study identify the mental health improvements as being a reduction of stress as well as a reduction of depressed feelings. Many subjects (who were also students) noted an increase in grades in their self-reports. It’s likely that by writing, these young people confront and process tough emotions instead of ignoring them.

So, if you’re ever having a day where you just can’t shake off that anxious feeling, or you feel a bad thought escaping from where you left it last, consider sitting down for fifteen minutes to write. If starting is something you have trouble with, there are plenty of online resources and prompts. My favorite way to start is just to write stream of consciousness. This way, I often find my way to the issues that linger in my subconscious and address them by putting them to paper. Afterward, I tend to feel soothed or lighter. Even that small act can make a huge difference in your life and mental health. And if you’re committed to writing every day, you can find the path to conceits for stories or just to develop a practice of self-care!