Today’s prompt involves writing about a loss in your life. The description specifically says that it doesn’t have to be a depressing or conventional loss, though, so I’ve chosen to writing about the “loss” or current absence of school and a traditional academic setting and how it’s impacting my writing.
In a liberal arts college, particularly as an art history major, you write a lot. You write journal entries, reaction papers, answers to exam questions, critiques, reviews, comparisons, abstracts, proposals, research papers. You write 500-word responses, 2,000-word articles, and 20-page papers; you write exam essays in fifteen minutes, and you write your thesis in a year. Sometimes you are given your topic or a list to choose from, and other times you are free to follow your own interests (with the approval of the professor, of course). Sometimes all that writing can be stressful – both to keep up with it and to make sure everything meets different professors’ various standards and requirements – but it definitely builds your skill, confidence, and versatility as a writer. I imagine that it must be hell for someone who doesn’t enjoy writing, but since I clearly don’t fit into that category, I found the experience to be a mixed bag. I wrote some things that I truly enjoyed and am extremely proud of, but I also sometimes felt like I wasn’t doing my best possible work because I was rushing or didn’t truly connect with my subject matter. However, I wouldn’t change a thing about the experience because it taught me so much.
I’ve been out of college for three years now, and continuing to write has been important to me since the very first day after graduation. (Ok, I took a sizeable break after completing my honors thesis, but I’ve been writing or trying to write ever since that break was over.) At first, I thought I was going to be more productive than ever. I had just finished a highly-successful 100-page thesis, by far the biggest project I had ever undertaken, and I assumed works of that size and caliber would just keep coming. I could now write about whatever topics interested me, and I could work on my own timetable. However, I quickly realized that things wouldn’t be nearly that simple. While my newfound freedom was inspiring in many ways, it also meant that I was no longer accountable to anyone but myself. As much as I hate to admit it, sometimes you write because you have to get it done, and when you truly don’t have any particular reason the job has to be complete, it’s difficult to motivate yourself no matter how much you love your topic. Starting this blog helped in many ways, but it’s still not the same as having a grade on the line. Similarly, being able to choose my own topic, scope, and format is really nice, but I often miss my professors’ guidance. Their advice was very helpful, but important also was the amount of control they retained over my work and assignments. They prevented me from aiming too wide in my ideas and making grand plans I can’t keep up with. Particularly in recent months, I’ve fallen into the habit of finding a topic that interests me, doing tons and tons of research, but never really getting to any writing because I’m overwhelmed by the amount of information I’m trying to synthesize.
I’m really enjoying this daily writing challenge that I’ve started, because it gives me back a little bit of that structure that worked so well for me in school. I have deadlines, and in order to meet them I have to be both productive in my writing and reasonable in my goals for each post. The pressure to get things done on time is back, but I don’t have to worry as much about the consequences of a less-than-perfect result. I’m not necessarily writing about the things that interest me most, and I’m not doing a ton of research, but at least I’m writing again, which I hadn’t for a while. I like this idea of building a daily writing habit, because that is essentially what I was doing in college and it worked out pretty well for me. Soon, I hope it will be easier to write than it has been recently, and then I’ll be better able to return to the topics on my list of interests. It seems strange to me that I’ve steered so far away from it recently. In school, I was always so passionate about conducting meaningful research and writing papers significant to art history. Even when I was completely blocked and unable to write, I felt both incomplete and guilty when I wasn’t pursuing those ends. I hope to someday write a book (or better yet, a whole bunch), and I didn’t like the fact that I was doing nothing to further that dream.
I hope that the “loss” of academic structure in my life isn’t permanent. I fully intend to go to graduate school, and I hope someday to possibly earn a PhD. That’s not happening today or in the next year, but that doesn’t mean I can’t continue to improve on my writing habit in the meantime. The fact that I’m not a student or a professor doesn’t mean that I can’t write meaningfully.