Every graduate desires a break after they receive their diploma, some time to relax and enjoy life before the big, bad world hits them right in the gut. Unfortunately for most, the debt collectors are after you the next day with emails about how to pay back your student loans. (Yes, I did get an email like that three days after my graduation… I’m looking at you, KSU.) But that’s now going to stop me from looking back at the good times and remembering the lessons I learned along my undergrad journey.
I was extremely surprised when I looked back at my freshman year. Not only have I changed in looks, but I have also realized that I’ve grown as a writer, a student, and most of all, a person. Some of the lessons I wish I had known before entering the terrifying world of college, and others are like friends that I am happy to have met along the way. Overall, I believe these lessons are beneficial no matter where you are as a writer or a person. I hope that they will be just as enlightening to you as they were to me.
What being an English Major taught me about life:
1. Writing is a process
Before college, I was definitely one of those students who waited to the last minute to work on my paper. Three hours before the final draft was due, I would be working on the very first draft, praying that I would get it done before midnight. I never brainstormed, never outlined, and certainly never edited. I thought, I’m a good writer. Why would I need to worry about writing my paper in stages? Well, my first grade proved me wrong. Big time. After a lot of trial and error, I discovered that planning ahead and writing in stages, ultimately, led to better work. Most importantly, I was prouder of my writing as well. Thus, I encourage you to give yourself lots of time in advanced when it comes to writing or anything that you do. Remember your first attempt is just a diving board into something better.
2. Discipline yourself
This is, I believe, will always be a struggle of mine. I have a habit of letting school, work, and other aspects of life get in the way of my writing time. It’s hard for me to keep writing as my top priority because I have no outside force holding me accountable. Still, my novel and my blog won’t write itself. I have to keep at it. I have to finish this first draft for me. That’s my goal, and I will continue to try every technique under the sun until I find myself unable to go a day without writing. With discipline, I can conquer any challenge.
3. Work for Excellence, Not Perfection
My friend Sarah over at BookFifty told me a story about how her teacher encouraged her to “work for excellence instead of perfection.” This really resonated with me because as a writer, it’s hard not to want your work/story to be perfect. Perfection is an impossible feat to grasp, but excellence, on the other hand, is immediately noticeable. If you apply a strong work ethic and strive to give your work your all, you will excel in more ways than you can ever imagine.
4. Make Your Own Opportunities
If you want something, go get it. Even after the writing process struggles, a writer must also face the struggles of getting published. I wish that I had learned this earlier in my undergrad journey, but I firmly believe that if you want to be published, you have to just keep submitting your work. Whether it’s to an academic journal or to a publishing company, never stop submitting your work. Nobody is accepting it? Make a blog! Opportunities are not going to be handed to you, so put yourself out there and make your own path.
5. Advocate for yourself
Applying for internships and interviewing for jobs taught me this lesson well. Remember to believe and speak well of yourself. You can be your own worst enemy, but you can also be your own biggest supporter. Especially as a writer, you have to acknowledge your strengths and your passions. By fighting for yourself and your goals, you tell the world that you matter and there is nothing that you cannot do. If you believe it, they will too.
6. Sometimes the last minute is the only minute
Now I know I just said that you shouldn’t procrastinate and you should give yourself plenty of time to write in multiple states. While I’m still firmly believe that, sometimes life cuts your time short whether it’s a short deadline or the world has been thrown upside down and time has just gotten away from you. When you find yourself in that situation, don’t panic. Use that stressor as motivation to buckle down and get it done. Then once you’re finished, turn it in and let it go. You’ve done your best with what was given to you. Be proud of that. That brings me to my next point...
7. Your work will never be finished
As creative thinkers, we can always take our work to the next level. We envision our drafts going beyond the limits, and we want to take it there. Thus, it’s hard to publish or turn in work that we feel is not ready, isn’t what we know it could be. Sometimes, you have to just let it be. You have to accept that your work is good enough and that it is what it is. You can always go back to it later, but when it comes to making your deadline, let it go and accept that this stage of the process is done.
8. Accepting criticism & taking responsibility
Because writing is so personal, it is really hard to subject our art to other’s opinions, especially when the feedback we receive is negative and sometimes cruel. The key thing to remember is that the feedback is merely someone’s opinion. We cannot control the way others respond to our work; we can always control how we react to their criticism, whether it’s good or bad. When I receive feedback, I try to look it with an unbiased perspective and the curiosity of a writer, who wants only to learn and improve. Ask yourself, “How can I use this criticism to improve my own style and/or my story?” If you can’t find an answer, then move on. Don’t let your heart dwell on feedback that you cannot find any use out of. Ultimately, it goes back to what I learned from Lesson 6: You’ve given it your best, and you should be proud of that.
9. Immerse yourself in creative outlets
When you are having a rough day and you feel zapped of any creativity, put your work down and do something else. Find another creative outlet. When I feel absolutely drained or stuck at a writer’s block, I grab a book and let that outlet replenish me. I read somewhere that we often think of creativity and inspiration as an unending well, that we can continue to take and take without any consequence. But like a well, our creativity is a reservoir that must be used sparingly. So don’t over work yourself. But when you find yourself running dry, seek another outlet: painting, knitting, dancing, reading, underwater basket weaving, anything that will bring your happiness and a fresh set of eyes to bring back to your work.
10. Live for yourself
Finally and what I deem to be the most important lesson, I learned that you have to live for yourself and no other. During college, I found myself trying to fit the molds laid out by others, trying to be the person that they would like and thought of as talented. I tried to copy others because I thought that would lead me to the same success they found. Often, I ended up drained and hating myself for not being good enough. After realizing that I didn’t like the way I felt and who I was becoming, I stopped letting others tell me I was inadequate. I stopped letting others determine my happiness. The only person I had to prove anything to was myself.
I had a theatre professor who introduced me to Don Miguel Ruiz’s Code for Life, and they’ve changed my life forever.
I can't wait to see what the future holds for me as I enjoy my first job in the publishing industry and continue my education by pursuing a Masters in Professional Writing. I look forward to having you all along with me for the adventure. As you press on further in your own journeys, I hope these lessons inspire you as much as they have inspired me. Tell me about your college experience! Learn a life-changing lesson? Share your own lessons in the comments below!