Balancing Being a Writer and Being a Student
5 tips to help you pursue your writing while being loaded with coursework
I have been writing for as long as I can remember now. At the same time, I have been an academic student, in third-level education, for 5 years now (ah, the fun of doing a Master’s degree).
Over the years, I have gone through many trials and tribulations about writing for myself while also writing in my degree, and writing in my job. There has always been an awful lot of writing but there were many times when there was just so much going on between studying and wanting to write for myself that it was hard to find a balance. Over time, I have honed a good system for myself and learned this along the way, which I will now try to pass on to you.
Your student style and your writing style
Many people don’t often realize it but, yes, there’s a difference between your general writing style and how you write as a student. How big this difference is can vary. But, in general, there are certain rules and styles that we have to adhere to when we write academic papers.
In the past, I have been commended on my academic writing, but then when I first ventured into writing freelance for a media outlet three years ago, the first piece that I submitted came back with a lot of notes.
These notes were mainly about how, the piece is good, but it’s too stiff. Too heavy. Too academic. That was when I realized that the way you are taught to write in academia, is most often not the way other outlets will want you to write.
When you are writing, it’s important to keep this distinction in mind so that you can avoid sounding like a lecturer in all of your writings (unless that’s what you’re going for!).
Find the balance
If you have too many eggs in your basket, they are bound to end up breaking. It’s crucial that you make sure that you have time for everything. Writing for yourself should not come at the expense of your academic writing faltering. There will be periods in your academic schedule where you will hardly have time to think about anything else but your impending deadlines. You will probably feel you have no time to write for yourself.
These will pass.
Sometimes you need to focus on one thing a little more than another. But balance will come back. Focus on your own writing when you actually have the time.
If you feel like you never have the time- make it. Set aside a certain time, either in the day or in the week, when you dedicate it fully to focusing on your own writing. Even if you are not using the time to write, but just to come up with inspiration, write out thoughts, make drafts, read other works. It’s all part of the process and it still leaves you with the time to focus on your own, separate interests.
Schedule your time
When you have ambitions outside of academia, it can be easy to feel like you either overwhelmed or you’re not spending enough time on a certain focus. While I believe that finding the right balance between the two is key, a schedule can help you with this. This goes hand-in-hand with my previous point.
Creating a schedule for yourself, and doing your best to stick to it, will allow you to have all of your goals and projects that you want to (and, in the case of academia, need to) have done laid out in front of you. It’s also easier to visualize progress when you can quite literally tick it off on your to-do list.
Scheduling will also help ensure that you don’t end up slipping on your academic responsibilities; it helps you prioritize your tasks.
Sometimes less is more
There are a lot of articles out there that stress the importance of writing a lot. They stress the importance of always writing. Whether it’s in a journal in the morning, in a notebook that you carry around in your pocket or publishing an article a day.
However, for those of us who already write in our full-time academic careers, it can be too much to expect ourselves to also constantly write outside of when we need to. This pressure can end up being draining and it can also risk resulting in a work that is not to the best of our abilities.
Sometimes less is more. You don’t need to pump out an article every day or write who-knows-how-many words a day if you aren’t mentally up for the task. You probably have enough deadlines and enough responsibilities on your shoulder already.
Therefore, I encourage you to take things at your own pace. Decide what works best for you. Sometimes writing less but focusing on higher quality content is what is needed.
Take a break
And when I say take a break, I mean it. Academic responsibilities and deadlines can be stressful enough. You write paper after paper, report after report, research after research. It’s a lot for anyone. And when you are also writing on the side, it can end up being too much for our brains to cope with. So take a break. Give yourself a break. When you make that schedule for yourself, remember to schedule in a break.
Our brains need a chance to regroup, to reset, to work to the best of its ability.
It’s also okay if sometimes you feel burned out. As someone who has been doing this for years now, there have been many points where I have just written so much for my academic deadlines that I had seemingly no juice left for my personal writing. I then felt stressed that my personal writing was on pause.
But this is okay. In fact, sometimes it’s even necessary. Like I said before, sometimes less is more.
Being a student and having your own ambitions next to it can be stressful sometimes. We all want to do well in our studies, but we also have other endeavours that we want to pursue on the side.
For some us, that endeavour is writing and it can get challenging sometimes; to balance the two. But, here is my encouragement for you; you can do this. We all can do this. All it takes is a little balance and a little patience.