Like many other people, I didn’t have a clue about what it meant to write outside of a classroom, and frankly I didn’t have much of a desire to find out. Nevertheless, I applied to write for The Cavalier Daily this past summer. I can’t definitively say what motivated me to apply, but a part of me wanted to. Here I am, three months later, feeling incredibly grateful for my spontaneously yet ambiguously motivated decision.
My emotions after I learned I’d be a Life columnist for the fall semester can be described in three words — surprise, happiness and terror. I truly believed that I had no chance of getting this position given that I had no prior writing experience and frankly no idea what it meant to be a “good” writer, or even an OK one. However, these emotions were quickly replaced with anxiety when I realized that I really didn’t know how to write a column. I had read the instructions on The Cavalier Daily application and understood the basics, but I quickly found out that I had much more to learn.
One of the first ideas I came to understand about writing is its value. This was not something I had considered before when writing papers for classes since those would have only been for academic grading. This made me wonder why people would read my writing in a newspaper column format. We read books, articles and the news for many reasons, but a consistent motivation seems to be the pursuit of knowledge. Thus, I figured I’m supposed to provide my readers with value by sharing something I’ve learned.
After drawing this conclusion, I soon realized that becoming a writer means taking a somewhat presumptuous position towards the audience. I would be assuming I knew more than my audience. This scared me. How could I possibly know more than an audience that included people older and smarter than me? At this point, I felt like I was in over my head.
I struggled with this idea for a while, but as I began to write I moved past this issue. I recognized that it’s wrong to think that I have to assume I “know more” than my readers. Instead, I try to position myself as “knowing something the audience does not.” Yes, it’s still a bit presumptuous, but in my mind it’s just a little less so than my former mindset.
Taking this perspective has allowed me to become more comfortable with sharing what I’ve learned from my experiences, because I believe someone else will find some value in what I write. After my first few columns, my confidence had grown and I had begun to think differently about how I analyze my experiences. I realized that writing has already provided me plenty of worthwhile perspectives and skills.
First, I’ve gained a form of mental perseverance. Trying to articulate my usually unclear thoughts — well, it’s difficult. I think most people can relate to the experience of having a good idea in your head that unfortunately disintegrates into rubbish when you voice it aloud. For me, this occurs at least a few times per column, so writing can easily become frustrating. My other challenge is coming up with ideas. I seem to have plenty of ideas for columns, but coming up with a “good” one is rare. I’ve found that working through both of these challenges requires a certain amount of grit in combination with an effective writing process.
My strategy for overcoming these challenges developed around problem solving and creativity. The problem I try to solve is this challenge of converting my thoughts to words. I start by creating a vague representation of an idea with a sentence or paragraph. This process occurs over and over again until I have a somewhat chaotic and messy-looking rough draft with incomplete sentences and incoherent thoughts. I then jump around from one paragraph to the next — refining, rewriting and clarifying to clearly express my thoughts.
The creative side of the process relates to developing my ideas. I’ve never thought of myself as creative, so I knew I needed some way to develop this skill. I have found that activities that don’t require my complete attention — such as running — are good for brainstorming since I can simply let my mind wander. After coming up with a few ideas, I write them down regardless of whether I think they’re good or garbage. This list allows me to come back later when I need an idea or inspiration — hence where the topic of this column was born.
Writing has also taught me the importance of organization. I learned that I can improve my writing by prioritizing the easiest and most logical flow of my thoughts. This awareness has not only improved the clarity of my writing, but also improved my note-taking and learning outside of The Cavalier Daily. It’s now much easier for me to understand and learn new topics in class when I consider their relation to one another.
Lastly, one of the unexpected rewards from writing, particularly during the pandemic, is a creative outlet. Without it, my life during the week would consist almost entirely of school work. Although I have deadlines to meet, writing does not feel like having to watch another 50-minute lecture or take notes on another chapter in a textbook. Instead, it gives me a means of focusing on something besides school work, which has proved crucial to maintaining a balanced state of mind.
For this reason, I strongly believe that everyone should find a similar creative outlet this semester. This constructive time away from academics allows me to return to studying with more focus and motivation. For me, this semester has proven tougher academically, socially and psychologically than expected. Uncertainties in living locations and heavy work loads continue to keep me on my toes. But, my latest endeavor has helped me through some of these struggles, so I am very grateful that I gave writing a chance.