Ashley is a fantastic blogger who I discovered a few weeks ago via Twitter. She’s a prolific writer and a jack of all trades (seriously – check out the “Projects” section of her website). She was offering up guest posts, so I basically begged her for one, and asked her to address the issue of maintaining your creative drive while you’re in grad school. (Because did I mention she’s also pursuing a Ph.D.? Yeah. This girl is serious business.)
My name is Ashley and I blog at Writing To Reach You. Tori has kindly given me some space here to write and asked me how I stay creative while in grad school. I should say that I am working on a PhD and I have been in grad school for six years now, so I can understand putting creative work on the back burner if you’re only in grad school for a couple years, but once I knew I was in it for the long haul, I realized I would have to find ways to stay creative no matter how busy I became.
The thing about being creative is that you usually have some kind of natural impulse toward it, but no matter what, it still requires discipline to find the time and do the work. I love writing, but it is not always easy to get myself to sit in front of a computer and write, especially because that’s what I spend all of my time doing as a grad student. If you can build on that natural impulse and turn it into a habit of being creative, then the result may not be dramatic or fancy, but it will be meaningful and productive.
The mistake that some people who want to be creative make is choosing projects that they feel they should do more than they actually want to do. When you’re already busy and stressed from grad school and work, it is going to take a lot of discipline to get yourself to also work on some creative project you don’t care that much about. If you can find a creative project you are genuinely interested in, then it can be a nice escape from all that other stress.
That’s what blogging has been for me over the last four years. It’s not just one more thing I find time for in my busy work and school schedule–it’s the way I cope with that busy schedule. When I was in coursework, it was always such a treat when I finished my last class on Thursday and knew that I could spend that evening writing. I suppose I was making a decision to dedicate that time to writing instead of relaxing on the couch, but by the end of the week, I was so excited to write that it was an easy decision. I like blogging. It’s fun for me. It’s far easier than writing fiction or writing papers for school. And I have always approached it with excitement.
I’m sure we all have different reasons for wanting to be creative, and if you can find a project that meets those needs, then it can fit into your life no matter how exhausted you are. I’m an introvert, so after spending a bunch of time with people, what I want most in the world is to recharge by writing alone in my journal. And when I’ve been stuck in the library working on a paper by myself for hours and hours, then what I want is to connect with other people, and blogging is a way to do that. You write, awesome people read, and you feel understood. In this way, the internet has made me far more creative, because it’s been my means of connection when I was too busy to have a real life. If you make creativity a necessary part of your life, then it stops being an obligation and becomes a habit.
The stress of grad school has always made me feel a lot of feelings, so writing has not just been my escape, but my way of working through all of the stuff that comes up when you’re pushed near your breaking point. In my first two years of grad school, I didn’t find many ways to be creative, and I was a total mess of emotions. When I discovered creativity as a way to deal with myself, I automatically found time for it, because it was a way of survival.
One of the main reasons I started blogging was that I felt like my entire life had become defined by grad school. My sense of self was about how well I did in school and all of my interests had been forgotten in pursuit of this one goal. That was not sustainable. I didn’t start blogging with any clear intention, but I was obviously looking for another way to express myself, and I found it. I’m just lucky that it also gave me the opportunity to meet great people and be reminded that I am a whole person–not just a grad student.
I haven’t been able to do every creative thing I’ve wanted to. There are real limits on my time, and school is my first priority and work my second. But I think that’s actually good for creativity. I would be lost if I had unlimited time to write. I wouldn’t look forward to it with excitement. The tension between my creative life and my school/work life keeps me interested in both.