Strategies for Writing

Last night, I wrapped up my last final of my first semester of grad school. The past few months have simultaneously seemed to fly by and drag, if that’s possible. I got used to a new program, new professors, a totally new campus, and a totally different approach to learning, all of which caused some significant shifts in the beautiful chaos that my life had been since starting undergrad.

Don’t take me as the authority on all graduate programs, because I’m sure they vary, but at least in mine, the classes meet once a week for a couple of hours, and there’s even fewer assignments than your typical undergrad class. So the bulk of my final grades this semester were determined by a huge group presentation and a final exam that took the form of multiple essay questions, each question with multiple parts. Still waiting to know my official fate (and it still confuses me that we’re calling essays “exams” now, but I digress).

Are you stressed yet?

Even though I’ve always preferred writing papers to taking exams, these were challenging because 1) I didn’t know what the professors would really expect and 2) most of my energy was spent figuring out exactly what the multiple questions were asking before I even thought about writing.

This got me thinking. Theoretically, I should know a lot about useful learning strategies. I researched them for three years! I presented at a national conference! But most of the strategies that would help you study for a test don’t really work when you move beyond concrete, testable knowledge (think true/false questions, multiple choice, something where there’s an objective, correct answer) to more abstract tasks like paper-writing.

Or… do they?

I’m excited to share that a post I wrote earlier this year is now featured on the Learning Scientists blog. In this piece, I review some previous education and cognitive research and suggest ways we might apply what we know about learning to writing, as well as how writers’ brains work in general.

These tips can work for educators or students at any level, and I hope you find them just as enlightening as I did.

Stay tuned for my year-end retrospective wrap-up, coming within… well, these last few days of THE DECADE (is anyone else just as excited and shocked as I am that we’re entering the 2020s?!).

I’ve also got some extra special things in store before the end of the year, so watch my social media for updates! In the coming weeks, I hope you get to enjoy some holiday cheer.

Photo by Bram Naus via Unsplash.

Six Months

In October, my friend reminded me we had exactly seven months until graduation. After telling her to stop because that’s a banned topic, I started thinking about how much I still want to grow during my remaining time in college, and how I want to keep growing even after I walk across the stage.

The past four years have transformed my heart. But in order to get some perspective, I don’t even need to look that far back. Freshman-year-me feels like a distant memory (and it’s not just because of my haircut).

Six months ago, I was a mess. A nervous wreck. I didn’t know how to see my own value, I didn’t know how to speak up. Maybe you can relate.

In the intervening time, I’ve become more self-assured, more confident. Better at being honest. Better at walking away from situations that don’t grow me. Better at recognizing my God-given identity.

I’m writing this post now because I’ve grown a lot in the last six months, but in my last six months as a college student, I want to grow even more.

This semester has been more jam-packed than any other. As a senior (getting more comfortable with that word too), I’ve been thinking about my future more and more and that’s something we don’t get enough credit for.

Six months from now, it will be May again. I’ll be graduating from college. Embarking on my next adventure.

The months have flown by like pages in a book I still have to write, flicker second by second as if word by word and then the whole dictionary is gone. We can rewrite our dictionaries and create new references through which we define ourselves.

A lot can happen in six months.

On Science, and Art, and The Power of Communication

A while back I submitted a post to Psi Chi’s blog, Psi-Chi-Ology Lab, and I’m proud to announce it’s finally posted!

Generally, it’s about how we have to break out of the academic bubble and be able to talk about scientific findings if we want to actually do anything with them.

Check it out here: https://www.psichi.org/page/Ology_Main_16#.W8-E-mhKjIV

Pressing Pause

I don’t know about you, but for me this week was an emotional rollercoaster.

Lately, most of them have been. It was pretty draining, but I’m pretty grateful today is Friday and as I write this, I’m closing in on what will hopefully be a relaxing weekend. If you know me, you know that I’m the type of person to beat myself up over not doing everything, even when I’m still insanely busy. Like not writing on this blog for two months (oops). And then as my work starts to pile up, I get overwhelmed, and need to relax for a bit, but then feel guilty about relaxing. It’s a terrible cycle.

I wish I could tell you to just keep powering through, that all the sleepless nights and hard work will be worth it if you believe hard enough. To a certain extent, that’s true. But please don’t forget to take care of yourself – physically, emotionally, spiritually. Your health is more important than any measure of productivity.

You might feel lazy if you didn’t go to the gym today. If you didn’t write the number of words you had in mind. If you didn’t finish as much homework as you wanted to, you didn’t get to do everything with everyone, you didn’t apply for that job…

There will be time for all of that.

Breathe.

And maybe, as my research team suggested to me when I threw myself into the project too much, go take a nap.

Happy weekend!

Branching Out: Why I’m Trying Creative Nonfiction

The short answer is, I have to, for a grade in a class I’m taking this semester.

The class wasn’t my first choice to take, but it ended up being my only creative writing option. I was worried that the other students would rip apart my writing or decide that I just didn’t have many interesting true-life stories to tell. But so far, we have been supporting each other.

Our first assignment was a piece about home. I have never really written about my real life, and going back into my past was a little uncomfortable, as I imagine it was for other writers in the class.

Though I’ve only written one assignment, I feel as though delving back into my memories has forced me to sift through them, to come to a deeper understanding of common themes that have stayed through my twenty years of life.

We all tell stories in order to process the events that happen to us. Going back and revisiting memories is one way to categorize and preserve the different events that fit like puzzle pieces into the narratives of our lives.

The challenge in writing nonfiction or memoir is making my story, perhaps a seemingly insignificant event, matter to other people who have not experienced it. It seems different from fiction, but I don’t think we should necessarily feel this way. When I write fiction, my job is to take a bunch of imaginary people and events and orchestrate them to inspire some emotion in readers.

Doesn’t that boil down to about the same thing?

So, even though some of the topics might get personal and messy, I’m going to find beauty in the mess.

At the end, I think it will be worth the initial shock of remembering.

Slow Down

It’s December 1st. For many people, that means the first day of Christmas. For others, Christmas started the day after Thanksgiving. And don’t get me wrong, I love the holidays. But I’m like, “please chill.” Winter pun not intended.

Some people close to me (and I love you dearly still) bragged about how they got most or all of their Christmas shopping done. I, on the other hand, have barely started. Now that’s perhaps mostly because of a million other commitments and less jolly tasks clogging up my brain, but also because I don’t want to feel pressured to rush to Christmas.

It will be here soon enough. I’d much rather live in the moment and be able to enjoy the gradual lead-up to the actual day than lose all the enjoyment in a frenzy of preparation and stress.

Because who likes either of those? As a college student, my life is always a strange mix of preparation and stress (insert sweaty/nervous emoji here).

Above all, this season should be about giving and shifting the focus away from myself.

I love looking at shiny lights, but let’s remember to light up our hearts first.

 

You Are Not A Burden

Now that midterms are over, I’ll hopefully have more time to write things that aren’t exams, essays, or homework. Maybe a little. 

I say it to people all the time. I don’t want my friends and family to feel like they’re bothering me or complaining too much when we’re simply talking, sharing stress or emotions or having five mental breakdowns in as many days. What else are close relationships for? We have to support each other.

I even thought about it when I had to watch a documentary about Oregon’s “death with dignity” law for a class. Many of the patients featured in the movie decided that they should die rather than pose a “burden” to their families, who would have to take care of them. I don’t want to get into this issue, but as I watched it, I realized how no matter the situation, it seems odd that people should feel like burdens merely for existing with an illness.

It was so easy for me, without knowing the details, to say that they shouldn’t feel like a burden. I often repeat this line to my family and friends when they feel like they complain to me too much or ask me to do something.

I wondered, why am I not so forgiving to myself? Why do I automatically assume that everyone else’s problems are worse and more serious than mine? It shouldn’t be this way. We’re all human, we all face the same (or similar) struggles.

Anyway, I’ve had a lot of time to myself lately, and I don’t have an answer to that question. It’s something I think about a lot and sometimes my being alone only makes the problem worse. Our culture insists on having everything together all the time, appearing as though we can shoulder the weights of an entire universe on our own.

No one can do that.

And yes, we are all unknowable words of our own experiences and backgrounds and beliefs. But universes expand and interact. And perhaps that’s the beauty of being alive.

 

Where I Am Right Now

Change.

It’s what I think of when I think of autumn.

Fair warning – while writing this post I became overwhelmed with the specific desire to sit on a mountaintop and look whistfully out into the distance while singing Landslide. This is who I am, okay?

At least right now, it doesn’t feel like the first week of autumn. Heck, the temperatures are still in the 80s, and I brought all my shorts home, and I’m drowning in schoolwork already. I’ve neglected this blog lately because of it, as well as other life chaos. But I have returned from my long hiatus! Even if it’s only to tell you that I am, in fact, alive. 

The leaves are dying, and we call them beautiful.

So why do we scramble to hold onto our preplanned pictures of our lives?

The last few years have taught me that the maps we draw and the plans we design will fall apart but so something beyond our understanding will emerge.

For example, if you’d asked me three years ago what I’d be doing right now, I would’ve said getting ready to go abroad. I never thought I’d cling to my friends at school and they’d be my anchors because my home life was crazy. I never thought that we’d be living out of a garage. I didn’t picture rooming with Liv (in Sheehan), forming some amazing friendships, interning in Career Development, or even something so small as sitting at my job right now, because I didn’t know it was possible to become a writing tutor as a psychology major. I certainly never pictured actual people reading my actual draft of a novel (but now that it’s happening, it makes me so happy). 

Over the summer, thanks to a lot of turmoil, I heard a little voice in my head telling me to stay satisfied with the right here, the right now. I didn’t need to look for fulfillment across the ocean, in Italy or anywhere else. I didn’t need to. That’s not to say that those places aren’t great; it’s just not what I needed right now. I need to get comfortable with this chaos that exists within me and around me and now that God’s hand is in this all.

At times, it seems as though everyone around me has nailed down their life plans. I barely know what I’m doing tomorrow.

I didn’t know what to write this post about until I kept running across common themes this week. Yesterday, I read another blog post by the fabulous KM Weiland, whom I’ve come to regard as a writing mentor and Internet pal. She discusses how her love for writing nearly killed itself over the past year, how she had to step back from the constant grind of being Internet famous in order to really consider not just what kind of a writer she was but also what kind of person she wanted to be, and whether this life was in line with that goal.

There’s no checklist for life’s accomplishments, there’s no easy timeline, as much as we would like there to be.

There’s not even a timeline for blog posts, as anyone who’s taken a glance at my posting schedule will understand.

The moral of the story is: don’t be afraid to look a little like a pile of dead leaves. It makes way for new life.

So that’s kind of a peek into my life at the moment. Thanks for reading!

I Got an Internship??

Yeah, I know, it’s hard to believe, the girl who can’t find time to post regularly on a blog actually convinced people that they should hire her. Unbelievable. But yes, I will start working at an internship next fall, and you can read all about my experience finding it here.

The link is to  a guest post I wrote over at my fabulous friend Ashley’s fabulous blog that she made for a class on social media. I hope you enjoy it!

[PSA: If you’re on a laptop, for some reason the above link might not work. It works for me on mobile, so try typing in ashleyfaghan.digstonehill.org]

The Rush

Just a couple of nights ago, I picked where I’m living on campus for my junior year of college. Though it all worked out and it’s incredibly exciting, I can’t believe that I’ve already reached this point. I really have so much to be thankful for in this beautiful life. After I picked the room, I had a half hour conversation with my mom, and I considered just how much I have grown in the past few months.

But what really kills me is that there are only two weekends left before finals start. I hate feeling that an unproductive summer will undo all my personal growth, even though I’m lucky enough to come back to campus a week early. With so much going on this semester, it feels like I’m rushing off the edge of a cliff.

Of course, our final papers, projects and exams remain important, but perhaps it’s even more important to step out of the rush, to retreat into the corners of your soul.  To take your time and not worry too much. Don’t rush into things and value time spent with friends and family.

It sounds so simple, but the pile of things happening at once is easy to get lost in, at least for me. Take, for example, this blog – I wanted to write another post about my writing (real meta, I know) and how writing my novel and watching my characters be terrible people all over the place has forced me to examine myself and my own actions. But then things happened and when I finally had time to write the post, I was so tired my brain could not form sentences. Words, even. So instead, I wrote this post about how I don’t have time to write.

But in between all the other tasks I have to get accomplished in the coming weeks, I will do my best to get more accomplished. And I hope that this season is a time of joy and exploration for all of you.