On Taking a Break
Some thoughts on the last few months: school, writing, and more.
I’m not normally a huge stickler about following traditional writing advice or “rules”— “write every day” being a very common one. But as I’m thinking about this advice now, I can definitely understand why it’s a thing — and maybe it’s not so much about not writing one day, but about what happens when that one day becomes two, and then three, and then four. And then suddenly it’s been a month (or two or three) and you realize you haven’t really put out anything.
For the last few months, I’ve taken a bit of a break from writing. Not completely — I’ve written a bit for my college’s chapter of HerCampus, and of course, there have been essays and things for school (and I also was an episode of one of my best friend’s, Molly Van Gorp’s, podcast “Get Cultured”). But I haven’t really written pieces like I did this summer — on things I find on TikTok, youth culture, etc. Things that really excite me and where I have essentially complete creative control, as opposed to an essay for school.
This last summer was a good one for me writing-wise — having time due to quarantine, I was writing or at least thinking of writing almost every day. In August I wrote about Christmas TikTok for The New York Times, and I also had two longer pieces that I wrote together with Molly, on the Y2K and cottagecore aesthetics, respectively — things I couldn’t imagine myself having the chance to do just months earlier.
But as school started — my first semester of college (but make it remote) — I began to think more about my classes, and studying, and doing my work. It’s been an interesting semester (as I’m sure any college student, especially any freshman, can attest to). I haven’t had an impossible amount of work in my classes, but they have been challenging at times, and I’ve also been trying to stay energized and motivated while staying at home with my family and taking all my classes on Zoom. At the same time, I’ve also learned a lot about various topics, such as computer science, women’s studies, how to read and write about ~theory~, I can even write things in basic Italian now. And I’ve met and connected with lots of new people, albeit virtually, and had lots of good conversations. Oh, and I also voted for the first time ever!
As I’m finally done with my semester (by some incredible stroke of luck I don’t have any real finals), as I look back on what I’ve done in the last few months, there’s a bit of guilt I feel for not doing more. Particularly, after writing so much this summer, I feel like I have to explain to myself why I took a break — even though it wasn’t a true break — I still was working and learning for school. It seems as though I’ve fallen victim to the pandemic productivity craze — the desire (one could even say expectation) to, even though we are living in a pandemic and nothing is normal right now, be as productive if not more productive than before.
I’ve also always put pressure on myself to do well in school (academically I can be a perfectionist, as cliche as that may sound), and as I’m now in college that doesn’t seem to be something that is going away anytime soon, at least on its own. Yet this perfectionism can turn into me pushing my other interests aside, writing included, in some kind of all-out attempt to “get the grade.” And despite the fact that I’ve written a decent amount and it’s always academically been my strongest subject, it is definitely not easy for me. It is something I don’t tend to love doing in the moment and requires a lot of my energy — cognitively but also in a way that I can’t precisely name, that requires emotional and creative exertion. It’s something I feel like I need to have my full attention on — and it’s hard to do that when I’m thinking about tests, assignments, etc. in a normal year, let alone in 2020. And even putting my work or thoughts out online, even in a low-stakes format like Twitter or social media, can take a ton of energy.
Taking a break isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however. Looking back at the dates I have published my stories, the first thing I put out on Medium was in July 2019, two summers ago. I wrote consistently throughout that summer then too, but heading into senior year (likely due to the busyness of college applications) I took a break from writing. It wasn’t until March 25th of the next year (my 18th birthday actually, and around the time I committed to college) that I put up a new story, and after that, I started writing pretty consistently for the next few months.
In the time I took a break from writing (except for college essays, of course), I made some new friends, learned new things in my classes, and learned more about my particular outlook on the world and what I was interested in. Having more time to write during the beginning of quarantine also enabled me space and time to think and to put all I learned over those few months to use. As a result, the writing after I took a break felt more creative and more “me” than my previous work. Intellectually, it kind of felt like a mini Cambrian explosion.
I guess I’m hoping that, as I try to get back into writing again now, over the next month, and hopefully even as I start school back up again in the spring, that the same kind of thing happens. That I can use everything I’ve learned, not just academically but about myself and the world, and channel that into my writing. I’m also trying to do more things I enjoy, and learn about more things that I’m interested in just for myself, rather than for school. (This focus on school (even at the risk of fulfilling personal passions and mental health) is something that I think has kind of been socialized into a lot of students, and something I could probably write about in a lot more depth. Personally, I’m still learning how to break out of the “school above all else” model of thinking, and hopefully, if I do that I can continue to write even in the busiest of semesters.
Wow, writing about (not) writing? Absolutely groundbreaking. Anyway, that’s it for now!!