Has anyone else applied to a program they expected to love, only to have it knock you down flat on your face? Or to be less melodramatic, have you ever felt dispirited by your dream program’s rigid expectations? As an avid reader and writer, I first applied to Humanities to explore my beloved nerdy interests in all their variations. Ultimately, I specialized in Honours Philosophy and English & Cultural Studies. Talk about reading and writing! But, in an instant, I fell into a slump in my first semester that changed my outlook on academic writing forever.
After writing over a dozen joyless papers in one semester, I finally decided that the tide was pulling me in a direction that was not healthy for me. I needed to change my situation before I permanently burned out. This realization truly shocked me because writing has always been my strongest skill. I’m a good writer! Essay writing has been my strong suit all through my life, earning me A’s across the board. Nevertheless, university had begun to drain my love for writing. I don’t like the rigidity and pretentiousness of the traditional essay. Instead, I prefer to write creatively – I love to explore the boundaries of language and imagination when I write poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, and of course Her Campus articles.
So, I cold-emailed English professors (some familiar and some strangers) to set up video calls to talk through my conundrum. It was healing to rant to someone who had gone through and conquered what I was experiencing. And yes, even esteemed English professors have experienced this same frustration! They all went above and beyond to share advice and resources with me for my academic and career planning.
The most transformative realization I had while talking to my professors was that academic and creative writing are not mutually exclusive. The key to revitalizing my love of writing in this formal setting is adding creative elements into my academic writing.
This has largely been possible because I transferred out of the philosophy program into Indigenous Studies. More so than English, Philosophy greatly centers formal and explicit academic essays to convey arguments. Indigenous Studies centers unique, experiential, and culturally-conscious forms of assessment. My Indigenous courses provide me with a variety of creative assignments: this semester I’ve been assigned audio assignments, reflections, oral assessments, mixed-media assignments, interactive worksheets, and papers. It has been liberating to present my findings and arguments through a diversity of media.
Certainly, transferring programs is not always the answer. And as I am still studying English, I must continue to consciously add creativity to my written assignments. Turns out, there are infinite approaches to dynamically present an argument. For instance, I’ve been testing the waters by adding personal anecdotes, beliefs, and theories into papers. Recounting personal experiences (e.g. opening your essay with a short story or citing a personal experience as evidence) can not only be liberating for the writer, but it can also engage the reader more intimately. Or if it is not appropriate to add personality, you can instead have fun with explaining concepts by using imagery, metaphors, and allegories. It can be an excellent challenge to design a metaphor to teach a concept. One last option is to reject the “hamburger” essay structure to alternatively embrace fluidity when you transition between ideas. Indulge in paragraphs that admit your candor in the subject, or predict the subject’s next steps. Let your passion flow through the document. Unabashed creativity is innovative and liberating, albeit daunting.
Nurturing the desire to write does not stop once you exit the classroom. It is important to explore the value and freedom of the written word in your personal life. Writing for yourself is cathartic, but you still need to put in the initial effort to sit down and write. I frequently catch myself neglecting my hobbies in my downtime because my schoolwork is constantly buzzing in my brain, restraining any creative muscles. Allowing yourself time to write for yourself is a more accessible way to foster creativity if you, too, are struggling in your program and have no opportunity to insert creativity into it. Indeed, this would be applicable to STEM students who certainly cannot drop a poem in the appendix of a lab report.
This latest semester has taught me so much about my character and strengths. I know I love writing; I will not let university ruin it for me. To all my fellow writers out there, keep pursuing what you love without the academy’s grey-tinted glasses.