In middle school I wrote every day. Each thought, storyline, and stupid joke that came through my head went on paper, and by eighth grade I’d started writing my own cheddar-cheesy book. By high school I’d written hundreds of pages of short stories and poetry. I was realizing, however, that with growth my work matured astronomically. I quit writing my best ideas, figuring if I’d save them for after my studies, I could articulate them properly and do them justice. This, of course, was my biggest mistake.
By uni my drive to create had slowed and my creativity all but completely drained. I rarely felt inspiration to write anything in the same desperate craze I’d experienced in years past, and despite best efforts to get involved in university publishing, my independent writing floundered. What few notebooks I have in St Andrews are filled with the scattered debris of my one well-intended concepts.
This past year I’ve begun regaining my focus in great help due to my work on The Record. But no mountain can be overcome in one step. I write this piece now, however, because that one step has introduced me to a multitude of students like myself, desperate to (re-)enter the world of creative writing but stuck at the bottom of the hill. So, if this is you, here’s my take on overcoming the creative drain.
Studying is stressful, and if you already take a reading-heavy course the last thing you may want to do on your Saturday afternoon is curl up with another book. But the best way to get inspired by art is to surround yourself with it. Read easy books when you’re stressed, and classic literature when you’re not. Ask your friends for recommendations—odds are they’ll have a favorite you’ve never heard of, and you might even learn more about them in the process. Yeah, this step is pretty cliché, but it’s cliché because it’s probably the best thing you can do. How are you supposed to be original if you don’t even know what the classic looks like?
Read student publications
Such as the Record (ahem). But seriously, your peers are coming up with amazing stuff all the time—take it from someone who literally has to read their work. The Saint, The Stand, and Owl Eyes are all classics for news writing, each with their own unique columns and specialties. Inklight and ScootAround both publish creative bitesize pieces which are great for sparking your own ideas. This is the environment we’re all writing in and reflecting on each other is how we foster a unique St Andrews artistic culture. It’s also a great way to support your fellow writers, which you might want to do if you…
Submit your stuff!
Don’t write in your own bubble! If you’re too scared to print your work now, when and how do you expect to showcase it later? Publishing can be scary, but your editor will save you from syntactic and grammatic disasters. They may also give you a fresh perspective on your own work. If you don’t know how to get started, most publications will welcome a Facebook inquiry, but feel free to default to The Record—we’re enthusiastic to publish almost all writing and have plenty of projects in need of more contributors.
Do research on topics that inspire you
Last year I spent two hours straight reading Jimi Hendrix interviews and biographies in the Byre in order to write 400 words on the guy. Pick something that really interests you, and fiction or not study the crap out of it. The more you know, the more that topic can inspire you.
Edit other people’s work
The real secret to writing well is editing better. Reading with a critical lens can both help you appreciate the writing around you, as well as hone your own work. Notice what works, what doesn’t, and why. Not only may it give you a few ideas to try out, but you’ll be a more confident reviewer of your own material.
Carry a notebook
Aside from online distractions, computers don’t always welcome the same breed of ideaphoria as notebooks. This is certainly a more personal suggestion, but if you’re really in a rut, try ditching technology for a bit. Might help you get back in your head—in the right way.
Go somewhere with the explicit purpose of writing
Café, museum, beach, botanical gardens (the greenhouses all have lovely blue chairs, perfect places to relax, read, and jot in a few notes), wherever. Don’t bring your computer—social media is a huge creativity suck, trust me. Get something loose on paper, even if it’s just an idea, and revisit it later. Not everything has to be hashed out in the moment so long as you can record what you’re thinking.
Get involved with a publication
Committee, columns, small projects, whatever suits you. Especially if you’re hoping to one day turn writing into a career—you’re going to need to be able to work with other people’s ideas and schedules. Besides, working on committee can be a great way to amass frequent and diverse editing material.
Just fucking write
The hardest part of writing is the sitting down and doing of it. Writer’s block is a bitch, but you’ll never overcome it if you don’t just go for it. Schedule a regular time if that’s your thing or close this tab and open a word document if you’re more spontaneous. But no other step is going to help you if you won’t just fucking write.
Be it prose, poetry, or play, a review, a preview, an interview, the next short story anthology or long movie script, just go ahead and write it. And once you’re done, feel free to send it in to
Good luck, get writing.