Writing is hard. From a pretty young age, I have greatly enjoyed expressing myself through creative writing, and as I got older, I started to enjoy academic writing as well. I would write poetry about things I observed in my day-to-day life, short stories or fragments of prose, and even entered a few essay-writing competitions. Something I noticed pretty early on about writing is that writing the things that come to your mind without method or intent is a lot easier than writing for an audience. I prefer writing while keeping the reader in mind more because writing only for myself lets me pick up bad writing habits, such as not carefully considering my word choice, as the only person interpreting the writing would be me. But writing creatively for a reader is pretty difficult, and academic-style writing for a reader can be exhausting because most college students already have to do that so much for their classes. A form of writing that I had not previously considered before coming to college, however, was blog writing. When I started working at the USC American Language Institute, I tried out writing for a blog for the very first time. One blog that I wrote about rereading Harry Potter with an older perspective challenged me to consider the perspective of both myself and my audience.
Writing for a blog is a great way to open your creative energy and write to a wider audience while also being able to maintain a level of informality and free expression to your writing. A blog article could be about anything–your daily routine, a hobby you love doing, your journey writing other things, or aspects of your social life. It is a happy medium between writing creatively or academically for others and dabbling in creative writing or journaling for yourself. This can be good because it allows you to practice writing with a sense of accountability, while also having fun. I have written a few blog articles since coming to college, and I found that I had a great time writing them and was actually proud of my work after the fact. I also realized that I was less judgmental of my own writing when writing a blog article, which made it easier for me to actually finish a writing project I started on. For me, the most difficult part of writing a blog article is narrowing down exactly what it is you want to write about.
What can you write about?
Have you ever had that feeling where you are inspired to write something and then as soon as you sit down in front of your journal or computer screen, your mind goes blank? Or when you know of a lot of things you think you might be interested in writing about, but aren’t sure where to start? This is a very common problem writers encounter, but with some consideration and time, it can be overcome. Some common blog topics to inspire you are: life advice about a specific situation or circumstance, a recipe or instructions on how to do/make something, a list of recommendations, a funny or shocking story and a lesson learned from it, hobbies or goals and how to accomplish them, and so much more.
Are you a Ph.D. student? If you are, or you are considering pursuing a PhD, I have some advice for you. I am currently a PhD student, and without receiving advice from different individuals in my life, I wouldn’t have the outlook I do now. I want to share one particular word of advice that had a great impact on me, which I think could have an impact on any PhD student.
To fully explain why the advice I received was so important to me, I must introduce the person who gave it to me: meet my friend Tanya [ˈtɑːnjə]. Tanya is from China (the Chinese pronunciation of her name is Tanya [tán yǎ]). I met Tanya for the first time a few years ago in 2016 at an academic conference in Shanghai. As a graduate from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Tanya was certainly a rising star in academia. I was responsible for her reception when she came to my university as a guest for the conference. Since it was such a rare opportunity to speak one-one-one with such a distinguished scholar, I asked her, “Tanya, I plan on pursuing a Ph.D. degree in the near future. Could you please give me some advice about how to do good research?” She replied, “Lady Gaga is a great singer; a real artist. You should listen to her music.” Then she left. Needless to say, I was confused after hearing that. I thought to myself, “So does she mean I should listen to Lady Gaga’s music to become a good researcher?” Following her suggestion, I started to listen to Lady Gaga’s music. However, after I listened to all of Lady Gaga’s songs, my research skills had only marginally improved.
One year later, someone told me that Tanya hadn’t published any papers this year. I couldn’t believe it, but after checking her website I realized this person was right. Soon after, I heard people starting to gossip, “Tanya is not a rising star any longer,” “Tanya flops”, “Tanya isn’t what she used to be”. I was genuinely worried about her, and I kept wondering what had happened.
A year later, I met her in person again at another academic conference in Washington DC. After some small talk, I had to mention, “Tanya, I have been following your research, but it seems that you haven’t updated your website for some time.” Although I didn’t ask directly why she hadn’t published anything notable, she quickly understood what I meant. Then she said, “Remember a couple years ago when I asked you to listen to Lady Gaga’s music? Here’s why I did that. Lady Gaga had a commercially successful career for several years. Then, she flopped in 2013 when she released her album Artpop. So what happened? Instead of just satisfying the public, Lady Gaga was trying to produce an album created from an artist’s perspective. Thus, the album Artpop was not accepted by the majority, although it had a large influence on the music industry overall when we look back at it today. The subjects of this album, art and pop, can be considered by many to be antithetical. She caused a stir with her pop fans when she picked sides. Lady Gaga chose art, but that came with a cost.”
It’s that time of year again. We’ve pushed through finals, labored on final projects, completed all of our assignments for the semester just in time to…sit at home. So this isn’t exactly the beginning of the summer that we all had planned. With events being rescheduled, trips being postponed, and internships and jobs being canceled or modified, many people are at a loss as to what they can occupy their time with for the next month or so. It is very easy to fall into a trap of sitting around, watching Netflix and scrolling on your phone for hours, but at the end of the day that won’t make you feel better about staying at home. What will make you feel better is engaging in activities that will either pull you away from a screen or which are productive and/or creative. I have listed below a few ideas, some large and some small, for activities and goals to work on during this sometimes frustrating time period.
Establish a Workout Routine
Creating a workout routine is an easy way to get out of the house and stay active during quarantine. For some people, not having access to a gym is upsetting, and for some, it has made little to no difference in their daily lives. I would encourage everyone, however, to create some sort of small but consistent workout routine to implement into your day. If you choose to work out around the same time every day, you have suddenly added some structure to your day that mimics the structure of normal daily activity, and it can lift your spirits significantly. Even if your workout consists of just taking a jog around your neighborhood, it gives you a chance to get some fresh air. Plus, it will make relaxing and watching your favorite show feel more acceptable because you spent part of your day going out and doing something.
Learn to Cook Something New
This is an activity that not only eliminates the time you spend in front of a screen, but is rewarding because it leads to a final product: food! It doesn’t matter what level your cooking skills are at, there are recipes all over the Internet for everyone from beginners to master chefs. While cooking can be laborious sometimes, it is an activity with endless possibilities that can be catered to your specific tastes. The best part is, once you learn a new recipe and try it a couple of times, you will have something new to cook or bake for your friends and family once quarantine is over!
We all love music. We also all know the feeling of looking for that perfect song to match your mood while walking to class or work and then failing to find it. Making playlists takes a surprisingly long amount of time, and finding new music is equally time consuming. Making new playlists, naming them, and choosing a cover photo for them can be quite fun. It also feels highly productive because it is a way to organize something that you spend a lot of time with. I would personally recommend using Spotify to create playlists, and one of my favorite ways to find new music is by searching up playlists by the mood I’m in or going on Youtube and watching videos where people share the music they are listening to currently. This is a never-ending task that can be a lot of fun.
Edit Your Resume, Cover Letter Template or LinkedIn Profile
This suggestion is probably the least fun but also probably the most productive. Editing your professional documents and profiles is a detailed and time-consuming process, one which we push to the side a lot of the time during the busy school year or work day. Now there is no excuse to keep neglecting this task. There is always more editing that can be done, and perfecting these documents can be very helpful before returning to class and work. There are innumerous resources that can give suggestions on how to make edits, and there is no better time than now to make use of them.
Read a Book
Forgot you can do that outside of school? Sometimes we all do. Most students spend a lot of time reading materials for classes, and sometimes those readings are books but sometimes they are textbooks or documents. Regardless, so much reading can sometimes take up the time we could normally use to read for fun. Now is the perfect time to crack open a good book on a topic you’re interested in. Curling up with a good book inside or outside can pull you away from all of the distractions of social media and the internet, and can make you feel like you did something creative and productive during the day. It doesn’t really matter what you read, just engaging with a material outside of technology can be rewarding.
Play a Card Game or Board Game
If you are quarantining with family, a roommate, or a friend, playing some type of strategy game can be a great way to engage your mind in a challenging task. Oftentimes we forget about the board games we have stored away at home, and playing a game can be a great way to bond with the people around you at this time. If you don’t have any games at home, a deck of cards is very inexpensive and can be found at your local Target or on Amazon. There are dozens of card games, and learning how to play one of them is a fun skill to have. Some games that are quick to learn but challenging to play that I would recommend are Cheat, James Bond, Egyptian Ratscrew, or Slapjack. You can find tutorials for these anywhere online.
Start a Film or Show Review Club
This last suggestion is a great way to transform the time you already might be spending watching Netflix into a social activity. Get a group of people together and decide on a list of movies or episodes of a TV show to watch, and then schedule a meeting time via Zoom to watch the show or movie at the same time and then talk about it after. If it is too hard to coordinate a time to watch an entire film together, then just schedule a time to talk about it together so everyone can watch the film when it is convenient for them. This way, you have something social to look forward to even while you are just sitting at home relaxing.
While these can be difficult and trying times, taking advantage of the time spent at home can help you to adopt a new way of thinking about the whole situation. Many of us may never get an extended period of time spent at home like for a long time after quarantine is over, so spending time with family, relaxing, and learning new things can make this time more enjoyable than you might think. Stay safe!
Natalie Grace Sipula is a Philosophy, Politics, and Law major with a Spanish minor and plans to pursue a career in law or research science. She is a rising sophomore from Cleveland, OH and is a Presidential Scholar studying in Thematic Option. Natalie is an active member of Phi Alpha Delta (Director of Recruitment) and QuestBridge Scholars. Growing up she was dedicated to theatre, including studying and performing at Cleveland Play House. She graduated high school as a Global Scholar, Mock Trial state competitor, and Varsity Cross Country team member. She is a volunteer camp counselor with Mi Pueblo Culture Camp in Cleveland. Since arriving in Los Angeles she has enjoyed volunteering with City of Angels Pit Bull Rescue and in her free time enjoys reading Russian and ancient Greek literature.
Academic and Professional English Language Instruction