The past few months have been difficult. I haven’t felt like myself for a number of reasons, the main reason being that I’m finding my studies quite difficult. Not difficult in a Oh-my-God-I’m-so-fucking-dumb-and-cannot-do-this-degree kind of way…sure, the work’s easy enough. Write a poem, write a story, over analyse a book and inject false meaning into it simply to justify having it on the syllabus (surely “It’s a good read” is reason enough)…all of that I can do. I just find this so draining though. Reading and writing are things that I have dedicated almost two thirds of my life to. Life hasn’t always been great (but this isn’t a sob story; no one’s life is perfect and you’d be a liar if you claimed otherwise) and without my books, notepads and pens, I would’ve gone insane. They enabled me to escape the stresses and strains of everyday life. If my nan ever nagged me for not tidying my bedroom, it’d be no problem. I’d go into my room, grab a book and escape to a different world and meet fascinating, intriguing characters.
So, naturally, I decided to pursue my passions and applied to study for a degree in English and Creative Writing. The first year went smoothly, albeit for the odd hiccup. I made brilliant friends, I became independent, I had my own money…life was brilliant! Until my second year. Then things got serious.
Suddenly, my tutors treated me like their peer. They told me, writer-to-writer, what they really thought of my work. I’m a sensitive soul (I plaster a constant smile on my face but be warned, a raging hormone machine lurks beneath this veneer) and really take things to heart sometimes. Instead of thinking “Well, that’s OK. I know how to improve for the future.” I’d think “HOW DARE YOU INSULT MY WORK! I PUT AS MUCH BLOOD, SWEAT AND TEARS INTO THAT PIECE AS A NEW MOTHER PUTS INTO BIRTHING! INSULT MY WORK, INSULT ME! I GIVE UP! I’M A FAILURE RAH RAH RAH &!@%…” Yeah, you get the picture. A similar thing happened with the literature side of my degree. My essays would get comments such as “Focus more on the primary text. What do the blue curtains represent? They clearly represent the author’s deep depression…” Suddenly, I found myself disliking what I’d previously reveled in. I found reading a chore. I’d scan the words on the page, seeking a hidden meaning and when I couldn’t find one, a sense of failure would creep over me.
University was draining me. It was draining me of my essence…of who I was. I felt like an empty shell; I no longer enjoyed the only things I’d ever been any good at. Who was I now?
Christmas rolled along and I thought this would be my chance to read books that I’d chosen myself, write about things close to my heart and work on my novel. I was wrong. I was exhausted. Mentally at least. I looked at books and just couldn’t be arsed. I looked at my notebooks with fear, doubting my ability after a first semester comprised of negative comments. I drifted through those festive weeks, reading nothing but the odd newspaper and writing nothing but a mere shopping list or email. For those who aren’t writers, it might be difficult to understand but I was so low. I was questioning my identity and questioning whether or not I was on the right path. I felt lost, confused…I felt like a failure. I’d failed myself, I’d failed my family.
Over the past week, though, this has changed. My flatmate lent me a book and I devoured its contents within two days which is something that I haven’t done in months and today, a much-trusted tutor called me to discuss a piece of creative writing I’d submitted a couple of months ago and received rather negative feedback for. Having put my heart and soul into this piece, the grade it was awarded with disheartened me and I emailed my tutor, needing answers. Our conversation today was really uplifting, though. She recited the positive comments that had been scrawled over the piece, comments that I’d not seen through the blanket of anger and hurt that had suddenly engulfed me. She told me that the piece had potential, she recounted stories of times when she herself, a professional writer, had been disheartened by similar feedback. She told me that I’m “one of the stronger writers in my year”. These comments really cheered me up, to be honest. They gave me hope. They gave me confidence. I took her comments on board and I’ve decided that I’m not going to give up on my dreams of being a published writer. As soon as I’d hung up, I logged into my neglected blog and posted two pieces I had been working on and within half an hour, I’d received two positive comments.
Today has opened my eyes. University isn’t easy. It shouldn’t be easy. If it I swanned in knowing everything beforehand, what would be the point in going? I need to man up and learn from my mistakes. Mistakes are blessings in disguise because they make me a better writer and make me stronger.