In an earlier post, I discussed the value of dropping extracurriculars to benefit your writing life.  That solves for the issue of time by telling you what not to take on, but it doesn’t tell you what you should do:  what classes you should take, what non-writing extracurriculars are good, or what you should do with your newfound free time.

At this age, you’re expected to fulfill certain roles.  First and foremost, you are a student, expected to take a certain amount of classes and receive in those classes at least halfway decent grades.  And, despite my earlier post, I imagine many of you find it hard to fathom dropping every one of your non-writing extracurriculars.  (I get it; I joined the Debate team freshman year and never looked back, despite its huge time suck from my creative and academic life.  Some things just do it for you.)

The new dilemma, then, is not what to eliminate from your life but what to selectively add to it.  You can’t avoid classes, but you can pick only those that will work towards your creative life and minimize the impact of those devils you can’t avoid.  Here’s my advice:

Pick activities that align with your strengths.

In an ideal (or at least adult) world, you wouldn’t be forced to take on classes and activities that don’t relate to your writing life.  You’d be able to take only those classes that relate directly to what you’re writing.  Your life would be all about contributing creative energy to your work.

At this age, unfortunately, that’s impossible.

Many experts, or at least headline-hungry journalists, would recommend balance as the answer, equilibrium between the good and bad in your life.  They would recommend you do take on AP Calculus or join the Science Club, so long as you’re also taking AP English or an anthropology class that really fascinates you.  (Which is not to say that all writers have an interest in the humanities or a distaste for science and math.)

These experts would tell you that, “You can do anything if you put your mind to it!”

And maybe that’s true.  But why spend all of your energy focused on becoming passably good at Calculus when you have the Great American Novel to write?  Why balance the good and bad when you can structure all areas of your life to focus on your creative life?

Says Justine Musk over at Tribal Writer:

We learn young – especially in this culture – that people can be either winners or losers, and to be a loser – to Fail – is a kind of psychic tar-and-feathering that marks us for life.

So we choose what seems like the third option: to fall somewhere in this gray area between that allows us to say: I could be a winner if I applied myself. I just haven’t applied myself.

We think that to give up on those things that we aren’t good at but could be good at is failure.  So we try and think of everything in terms of balance.  But in my opinion, balance is the first step to burnout.

Instead, focus on aligning yourself with things that you have a natural affinity for.  Don’t pull yourself in different directions; everything you do should focus on getting better at things you already like, are already successful at.  What classes make you come alive?  Which ones are constant drains on your time and energy?  You can’t write well, after all, if you’re always scrambling to finish a Chemistry lab that you just don’t understand.

I’m trying to employ this strategy in my own life.  For me, college is just around the corner, and I’m going to have to find ways to align my general education requirements with my interests.  I’m going to find ways to fuel my creative fire in the classroom, with guest lectures, in my extracurriculars, and it’s going to be a constantly evolving process.

If any of you have had successful (or not so successful experiences) aligning the requirements of student life with your creativity, I’d love to hear them!

This is the beginning of a multiple-post series on building a student life to support your creative interests.