On the platform, reading

My life is my message. —Gandhi

Here’s my radical philosophy:  You should always be working in service to your creative self.  Relaxation is not an excuse to be a vegetable.

I know, I know—student life is so stressful, so endlessly jam-packed of obligations that free time seems like an inviolable luxury.  If you finish your work an hour early, a few episodes of Entourage seem like the perfect reward.

But you knew you wouldn’t get off that easy.  (Remember my vendetta against balance?)

Instead, my idea is to always be mindful of how you spend your time—just at different levels of intensity—rather than to switch between on and off at any available opportunity.

This doesn’t mean you can’t plop down on your bed, armed with a laptop and some ratty yoga pants.  It does mean, however, that you can’t trawl around on Facebook for hours at a time.  Try instead to be mindful of what you intake.  Watch TED talks; read The New York Times Magazine or the New YorkerMaybe even—as radical as this suggestion is for you burgeoning writers—read a book.

(And for those of you living in or near college towns or cities, guest speakers are great sources of inspiration.)

These activities can be physically lazy, can relax you, can detach you from the stresses of student life—all without draining time away from your creative pursuits.  Ideas are the fundamental building blocks of writing, and the more ideas you expose yourself to, the better.

It all goes back to this idea of alignment.  If everything you do—your classes, your extracurriculars, and your free time—works towards building an arsenal of ideas, you’re not forced to compartmentalize.  You don’t have to stretch yourself thin to be a Student, a Science Olympiad-er/Athlete/etc, and a Writer; instead, they’re all different paths to achieve the same goal.  The different roles you are inevitably forced to take on can all serve your creative self.

Carry a notebook.

The real value in all this creative input is that everything you intake—the blogs, the films, the AP Psych readings—will slosh around your head throughout the day.  The TED talk you heard about how the world is dominated by algorithms might collide with your European History reading on the Scientific Revolution’s greater focus on human rationality, and bam:  You see a connection.  And in that connection, you see a great idea for a school newspaper article or a short story.

Where ideas intersect, creative life is born.   You find insight.

But these moments are likely to hit at random times, not wait politely for your hour or so of daily writing.   This is where a notebook comes in handy.  I recommend one of reasonably high quality and a hearty pen to go along with it (both of which, ladies, are side-bag friendly in size).  When you get a glimmer of holy inspiration, jot it down.  Don’t process; just collect.  A scribble will do.

Processing, after all, is for your daily writing regimen.

If you’re unsure of where to look for creative input, start here:

  1. TED talks
  2. The New Yorker
  3. The New York Times Magazine
  4. The Atlantic
  5. Slate
  6. Guest speakers in your area
  7. Art/science/etc museums
  8. Plays and musicals
  9. NPR
  10. An independent bookstore (the chains work too, though their selection isn’t as intelligently edited)
  11. The blogosphere (my personal favorites:  Study Hacks, Tribal Writer, Ben Casnocha, Scott H. Young, the Sartorialist)
  12. Films and documentaries (tell me your favorites!)

I’d love to hear what ideas are born with this technique.