Reflecting on Three Years of Writing for YouAlberta

Sandy shares her reflections as her three-year journey as a writer on YouAlberta comes to an end.

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I first started writing for YouAlberta in August 2018. I remember receiving my acceptance letter over email and feeling like a new exciting journey had started. Prior to writing for the blog, I followed many of the previous YouAlberta writers closely. I learned about the small quirks that made each writer unique, such as their humorous one-liners or their internal struggles with changing majors. The unifying theme between all of them was a deep passion for connecting with students through words. While not all the experiences I read about were identical to my own, most were relatable in some way and helped me know that I wasn’t the only one struggling with procrastination or chronic sleep deprivation (or both). 

I still remember the day I presented my first story pitch at the roundtable of bloggers. I nervously recited my pitch in my mind while I waited for others to finish their pitches. I wondered how my little piece about meal preparation would compare with the important revelations of “healthy ways to engage with people we disagree with.” However, when I finally presented my idea to the team, it was greeted with overwhelming enthusiasm. Many had struggled with meal preparation for years, or had just started living independently like myself at the time. I had the most fun working with my editor, shaping and moulding the first piece I would be proud of showcasing to the campus community: "5 Things Students Should Keep in Mind When it Comes to Meal Planning."

Fast forward to April 2021 and the end of my three-year journey with YouAlberta. It has become a close part of my identity throughout my degree, and I’ve never had trouble sharing the thought-provoking pieces published each month with my friends and family. In the past three years I’ve also learned that, despite coming from a background in the sciences, writing is still such an integral part of who I am. When we think of freelancing or blogging, our minds often associate writers with those from English, communications, or journalism backgrounds. Thanks to my incredible editors, I feel confident that no matter where I work in the future, blogging will be a hobby near and dear to my heart. 

The past three years have also taught me some valuable lessons about not just the technicalities of writing, but time management and risk-taking. Here are some lessons I've learned:

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Time management

When I first started writing, I would experience writer’s block quite frequently. I would write a few lines and expect the perfect arrangement of words on paper that would enlighten, inspire, and achieve some grand goal. However, I quickly realized that a simple piece I was so motivated to write about in the beginning became a chore that I dreaded each day. With a looming deadline hanging over my head, I began to associate writing with stress and frustration. For most other activities, I could allot one hour or two houra in my calendar. When it came to writing, I was lost. Some pieces would inevitably take much longer than others, and this initially placed immense pressure on both perfection and productivity. Over time, I’ve learned to let that go. I noticed that my most thoughtful pieces were ones where I wrote liberally without obsessing over the precision of my vocabulary or the ability to extract deep meaning from every sentence. Instead, the freedom let me capture my true voice on the page. The emotions were more real and I truly started to enjoy my writing experience. I learned that time management meant not starting the first draft on the day before the deadline— writing required a less fixed structure. Some of my best ideas would come to me a week after my initial draft was complete, and returning to the story a few times before the deadline allowed me time to polish it.

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New perspectives

Initially, I had doubts about whether my ideas would be original or thought-provoking enough. I've learned that our thoughts and experiences shape our writing, and no two pieces of writing about an idea are the same. I have enjoyed writing about food and lifestyle topics I have lived experience with. However, over the years I have also tackled pieces that required some research, discussions with peers, or consultations with experts in the field. For example, I was inspired by a piece from the Harvard Business Review about energy levels, however I had little experience with the subject myself. So I gave the concepts discussed in the article a try and experimented with a different routine during the week. This gave me insights and perspectives I would not have had otherwise, and I turned my experience into the article “It's Time to Re-Think the To-Do List.” Taking a risk and trying something new in writing provides an opportunity to learn new ideas and place a personal spin on them. 

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Communication skills

After a long hiatus from writing, I find that it is more challenging to write; I am more easily distracted and less able to elaborate on an idea with fluidity. Another byproduct of writing with YouAlberta was that I could keep my writing skills sharp. Not unlike other parts of our routines, the more we practice and perform a task, the more easily we can perform it. In my own life, when drafting a lengthy email or charting a patient note, words come to me more easily than they have in the past. Though I've struggled to find the right words or create grammatically correct sentences in the past, writing frequently has helped me express my thoughts coherently. 

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Reading more often

I found that writing was often associated with my reading habits. As I wrote more, I also became interested in what other YouAlberta bloggers wrote. I frequently read pieces from my peers and thought-provoking essays from my favorite digital magazine, Aeon. Reading my favorite writers helped elevate my own vocabulary and spark ideas for my own writing. Making writing a habit also meant that it became part of my routine— I even started journaling again. Both reading and writing are incredibly therapeutic and helped me decompress during the most stressful periods of my degree. 

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