Writing as a Full-Time College Student (And Athlete)
I just finished the first draft of my second novel! It is a completely different story line and genre (realistic fiction) than INSOMNUS (sci fi/fantasy/thriller) which I’m excited about. I also think it better captures my current writing style and abilities. (Sorry to those who were hoping for another angsty thriller).
While I have a lot of editing before the next stage, whatever that ends up being, I thought now would be a good time to discuss writing as a full-time college student (and athlete). (And why I had taken a break from blogging.)
Although going to school full time may take a similar amount of time as having a full time job, there’s nothing like writing essays and reading textbooks all day to squash your willpower to write and read and be Creative. So what can you do about it?
Here are 10 tips that worked for me while, especially this last year (as I went to college and played volleyball and managed to write a whole novel in 7 months).
1. Take advantage of breaks. And don’t be afraid to take one yourself.
Most of the work on my novel took place during winter, spring, and summer breaks. These are great times to cram in writing or reading you didn’t have a chance to do during classes- without the added mental energy drain of homework. On that note, however, the “write every day” philosophy likely won’t apply to you during the school year. And that’s okay. You might have to take days, or weeks, or months off, and that’s okay too.
2. Set writing goals, but have different expectations during the school year.
It’s important to have goals to make sure writing still gets done, but you may have to switch from daily to weekly or monthly goals. You might not be able to accomplish the 500/etc words per day you normally crank out (in part because you’re also doing 500/etc words on essays and homework).
For me, this meant that I was no longer blogging during the school year (sorry guys) although that may change this coming year. It also meant week-to-week my writing goal changed from 0 words to a few thousand depending on what else was going on.
3. Take advantage of creative writing classes.
Not only does it limit the workload of other classes and force you to have deadlines, you can get great feedback and learn more about the craft to grow as a writer. I got to explore writing short stories, which is something I hadn’t done before. I learned a lot about story structure and characterization, among other things, and even had one of my stories (Smile) published in the Widener Blue Route. (Plus if you’re a writer, I’m guessing this would be something you love doing. So do it!)
4. Use what you learn as background for your writing.
The great thing about going to college is you are learning all day, every day, about things you are (hopefully) passionate about. One of those things, for me, is neuroscience and psychology. So why not use what you learn as your inspiration and background research for your next piece? You can save time, it’ll be about something you love, you’ll have resources (professors, other students) to ask questions, and you can learn about the material from a different angle, thus cementing what you already know. (Win-win-win-win-win, amiright?
For example, for me, this is psychology and neuroscience which is why my next book is of a boy battling a mental illness (I won’t tell you which one yet, though).
5. Think about exploring other mediums (ie short stories)
This goes back to #3 a little. Part of what I loved about short stories the past 2 years was that I could carve out a few hours to write. In that time I could finish a piece, learning about endings, beginnings and everything in between- in waaayy less time than writing a whole book. Plus shorter pieces can be published to increase your resume and credibility as an author (and its pretty motivating to see your name in print).
There are many writing journals exclusively for Undergrads (like the Blue Route) as well as other journals based on genre or other characteristics. Your school might have a publishing avenue as well, either a book or journal or website.
6. Take advantage of down-time (and yes, Netflix).
I’m sure you were bracing yourself for the part where I say you should give up your TV time and instead write. While that could be (really) beneficial, you can still gain a lot from watching your favorite Netflix series, as long as you watch as a writer.
For one, focus on dialogue. What works and what doesn’t and why? How can you incorporate this? Look at character development. What do you know about the characters and how was that revealed? How do they change across an episode or season? And even something as simple as, what names do you like that you could borrow for your own pieces?
Similarly, I highly recommend keeping a note on your phone and/or having your writing in Google Docs or something similar so you can write down ideas when they come to you or write for the extra minutes you have before class or meals or meetings.
7. Schedule in writing time and give yourself deadlines.
I just found this awesome, but simple, website Prolifiko. It allows you to set big goals (ie write a book) and then smaller goals (ie write a chapter) with a deadline. You then get emails that cheer for you when you complete a goal. One problem with school is that since schoolwork has obvious deadlines it seems (and can be, granted,) more urgent. This can help shift the focus back to writing, allowing you to accomplish little goals and feel good about them rather than feeling overwhelmed by abstract, long-term goals.
8. Reach out to other student writers to get feedback. And make writer friends 🙂
If you take a writing class or join a writing group, don’t be afraid to approach other writers to create a critique group or to have them beta-read a piece of yours. Otherwise, if you aren’t in a class or group, reach out to the president of a group or an English professor to see if they can connect you with other student writers.
I sent my in-progress manuscript to two of my friends to help me edit the first draft and to help me motivate myself to actually finish it. I knew they were waiting for additional chapters so it kept me writing. The fact that I knew they would edit it for me kept me from focusing on making it perfect (and thus not writing at all).
9. Know that writing may take a back seat, especially during finals or other busy times, but that doesn’t make you less of a writer.
I know I touched on this earlier, but it’s worth repeating.
10. On the other hand, if you have a week with less work, think about writing instead of catching up on Netflix. (Or at least instead of only watching Netflix).
As great as finishing up Black Mirror or Grey’s would be, imagine how great it will feel to finish a novel or short story or whatever it is you’re working on.
It’s pretty great.
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I wrote previously on Challenges (and Solutions) For a Writer in College so check that out if you haven’t already.
Feel free to leave your thoughts/suggestions/comments below or contact me!