The Undergrad Novelist: 4 Tips For Writing In College


Writing a novel is tough. There, I’ve said the age-old mantra. The fateful words that eventually leave anyone who is penning their first draft, revising for the tenth time, or banging their head against the wall over query letters and synopsis work. It’s a full time job without a whole lot of pay, and consumes your time like a hungry monster, eager for the next words you put down.

College is, by comparison, also tough. Sometimes tougher then writing, depending on your opinion. The pressing hours, study binges, and social networking can be as dizzying as they are enjoyable. School has a tendency to become one’s job, and that doesn’t account for your time if you have an actual job to attend as well.

So, that all being said, it sounds outright impossible to do both, right?

And yet I have still gone for it.

A summer before I started my first semester, I decided to sit down and finish penning for first novel, Chimehour. Because it was time; because I would write, no matter what got in my path. Two years and two books later, I’m still going strong. Always busy, and usually happy, but going strong.

Here’s a few tips on how I did it, and how you can too!

Set a schedule (and keep it):

This should be rule #1 in writing anyway, but this applies heavily if you’re in school. Honor your class schedule and homework time, working a space for writing between them, even if it’s just on your breaks between classes. One recent semester, my free time comprised of an hour break between History and Math. I managed to get in 500-800 words per session (and that added up during my weekends and weeks off). You will be surprised at what you can pump out in the span of a few hours a day. Do try not to have writing timed in a way that interferes with sleep or social time (though, let’s be fair; writing interferes with these sort of things anyway. Sometimes you can’t avoid it) and keep to a schedule once you’ve set it. Your brain becomes accustomed to a timetable so wonderfully well; use that to your advantage!

Harmonize studying and writing!

Time is a monstrous thing with school, and studying usually takes up most of it. Homework is perhaps the biggest obstacle between yourself and your writing work, and depending on your load, it often leaves you too drained to work on anything else. This is in part why I got into the habit of cycle the two around each other instead. On my free days, I have a “homework first” policy, meaning at least half of my assigned work must be done before I start writing at all. On lengthier projects (essays or studying for exams), I usually break my time apart, putting “writing rewards” at the end of study session. It works and leaves you feeling very productive! The key to this is not procrastinating though; putting off work to write only leaves you stressed and unable to work anyway. It’s better use of your time if you just get homework done now, so you can enjoy your novel in peace.

Use your free time wisely.

I’ve had a few school-aged friends since I started writing, all excited about The Story Idea that they have conjured up recently. They have storyboards on Pinterest, layouts jotted over three notebooks, and all these stellar things they’re going to write about. Then the conversation usually branches into a diatribe about how little time they have to write though. They have jobs; they have school, so they can’t start this book, much less work every day. “It’s so much to do,”- onward and so forth…

I’ll tell you; this conversation confuses me to no end.

And forgive me; I freelance, so my free time is a little different. But, you know that break you have during the summer? That weekend where you don’t need to study? That aforementioned hour between classes? You could write there. You could write anywhere. Most novelists don’t just sit around and wait for inspiration; they locate inspiration whilst working a job (or two), or taking care of kids, or yes- attending school. Your free time is your ally, and when you use it well, writing happens. Otherwise, Netflix and Facebook happens, and that’s on you alone.

Ignore the doubts.

You can write around your classes. You can make time for your work. You can finish a novel.

And no matter your age, or gender, or intended major, write what you want. Creative writing classes won’t make you a writer any more than math classes could make me a math teacher. Majoring in English will usually make no difference on whether or not you can jot down 100k novel. If that’s your passion in school, go for it. If not, write anyway.

Are you a college student and writer? What are your experiences? What have you done you to keep up your work?

Caitlin E. Jones

Caitlin E. Jones

Caitlin E. Jones is an author and a lover of all things Victorian and fantastic. A homeschooled student through most of her young life, she was raised in South Louisiana, where the myths roam wild and the colorful characters roam wilder still. She currently attends college in pursuit of a degree in History, and is always on the hunt for more stories. Her other hobbies include film editing and cosplay. Her personal interests include writing, reading, and Pinteresting for her novels.
Caitlin E. Jones

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