Finding the time to write is HARD, and anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. Adding the pressures of school and everything that goes along with it such as homework, exams, clubs, socialization, and working a part-time job makes finding the time to write seem impossible. Although it can be extremely difficult to find the time, energy, and motivation to write during the school year, college presents a new playground for your writing. If you take advantage of every opportunity this playground offers, you will improve your craft and your writing will flourish! Below are five tips for college students to balance being a full-time student, an aspiring writer, and a relatively functioning human being.
1. Writing Doesn’t Always Have to be Putting Pen to Paper
I didn’t become serious with writing until my senior year of high school, and once I did, I was a nonstop writing machine. My daily routine was as follows: school, play practice, dinner, homework, ending with a casual 2,000 words. Needless to say, this was not the case when I transitioned to college. I remember being so frustrated as I found myself exhausted at the end of the day and opting to binge-watch The Great British Bake-Off on Netflix instead of opening up a Word document and writing. I began to find myself filled with self-doubt, wondering if I had chosen the wrong career path, and if I wasn’t as passionate about writing as I had thought.
As the weeks passed by and my life became a blur of classes with subject material I had never been exposed to and socializing with a diverse group of people, I found my head exploding with ideas and stories that needed to be told. It was then I realized my identity as a writer. Even though I wasn’t physically writing, I was crafting concepts, creating characters, thinking more in-depth about the plotline of my manuscript, and really getting to know the characters I had created. I lost sight of the fact that even though I wasn’t Writing with a capital W, I was still writing in my own way and taking the necessary steps before Writing begins.
2. You Are Improving Whether You Realize It or Not
History papers, on top of research proposals, on top of literary analyses, on top of dissecting a punk song…you may not think these are beneficial to you as an aspiring fiction writer, poet, or essayist, but you’re wrong. Writing, just like any other skill, needs to be practiced in order to see improvement. Every time I was given a new paper with a specific set of instructions, I would mutter phrases like, “creatively stifled,” and, “no artistic freedom,” under my breath while attempting to pass my grimace off as a smile in front of my professors. How was I supposed to become a better writer when I wasn’t being given assignments and receiving feedback on the type of writing off of which I planned to make a living?
It wasn’t until my professor gave me one of the best pieces of advice I had received, that I realized I was looking at my “predicament” from the wrong perspective. As he was handing out our midterm assignment, he told us the best papers he read were infused with the writer’s sense of humor and personal style. Voice is the most important thing a writer has, and it isn’t something a writer is born with, it is developed over time, and with constant practice. I was only hurting myself as a writer by trying to make my paper fit the archetype of a standard academic piece instead of working on infusing my voice within the paper. Voice is hard in fiction, essays, and poetry; it is harder in an academic paper. If you can craft an academic piece in your own unique voice while still maintaining the formality that is needed while remaining within the parameters of the assignment, then you’re already one step ahead of freshman Lindsay, who was too busy whining about her creative freedom to see the opportunity she had to work on her voice.
3. People Watch!!
College is the one time in your life where you will constantly be surrounded by peers your age, and it will be, either willingly or begrudgingly, the most social time in your life. For YA and NA (New Adult) authors, this is a rare opportunity to see how people the same age as your characters act.
Ask any reader or writer and they will tell you the best characters, and their favorites, are the ones who don’t fit within clichéd tropes, but are multifaceted and filled with complicated motivations, MANY flaws, physical quirks, and who, essentially, feel like REAL people. Human beings are messy, unique, disappointing, surprising, frustrating, and wonderful. Readers want to feel as though your characters are their friends, enemies, or even love interests. In order to do this, your characters must be believable.
The best way to create believable characters is to figure out how real people behave, and the best way to learn how they behave is to study them, ideally while they are unaware and are just being their beautifully bizarre selves. It may sound weird and the thought of it may make you feel a little uncomfortable, but people watching is a must for writers. If you’re immediately shaking your head no, then start small. In college you live with your friends, so start paying attention to their mannerisms and patterns of speech. For example, when I began to really observe my friends, I noticed a friend of mine always rubs her ear when she’s thinking, something like this can be used as a realistic character quirk*.
Once you’ve exhausted your friends as observational subjects, then it’s time to grab a laptop or a journal to hide behind, and sit in the popular on-campus hangouts while listening to people’s conversations and watching their mannerisms. Your characters will feel more authentic, and as a result, readers will connect with them better.
*Remember, most novels begin with a disclaimer stating it is a work of fiction and any characters with similarities to real people, living or deceased, are coincidental.
4. Connect with Other Writers
With publishing houses consolidating, bookstores closing, and fewer books being sold, it is becoming harder to get published. Additionally, in today’s digital world, being a writer and getting a book published simply isn’t enough. Today’s writers have to face brand new challenges that their predecessors didn’t, mainly marketing and promoting their work, as well as promoting themselves as a brand.
The best way to begin to build a platform is to connect with other writers first. If you are helping out other writers, whether it be by endorsing them online, or before this stage comes, offering to be a beta reader or critique partner, then you are forging a mutually beneficial relationship that will serve you in the future.
It is near impossible to garner any sort of fan base or following without support. Young bushy-tailed, bright-eyed college students are the best people to forge connections with now because they are just as eager to succeed as you are. Even better, they want to see you succeed as well, so that way when the time comes you can promote them. Although the motives may not be pure, it’s time to accept the fact that we live in an “I’ll scratch your back, you’ll scratch mine” society.
This may seem daunting for those of you who are shy and don’t like to put yourselves out there, but college makes it surprisingly easy. In writing classes you are exposing your work and yourself to feedback, and yes, criticism. It’s scary for even the most confident people, and the result is a unique bond is formed in each class.
Networking is non-negotiable in terms of having a successful and sustainable career. College is the best time to be forming professional relationships with writers who are just as new to this as you are. As an added bonus, you get to see these people every day and can pester them into liking you. Just like any expensive wine, I like to think of myself as an acquired taste.
You are probably scoffing at me, thinking you don’t have time to breathe or take care of yourself, but you need to. Be proud of everything you’re doing, and take the time to slow down. You’re a full-time college student, and that alone, without the pressures of being a writer, is truly incredible. You wake up every morning and put on pants, which is more than a lot of people can say! Remember you are doing amazing things now, and you are going to keep doing amazing things within your lifetime. It’s okay to take a night or two off to reread the book that feels like home, or even binge-watch the Great British Bake-Off. I did, and I can assure you my writing has not suffered for it.