When I started college three years ago, I was determined to write a novel before graduation. I didn’t need to be published. I didn’t need to find an agent. I just needed to prove to myself that I couldwrite a book. Now, as a senior, I’m working on my third novel, have landed a job as a book editor, and have been in the querying trenches for just under a month.
Considering my initial goal, I’m incredibly proud of myself, but I’m hesitant to give writing advice, because the fact is, thereisn’t a foolproof formula for writing a book—especially as a full-time college student with a part-time job. Finding a way to write around all the class assignments and work hours is a matter of trial and error, and you should dowhatever worksbest for you. In the hope of helping my fellow collegiate plotters, over-writers, and perfectionists, these are the strategies I use.
1. Treat your writing like schoolwork.
In high school, my most common reason for not writing was that I “didn’t have time,” but ever since I started treating my writing like one of my college classes, I’ve invalidated that excuse.
At the start of each semester, I create a “syllabus” for what I want to accomplish. I break down my “assignments” week by week, then I pretend if I don’t complete them, I’ll fail the class.
This strategy requires a lot of imagination, and for some people, it might be too cutthroat, but it’s much easier for me to say “no” to watching a movie or hanging out with friends when I have schoolwork to do, so by making my writing part of my schoolwork, I instantly improve my time management.
2. Set realistic goals.
Treating my writing like schoolwork only works because I keep my “syllabus” realistic. I’m a slow writer and a messy drafter, so telling myself I’m going to draft, revise,and line edit an entire novel during one semester is a waste of my time.
When I take into account all my school assignments, work responsibilities, and relaxation time, it’s nearly impossible for me to write more than 14,000 words per week.
When I first started using this strategy, I would set my weekly goal at a fatally optimistic 2,000 words per day, but that led to burnout, so now I’ve brought my daily goal down to a comfortable 1,500. If I manage extra, yay, I’m ahead in my coursework! If not, yay, I’m right on track!
3. Plan ahead.
Some weeks are busier than others, so even if I set realistic goals, staying on track requires planning ahead. For example, I know the week before winter break is going to be filled with final exams, so I won’t be able to write 14,000 words. Because of that, I set myself an extra 7,000 words the week prior to keep myself on track.
I understand this hyper-specific number game won’t work for everyone, but I never want to put pressure on myself to write over the holidays, so for me, the break-neck pace leading up to break is worth it.
If you decide to use this strategy, set whatever goalswork for you, then plan ahead to meet them inwhatever way works for you. The important thingisn’t that you’re “keeping up” with anyone else, but that you are consistently celebratingyour personal victories.
4. Give yourself a designated writing space and routine.
Maintaining consistency is a lot easier for me when I set myself a specific place and time for writing. Just like sitting in a classroom (or at a desk in my bedroom, thanks to a certain worldwide pandemic) makes it easier to accomplish classwork every day, going to my favorite local coffee shop helps me get in the proper writing headspace.
It took me a few months to understand which times of day and what pace is most effective for me, so if you decide to try this strategy, remember to give yourself grace. Each day, write down thetimeyou feel ready to write, then write down how long you’re able to write, and after a while, you’ll be able to utilize your natural creativity pattern to set up your routine.
5. Join a writing community.
Even when I set realistic goals, plan how to meet them, and set up a daily routine, I often convince myself that I won’t succeed. It doesn’t matter that I’ve alreadywritten two books that I'm currently querying, my brain is a masochistic engineer of its own anguish.
I still spend an inordinate amount of time worrying that I’ve wasted my college career on writing, when I should have been partying like anormalperson. The fact is, writing is an incrediblybrave, incrediblyresilient act, and even though the physical action of putting words on the page is solitary, it is much easier to champion yourself when you have a community supporting you.
I’ve found my community on Twitter, but there are Facebook groups, blogs, and many other places where writers congregate online. It doesn’t matter where your community is, so long as you feel supported enough tokeep going.
Even after college, I’ll likely keep going by using my “syllabus” strategy, because itworks for me. By using this strategy, I’ve been able to draft each of my novels over the course of a school year and revise and edit them during the summer.
While you’re figuring out your own personal timeline, my best piece of advice is tolisten to your gut.Set your small goals, celebrate your small victories, and eventually, youwillachieve success, whatever your definition of success is.