Saturday, January 23, 2016

How to Balance School, a Job, and All Your Writing Endeavours

So I think I might be a little insane. I mean, not actually insane but when I take a look at my two packed day planers and scribbled in calendar on my wall, I have to question my sanity at least a little bit.

On occasion, I'll observe my somehow coordinated life and wonder how on earth I'm able to pour my heart and soul into a novel all while maintaining a part-time job and keeping decent grades as a full-time student in university. Oh and did I mention that I actually have a social life too?

Yes, Loki. It most certainly is. 

I know I'm not the only student writer out there. In the Go Teen Writer's Community Facebook group that I've been a part of for about five years now, I'll occasionally come across a few questions that go something like this:

Any tips for writing while in school? I just feel like I don't have a lot of time anymore.

Last year, I was one of those people. I used to feel like a fish flopping on the beach whenever I even thought of writing during the week of an exam—and there's always an exam (or a paper).

However, after a lot of trial and error, I think I have it figured out and I want to share what I've learned with all of you.

So shall we get on with it? I think we shall. Onwards!

Figure out what's most important in your life

Obviously, we can't do everything. Overcommitting is a big no-no when it comes to writing because often times, it's writing that's pushed aside when a schedule gets too full. 

For me, I decided that writing and school were my priorities. I love my job but I chose to only work sixteen hours a week. When that still didn't give me enough time for me to write, I cut back on my classes. Many full-time students are taking five courses a semester—I'm taking three. Not only that but I crammed all of them into three days leaving Tuesdays and Thursdays open for my shifts at the bookstore, housework and writing. 

Around midterms and finals, my focus shifts and I cut my word count goals in half. While I still try to write, it's not as high of a priority. 

By figuring out what's important in your life, you'll be able to determine where writing can fit in and around all of life's crazy storms. You'll also be able to see if writing is really important enough to you to cut back in other areas of your life. If it's not, that's okay! Write when you can and don't stress over it :)

Set Goals

Goals are a form of accountability. Meeting goals can also be an excuse to buy yourself new books ;)

Will your goal be daily, weekly or monthly? For me, I need weekly goals. Monthly ones don't have enough pressure whereas daily goals have too much. Do whatever works best for you and more importantly, follow through!

My colourful goal calendar for the month of January. It tracks the days that I'm in class (pinky-red) and the days that I work (blue) so that I can make reasonable goals. My school deadlines are in my day planner but I look at those too. 

Have Writing Buddies

For me, having a writing buddy makes my writing goals seem a lot less daunting. If setting goals on your own doesn't work, grab a writing buddy. They'll keep you on track! 

Writing buddies can also help out with character development and/or plot when you get stuck which will eliminate the dreaded writer's block. 

Another bonus is that you have a word warring partner! Word warring is seriously the most amazing thing for getting in a lot of words and upping your word count. If you haven't tried it, you must! 

Planning is mucho importante

I'm not a planner. Some people have planning in their blood. It's part of their genetics to keep their life organized. Lists and charts and day-planners are a part of their identity. If that's you, this will make sense to you.

But that's not me—maybe that's not you either. 

Despite not being a planner, I still force myself to stay freakishly organized. Between two planners and a calendar, I keep track of all my school, writing and contract deadlines, appointments, shifts at the bookstore and word count goals.

Some of my planning supplies. My weapons of choice ;) 

While you don't necessarily need to have planners or calendars, even sticking some things into your phone will be helpful. That's how I started out, at least.

If you want to get anywhere with writing, you need to make time for it; that means you need to know what you're doing in the rest of your day so that you can figure out when you can write. For me, that sometimes will mean waking up a little bit earlier to get in 500 words before catching the bus. Other times, I'll write 100 words while waiting for my professors to show up. It all depends on how the rest of the day looks.

Give yourself some room to breath

Attending school, holding a job and trying to get a novel published is a stressful combination. Your picture of giving yourself room to breath may be a little different than mine but regardless, it's important to find something that can offer you sanity. Here's a few ideas: 

1) Read a few chapters in a book. Escaping to another world where you don't have to do homework is refreshing!

2) Write 250 words before you study. This will prevent the thought of still needing to write from looming over your head. 

3) Go for coffee (or tea). Or treat yourself to anything before you plough into your workload. Coffee and tea fix everything ;)

4) Have a friend over while you work. For me, I just like being in the company of people. It makes me work more efficiently and also makes me happier to do what I have to do.  

5) Watch an episode on Netflix. Just one ;) Or you can use episodes as rewards for meeting checkpoints you set for yourself. 

6) Take a day off. If it's looking like you just can't make that word count, don't worry about it! It's okay to take days off on occasion. It's definitely better than getting overwhelmed. 

Feel like you can organize your life now? I hope so!

Do you have any tips of balancing writing with the rest of your life? Let me know in the comments so I can add your advice to my arsenal of survival skills ;) 

Write on, Wordlings!


  1. I'm not in school right now, and I don't have a job aside from writing at the moment, so I have a much easier schedule than I did last year. It was definitely quite a challenge to balance school and writing (and I didn't even have a job then), and I'm always in awe of people who can manage to do all of those things. Now I just have to balance writing, blogging, and reading--but even so, I still have to be very careful with how I organize my schedule, or I still won't get things done. I know that in school, I realized that if I was going to write seriously, I wasn't going to have much free time--that for the most part, when I wasn't doing schoolwork, I was writing. And I found that really helped, as long as I made sure to take brief vacations from time to time.

    1. Yeah my free time is pretty limited. I've come to view my writing as free time. On occasion I'll take a day off though. I gotta watch Once Upon a Time somehow ;)
      It's definitely good to recognize where your limits are in a schedule. And I like your use of the word, 'vacation'. It makes the break seem more relaxing ^ ^

      Thanks for the comment :D

  2. YES. I also have school and a part time job, so I totally know what you mean. Life can get crazy. I'm... actually quite terrible at planning. Haha, there was a time when I was trying to do EVERYTHING, and I felt like I was pretty much doggy paddling through life. I've since realized that there are better ways to do things. :P Thanks for the list! :)

    1. Life can get SO crazy!
      Yeah I learned the hard way too that overcommitting is NOT a goo idea. Doggy paddling is a very good way of putting it!
      You're very welcome! I hope it helps ^ ^

  3. These are some great tips, Cassia! :D Planning is my best friend as you know. XD

    1. Yes I do know that ^.^ You've got planning in your blood, you lucky duck! Have any secrets for balance?

    2. Prioritizing is your best friend. Organizing things by what needs to be done the soonest saves lives.