5 Tips on How to Write a Novel While Still in School

No matter how many term papers you have to write, you can still find time to improve your writing skills and work on your novel. Here are tips on how to do that.
BY ARIEN SKIBA

You’re at your book signing. Fans, who stood in line for hours, wait for you to sign their hard copy of your novel—A literary masterpiece, New York Times Bestseller raves. Your fans chant your name. As you bask in this moment, you close your eyes. You did it. You made it.

But then you hear your name in a cold, stern voice; the cheering stops.

You open your eyes. You’re in the middle of class. Calculus: The same calculus that you told your mom that you are passing with flying colors, but the passing meant surviving and the flying colors were the red ink on your last exam. The professor stares at you and the whiteboard behind him clutters with numbers and letters. You daydreamed again and the professor—still staring—wants you to answer the question that you did not hear him ask. We’ve all been there. It’s uncomfortable and something that will keep you up at night for the years to come. You’re a writer, but also a full-time student. School’s tough; the literary world is crueler. So, here are five tips on how to write a novel while still in school.

1. Be Inspired.

I’m Arien Skiba and I’ve balanced life as an aspiring author with being a full-time student. From high school to undergraduate and now graduate school, I’ve been able to survive AND write for pleasure. I prefer to write science-fiction and fantasy—I’m fascinated by nature and the way it works and how I can manipulate it; hence why I am becoming a veterinarian and writing in that genre. I have co-authored and authored scientific papers that have been published and presented at forums. I am currently querying agents to eventually and traditionally publish my debut novel, that, yes, I wrote throughout school. I am always editing and I’m always learning; that is the nature of the beast. On a fun note, I’m left-handed, which means I smear everything I write, and I’m incredibly short—but great things (vets and authors included) come in small, smudged-up, left-handed packages.
Follow her at @TheDragonVet.

Although daydreaming while in class is counterproductive, don’t limit yourself from being creative while in class. One day, while I sat in an anatomy class, the professor droned on about a bone or something and I took notes diligently. However, she stopped mid-lecture and recognized that this information came off as dry. She encouraged us to understand the material, but not to choke it down just to regurgitate the same words she said on the test. She compared us to preschoolers taught the song, Alouette, Gentle Alouette; yeah, the one about a cook cutting off the chicken’s head.

She said that although the song is quite graphic, since it is taught in a foreign language—French for the song and Latin for the anatomy—the children—us students—simply repeat it without knowing the meaning. She wanted us to comprehend the material. This influenced me. After that day, I wrote a song for my novel. A song I taught to children in my novel that meant something horrendous, but in a foreign language. Even though the song had nothing to do with school or studying, because I went to class and paid attention, I received inspiration.

2. Networking: The Butterfly Net You Use to Capture an Audience.

Make friends. With friends, you can satisfy the social aspect of school; treating yourself to some fun is GOOD and NECESSARY. Join the English club and meet others in the same, sinking ship as you. They can let you know about certain writing opportunities that they know about, or simply read your work to help you refine your novel. As for your non-literary friends—the ones you made while working in a group that your teach picked out—read their papers for class. This will help keep your grammar and editing skills in check while doing classwork.

3. Study Hard. Edit Harder.

Find solace in your novel. Take a break from studying. Your novel is a world you created. While you prepare for your exam, make sure you prepare your protagonist for their curveballs. Understand how to use that weird equation that you had written down wrong because the professor’s handwriting was sloppy but figured it out later when you asked a friend why you were always wrong on the homework. At the same time, destress: preen your first few chapters of your novel and especially revisit the first page of your novel—the first page is truly essential to capturing an audience. Grammar. Grammar. GRAMMAR.

4. Write that Paper Already (And Print It Out).

We all procrastinate. Nobody wants to write a 10-page paper on the deconstruction of current public policy. Literally. No one. However, if you write it—using your swift, literary skills—and finish it before the due date, you can procrastinate studying for the other five classes you’re in and dive into your novel. The same novel where everything is perfect, no one orders you around and YOU ARE GOD. Getting schoolwork done is a weight off of your shoulders.

You won’t feel as guilty when you do things for yourself and you will feel accomplished because you are accomplished. When you do procrastinate, however, try Productive Procrastination: clean you house or write something. With Productive Procrastination, at least something is getting done.

While you print out your paper, you can also print out your novel—especially if printing is free for students at your school. A pro for printing out any document, school-related or otherwise, is that you can read it on paper and mark up mistakes in pen or pencil. It truly helps catch mistakes: grammatical errors or finding missing words. Also, and probably most gratifying, printing out your novel for the first time and holding it in your hands—that feeling is something no one or tough teacher can take away from you.

“Don’t get discouraged because you failed an exam, or someone critiqued your novel—your baby—so hard, that it hurts. Get back up. Learn from what you failed at and trudge on.” — ARIEN SKIBA

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5. Final Exams.

Yes, it’s here: Exam week. While you prepare for the war, you may find yourself too stressed to even eat—but eat, you need to eat, even if it is cold Ravioli straight from the can. If you have been able to balance your student life with your personal—studying and writing to destress—you’re in a great place for finals; go ahead and write that new chapter in your novel that you got inspiration for while in class. If you had not balanced your double life, you’re the majority of people. It’s OK. You can and WILL still pass. However you study—either with friends, or alone at home while stress-eating pizza and candy—STUDY and SLEEP.

Get familiarized with the material as best you can and get sufficient rest, so you can internalize and digest what you studied. Learning is about repetition. You need to repeatedly see, hear, and write something in order to not become a preschooler blindly singing Alouette because it’s catchy and the teacher-lady told you to sing it. If you get too overwhelmed, go to your book. Do some editing—nothing big—and take deep breaths. After it all, that horrible week, or two or three weeks of exams, you made it. You get your grades and YOU PASSED! CALLOOH, CALLAY! But as you lay down your trusty sword—Microsoft Word or your lucky number two pencil you used for every exam—to prepare for a relaxing summer of finishing your novel only to rewrite it a thousand times, a CURVEBALL comes hurdling at you. Year two: a three-horned beast comes charging head on. You made it through year one, but you have plenty more school days ahead of you, which also means you get days to write to relax, too. Every day of year two and so on will be as rigorous as the first, or even worse. But you can do it—and doing it will help you sympathize with your quirky, I don’t know what I’m doing, protagonist when you make them continue the story after they just beat the world-eating dragon that no one EVER defeated before.

And that’s five tips from a full-time student with a second life as a GOD—a.k.a., a humble, aspiring novelist. Remember that you are the protagonist of your own life. Take it day by day. Hit your own curveballs out of the park. Develop yourself and grow from your failures. Make your life a story that you and everyone else would wait hours for in line—a life where you get to sign your name on the cover and be proud that you did it. The toughest thing about school and writing is actually doing it. Don’t get discouraged because you failed an exam, or someone critiqued your novel—your baby—so hard, that it hurts. Get back up. Learn from what you failed at and trudge on. [Like this idea? Tweet it!]

You don’t have to be the top of your class or a literary genius; you just have to keep at it. The people who are most successful are the ones who never stop, even if going on is extremely painful. At the end of your life—your biggest story—be able to say, I did, rather than, I regret that I didn’t.

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