Writing Around Life: School (Part-time College)

Happy Thursday, squiders! Today we’re going to look at techniques for students attending college part-time.

As a caveat, most students attending part-time are doing so because they have some other responsibility (children, work, aiding aging parents, etc.) so one of the combination sections later on may be more applicable if that’s you. This section assumes college is your main or only responsibility.

If this is you, you might still have trouble finding time to write despite what looks like ample free time. This is due to a strange, but commonly true, factor of human nature.

The less you have to do, the less you get done.

We could argue the psychology of this all day (is it because there’s less pressure to be productive? is it because people with more to do are naturally better at time management?) but we won’t. Odds are you’ve already noticed that this is true. Have you ever found yourself with a free block of time and no plans?

What happens?

Well, a lot of times, nothing. I occasionally find myself with two or three free hours when I could literally do anything I want. I could write! I could go for a walk! I could read outside in the sun! I could conceivably do all three because I have three hours!

But I tend to play video games and eat too many cookies and fail at being productive at all.

There are ways to get around this tendency.

1. Add more structure to your schedule. 

If you find yourself “wasting” large amounts of time where you could conceivably be doing things you want to get done (like writing), it can help to schedule things out. Maybe you go to the gym as soon as you get up, or go for a walk to get your day off to a good start. Maybe you set a timer for 10 am every morning and write for an hour. Maybe every day at 1 pm you spend 15 minutes tidying your house.

By building in some structure, you get rid of that “the day is so full of possibilities I could do literally ANYTHING” thought pattern that may actually be hurting your goals. Also, setting specific times for specific activities can help build a habit that will eventually become second nature.

2. Make a To-Do List (and prioritize it).

It’s surprising how motivating a to-do list can be. The satisfaction of checking something off–especially something that’s needed to be done for a while, or that is more difficult than the stuff that normally gets done–can be excellent. And a list can help you focus your day.

Categorization and prioritization can also be helpful. If you’ve got 12 things on your list, it can look overwhelming, which might be counterproductive. It can help to rank everything by how important it is that it gets done (homework for tonight’s lecture could be number 1 on the list, for example, whereas laundry might be down at number 8 because if it gets pushed til tomorrow it’s not going to be the end of the world). You can also set a goal for the number of things to get done. Depending on your schedule and the things on the list, maybe a goal of 5 things would be good. If more get done, fantastic! But that way you don’t feel disappointed in yourself if the entire list doesn’t get done.

Categorization can also help. This is how I do my to-do lists–I split the list into three categories: work (which includes contract/freelance work, writing projects, things like this blog), house (chores and other maintenance activities, such if I got a contractor coming by to cut down a tree), and other (everything else). I have 2 to 6 activities in each category for the day, hopefully in order of importance. The categorization helps me break down the day so I can see what needs to be done and where.

(You can also prioritize categories; for example, the stuff in the “Other” category might be more important than the “House” category for the particular day.)

3. Look for good times to work.

When you’re scheduling your day, it might be helpful to make sure you’re doing different activities at different times. Some activities feel better in the morning vs. the afternoon, or might not get done if you don’t try to do them at particular times (such as working out–I find the longer the day goes on, the less motivated I am to exercise). There might also be times that naturally lend themselves to certain activities. If you always get coffee between class 1 and class 2, and there’s time, maybe that could be a good time to go some writing. If you walk past the market on the way home from class, maybe that’s a good time to do your shopping. Look at your goals, and see if there’s a logical place for those activities to go.

Anything to add, squiders? Tips for part-time college students that you’ve found helpful?


A Picture is Worth 1000 Words

To be unoriginal in our titles.

Let’s talk about graphic novels and associated subjects!

You know what I like about comics/graphic novels/manga, etc.? You can get through a 300-page book in, like, an hour. Sometimes less.

What’s not fun is there tends to be a gazillion volumes, which either gets very expensive or drives whoever has to drive the books between the library branches insane.

But this is a rough time of year (school year ending! new school year prep has to be done! summer vacations must be planned! It is alternately snowing or 80 degrees and my yard/garden doesn’t know what to do!) and I seem to be fully into the visual story telling medium at the moment, so I thought we’d talk about it.

(The other issue is that I’m in the middle of three books, all of which were written before 1980 and all of which are various degrees of sloggy. This is a mistake and I should have thought this out better.)

First of all, let’s talk about Saga.

Saga is a series by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples. There’s eight volumes out now, with the ninth due in September. (Wikipedia tells me that the comic comes out monthly, but I like to wait til things are consolidated.)

You’ve probably heard of this. I had certainly heard of this before I picked it up. (And, if I recall correctly, I picked it up after it was listed in a round-up of scifi/fantasy books involving cats.)

(Funny how many stories there are with cats.)

I was a little wary at first, because it’s certainly graphic, both sexually and violence-wise, but by the end of the first volume I was completely invested. It’s a space opera story about a family made up of species on the opposite sides of a long-standing and wide-reaching war.

Just…don’t get terribly attached to anyone.


Next there’s Pandora Hearts, which I just started. And, weirdly enough, I picked it up because I saw some character images on Pinterest and thought they looked interesting.

I’m only through the first volume and the series seems to be remotely based on Alice in Wonderland. (“Remote” being the key word.) That may just be a coincidence, but I shall have to read further on to see how true the comparison is.

It’s been a while since I picked up a new manga series, but there’s enough going on here to be interesting–missing memories, secret societies, evil alternate dimensions–and the series is complete, so I don’t have to worry about getting sucked into something that may go on forever (*coughBleachcough*).

And, lastly for today, let’s talk about Comics for a Strange World, which is a collection from the Poorly Drawn Lines comic.

I highly recommend both the collection and the strip itself, especially if one’s humor tends toward dry and existential. I got this for Christmas and it’s probably the best thing I got.

Reading any comics/graphic novels/manga lately, squiders? Thoughts about them or any of the above?

Writing Around Life: School (High School)

Good evening, squiders! We’re moving on to more specific tips this week.

We’re doing school first, because almost everyone goes to school (one would hope, anyway). I’ve got this section divided into three subsections: high school, part-time college, and full-time college. While some tips will be applicable across the board, the difference in scheduling (in high school one is typically at school for a solid block of time, whereas in college classes are spread out all over the place and generally in the least useful combination) makes it a logical break.

High school is an interesting time, when one can do a little of everything and see what sticks. As such, around schoolwork, clubs, sports, social activities, and other time commitments (at least in this state, high schoolers must complete some number of volunteer hours to graduate), it can be hard to find time to work on writing or other creative endeavors.

First things first: no matter what, you must make writing a priority. There will always be something else to do, whether it’s sharing videos with your friends during lunch or checking out the latest student council display. In some cases, you will have to choose to write over doing something else.

The first step is to examine your day. Do you find yourself with free time frequently in a certain class or activity? Is there a block of time open where you have options on what to do? Are you at school early or late?

Here are some places to look for times to write:


Lunch can be a good time to write because it’s typically a large block of time with no set requirements (aside from hopefully consuming food). I know this is prime socialization time, but depending on how your school’s schedule is organized, you may find yourself on your own occasionally or on a regular basis, especially if your friends have lunch a different period or have some other commitment (club meetings, travel time if they’re taking college courses off campus, etc.) during that time. Some schools have long lunches, so part of the time can be spent socializing and the other part working.

Home Room

My school called this “Access,” but the basic idea is that you have a period some time during the day where you report to your home room/teacher. Some schools require you to stay in the classroom; others allow you to leave to get help from other teachers or attend club meetings. Not all schools have this time period built into their daily schedule, but if yours does, and you don’t need help/haven’t finished your fifth period homework, this can be a great time to squeeze some writing in, especially since teachers generally prefer the students to be relatively quiet.

During (Some) Classes

Let’s face it. In some classes you may routinely finish your work early. For me, it was biology and drafting. So you can sit there and twiddle your thumbs, talk to your neighbors (and probably get in trouble for disrupting the kids still working), or you can be productive. This does depend on the teacher, however, because some don’t care what you work on once you’re done, but others might throw a fit.

During (Some) Activities

Some school activities require you to be there for long periods of time but not necessarily participate the whole time. You might be in the band and another section might be a mess and need some dedicated work from the teacher. You might be in theater but only be onstage for half the time. You might have a long bus ride to a game. Again, beware of the situation. If you have obligations for the activity that aren’t completed (i.e., you don’t know your lines for the show), those come first.

Before School

Sometimes you get to school early. This seems to be especially true in some bus systems, where whomever made the schedule wanted to be absolutely certain that the kids riding the bus were never ever late. My bus used to drop me half an hour before school started, and even my friends on other buses didn’t show up for another fifteen minutes. It can be hard to get going in the morning, but hey, you’re already up and you’ve successfully made it to school, so it can’t hurt to try.

After Your Homework

So, all of the above time periods can also be used to get some homework done throughout the day. You know what’s great about this? It means you have less homework to do later, and this can be a glorious thing. It means maybe you can get your homework done at a reasonable time, and maybe you can have brain to work on your writing after dinner and before bed. Then you can end the day on something fun instead of, you know, math or English.


Weekends can be pretty busy still, depending on your activities and schedule, but you still have three nights to do homework instead of one, so hopefully you will also have some free time to do what you would like. It might help to pick a specific time each weekend–Saturday afternoon, maybe–where you typically don’t have commitments and make that your writing time. That way it’s planned, and it’s more likely to happen.

Another thing the can help with writing around high school is to have friends who also write, or friends who are interested in what you’re writing. Having a support system in place can help your productivity a ton. You can share your work, plan write-ins, and talk about what you’re working on.

Any other tips for high schoolers you would include, squiders? Or, as a high schooler, things you’ve found that have worked for you?

Announcing the Sparrow Readalong

Right, squiders, the results are in from last week’s poll! So for this month’s/quarter’s/however often we get to it’s readalong, we’re going to the doing The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell.

My spouse will be pleased, as he greatly enjoyed the book and has been after me to read it for years.

This is an older book, originally published in 1997 (so it’s still newer than 85% of the rest of the stuff we’ve read in the readalongs over the years). Goodreads tells me it’s set in 2019, so I look forward to being amused by predictions gone awry.

(I’m reading a late ’70s scifi book right now which has overshot it all on technology and undershot everything social, which is pretty par for the course.)

From what I understand, it’s the story of a Jesuit priest who is part of a scientific expedition to contact a alien race on a planet we’ve picked up radio waves or some such from.

It’s supposed to be really good–the book has a 4.2 out of 5 on Goodreads, and won a ton of awards, including the Arthur C. Clarke award, James Tiptree award, and the British Science Fiction Association award.

Apparently there’s a sequel? Well, we’re see how we’re feeling after we read this one.

Anyway! I hope you’ll read this one with me! (Especially after I dug it out of the bottom of a stack of books.) It’s ~430 pages, so let’s give ourselves a little over a month–let’s discuss on June 5th.

Writing Around Life: General Tips (Part 2)

Moving along!

(I finally finally finished my draft, squiders! I’m in the process of sending it out to betas. And then it’s on to something else, which in this case, shall be the return of the space dinosaur book. I’m excited. As well as other ongoing projects, of course.)

A couple more general writing tips today, squiders, and we’ll move into more specific tips next week.

Set realistic goals for yourself.

Be realistic with the amount of time you have. It’s all right to know you’ll probably only have 20 minutes a day or an hour a week to dedicate to writing. What’s not great is knowing you’ve got 20 minutes a day and vowing to write 2000 words in those 20 minutes. Can you write 2000 words in 20 minutes? Maybe. Can you consistently write 2000 words in 20 minutes? Probably not. But you can probably get 500 words. If you get more, great. But setting unrealistic goals can actually hurt you in the long run, because if you’re failing your goals on a regular basis, it can make you feel like a failure, which can make it harder to sit down and start writing in the first place.

Realize writing is more than just writing.

You don’t have to be actively getting words on the page to be writing. It sounds a little crazy, but it’s true. Planning out what you’re going to write or thinking through potential plot issues or ways to add more interest/conflict to a scene are all things that can be helpful when you do finally get to sit down with a notebook or laptop. Turns out that having a plan of action, even if it’s just in your head or for one scene, makes the actual writing go a bit easier. And it gives you something to do when stuck in a long line, or taking a shower, or waiting for a friend.

Set deadlines for yourself.

It can be helpful to set a deadline for yourself to get some aspect of a project done. For some of us, this can be the difference between choosing writing over a marathon of the latest television show. When choosing a deadline, make sure you’re giving yourself a reasonable amount of time to get things done. If you blow through too many deadlines, they lose their effectiveness. And if you’re someone who will just ignore a self-imposed deadline, it can be helpful to tell it to a friend, especially if said friend is the type who will check up on how you’re doing on it.

Eliminate distractions.

Have you ever sat down to do something, looked down at your phone, and suddenly it’s twenty minutes later and you’ve beat five levels of Candy Crush, but progress on what you’re supposed to be doing has stalled out? Some people can sit down, put their mind to a task, and focus effectively. But that’s not everybody. (I tend to focus for a while, say I’ll take a 5 or 10-minute break, and find that break tends to grow.) And while regular breaks can be good–medical science says sitting for too long is bad for you–there are things you can do to make sure they are effectively wrangled, such as setting a timer.

Some common distractions include:

  • The Internet
  • Smartphones
  • Television/movies
  • Other people

Different people are affected differently by various distractions. Some people have to disconnect from the Internet in order to get anything done. There are apps you can install on your phone to help you avoid looking at it (my favorite is called Forest and plants a tree in your virtual forest if you leave it alone for a preset amount of time) and plugins you can install on your web browsers to block the most distracting websites. Pay attention to what’s going on when it’s hard to focus, and, when possible, eliminate those things. Choose to write in the dining room instead of the living room. Choose to turn on music instead of the television.

Any thoughts, squiders? If not, have a lovely weekend and I shall see you on Tuesday. Remember to vote in the Readalong poll!

Which Book Shall We Read?

Well, squiders, I was looking at my bookshelves for books to read for the next readalong, and I realized something: I am terrible at picking out books. Sure, we did Harry Potter and A Wrinkle in Time and Howl’s Moving Castle and those were all lovely books, but they were also all YA, and in the adult realm we had the disastrous Finnbranch Trilogy and Dream Thieves, and it’s all been bad.

(Wait, we did the Foundation Trilogy in there. Those were okay.)

So! I thought maybe you guys would have better tastes than me, and we could perhaps arrive at something good. That being said, I have provided some options, both standalones and series, and would like you to choose one to do.

(You don’t necessarily need to read along unless you want to, so you can just pick whatever one you’d like me to babble about later.)

So, without further ado, our options:

(Also, if you really want to read something, you can always let me know in the comments!)

Writing Around Life: General Tips (Part 1)

First of all, Saturday is Independent Bookstore Day! Go give your local indie bookstore some love! They’re all that’s standing between us and Amazon’s total domination of everything. <_<

That said, let’s jump into our writing around life tips! Today we’re going to look at some basic tips that should be applicable to most people in most situations. We’ll start with the most important first.

Look at your schedule for available time.

A lot of writing advice advocates getting up earlier or staying up later to make time for writing, but a lot of times that doesn’t work. I don’t know about you guys, but by the time the kids go to bed, I’m pooped. Sometimes I can squeeze out an outline or a few hundred words, but a lot of time I just want to sit and read. And that’s okay. I know that about myself. If you can’t drag yourself out of bed at 5:30, don’t force it.

That being said, we all have little bits of time scattered throughout the day that we’re not using efficiently. Maybe we’re playing on our phone on our break. Maybe we’re staring out the window on the bus. Maybe we’ve got twenty minutes between classes. Look at your day and take note of when you’re doing other things that absolutely have to be done. Then look at the spaces inbetween. What are you doing during those times? Is it something that you need to do, or something you enjoy doing? Or is it time that you can grab and use for writing? Even 15 minutes can be enough for decent progress.

There is a process out there where you break your day down into 15-minute blocks. Then, over a week or so, you fill in what you spent each fifteen minutes doing. This helps you identify open blocks of time, activities that could be combined and streamlined, and if you’re spending too much time on something simple that could perhaps be done by another person or in another way. It is also understandably intimidating, so if it sounds like something that’s untenable, every time you find yourself doing nothing or doing something that is not fun or necessary, take note. (It does help to write things down so you can see patterns.)

Go for consistency.

Once you find a time period that will work for writing, stick with it. Consistency is, unfortunately, the best way to build habits. If you decide you’re going to swing by the library on campus and write for twenty minutes before the bus comes, then you do that every time. Otherwise it’s too easy to get distracted by other things. If something comes up, that’s one thing (class runs late, you need to coordinate a group project with a partner, you’ve got to pick up your final project from another professor), but otherwise you should be using your chosen writing time for writing.

Pick a place that’s good for your flow.

If possible, pick a place to write where you can focus. It’s not always possible–you may have a limited radius before you get too far from where you need to be–but do the best you can. If you need quiet, look for secluded lobbies, empty classrooms, outside, libraries, etc. You can also adapt your surroundings somewhat, by bringing noise-cancelling headphones or music. Move around until you find someplace that works. It might not always be the first place you think.

Always have writing supplies with you.

It’s easier to write when you find yourself with some free time if you have something to write on. Most people have a preference for typing or handwriting, but bringing both or either should work for most writers. If you prefer a computer, you can carry a laptop around with you if appropriate. (For example, when I was in college, I often had my laptop with me for schoolwork, so it was easy to bring up a story and type on it when I had spare time.) However, it may not always be easy to carry one around with you. Notebooks are fairly portable and come in all shapes and sizes. I like the steno-pad size (somewhere between 5 and 6 inches wide and 8 and 9 inches tall) ones myself, since they can easily fit in most purses, but they do make literal pocket-sized ones. There is also the option to voice record, which can be done on your phone with the appropriate apps (and if you don’t mind looking like you’re talking to yourself).

The point is that you can make it happen if you’re prepared. Wait at the dentist taking forever? Lunch meeting canceled last minute? Child wants five more minutes in the restaurant playground? This is all time you can use if you have something to work with.

What do you think, squiders? Things to note about these tips? We’ll have more next week. I may also start up a readalong in the near future, if people have thoughts on standalones vs. series or recommendations on what to read.