When students scribble

This weekend I became a Nerdfighter. I finally discovered Hank and John Green and their brilliant year-long video exchange, Brotherhood 2.0. (I appreciate that I'm really, really late to the party.) I'm only on video number 126 out of 1040 of VlogBrothers, but I think I can get through them all. I think


I've spent most of this month wanting it to be February, mainly because of the Winter Institute. I'm honoured, excited and scared senseless at the same time. There are a lot of New York Times-bestselling authors going, including the co-author of Beautiful Creatures (which is coming out as a film this year). They all have impressive collections of prizes and nominations, while I'm just there with my not-yet-published debut novel. Fortunately, I will have proofs of The Bone Season available for the booksellers – so I won't have a naked book, which is what The Bone Season has been since May 2012.

Tomorrow, there will only be 10 days until the cover reveal. I can't work out who's more excited – the designer or me. I think it might be him. Just. It is his work. It must be similar to being published, showing your work to the big wide world. They do say you judge a book by its cover, and David is the cover Mann.

I'm also very pleased to announce another foreign rights sale in Slovakia! I don't have words to express how happy I am that The Bone Season is going into so many languages. As the final manuscript is off to the typesetter's tomorrow, it will soon be sent out to my publishers all over the world for translation. I can't wait to work with them. I'm hoping to learn little chunks of every language.


The Student's Guide to Writing 

Whether you're published or not, writing and studying at the same time is tough. I did it through most of secondary school and have done it all through my degree. It's particularly tough if you're trying to juggle your work with a social life, student societies and all the other millions of opportunities that uni offers. I have the occasional breakdown when I'm just staring at my computer going 'all I've done for the past 48 hours is stare at a computer and nothing is actually getting done'. I'm always torn over whether to work on my book or my essay, my editing or my revision. You can't really put too much effort into either of those things, so it's hard to know when to stop one and start the other.

I'm in the final year of my degree now. I wrote The Bone Season during my first year, got the book deal during the second year and am now charging towards publication in my third year, so I think I can give a pretty good cross-section of what to expect from being a student author. Indeed, I'm writing this while I should be working on a Frankenstein essay. My knowledge of how university works in other countries is woefully bad, so I apologise for using English terms throughout this hot topic.  

1. Drink coffee. Even if you don't like it. Coffee will keep you awake on this voyage. Stephen Fry claims to have drunk twelve thousand cups during the process of writing The Liar, and while he's not a student, he is a national treasure. Coffee will be your best friend and your worst enemy for the foreseeable future. Seek out the nearest coffee house – or just anywhere that sells it. Try not to care how it tastes. Pray your college or university has its own café. And don't worry about looking uncool. Coffee is the new cider. 

Warning: Watch out for palpitations, irritability, headaches and muscle spasms. That means you're drinking too much. Switch to herbal tea. Now. 

2. Attempt to manage your time. Uni is made up of three ingredients: lectures, classes/tutorials and work. Occasionally, you get a twist of coursework or a dissertation. You might also be hoping to socialise, join a society, write for the student newspaper or get a First. You can do all these things if you time it right. Buy a diary and split up your days into chunks. Try your utmost to stick to your schedule. On a typical weekday I get up at 7:00, spend an hour checking emails and Twitter and drinking coffee, then go to my lecture or tutorial or seminar or other 'official' uni thing, then do a few hours of essay-ing in the college café (during which I'll hopefully be joined by one of my friends for coffee), then have dinner, then spend the evening writing. Sometimes I veer from that plan, but that's what I aim for. It gives me a relatively good split between work and writing. 

Warning: Make sure you don't end up feeling like this.     

3. Seek out other writers. There are a lot of writers at uni. A lot. Published writers, aspiring writers, poets, novelists, playwrights – just writers all over the place. Most universities will offer some opportunity for writing, whether it's a casual pub gathering, a poetry society or a structured con-crit group. If there isn't a group, why not set one up? You're guaranteed to get some interest. People who have to write essays all day should actively relish being able to write something else. I don't generally like writing in groups, but I did run a writing seminar last year for Arts Week, and I was pleased to see a lot of people that weren't 'uni writer' stereotypes (i.e. they didn't do English Literature) there. I had mathematicians, linguists, biochemists and geologists, and not one other English student. 

4. Don't panic when you don't work. It's okay to procrastinate. Forcing yourself to work may be necessary if you've got an essay deadline at 9am tomorrow and you haven't started it, but otherwise, you can stop. Stop looking at your computer. Sit down. Read a book. Watch some videos. Do that for about an hour. After that, do work again. 

5. Sleep
. No, really, do. If you find yourself having to work through the night, nap for a few hours in the day. If you don't sleep enough, you'll end up with a hefty sleep debt. You already have a student loan to pay off without a sleep loan on top of it.  

6. Eat. That's important, too. If you can employ a writer-feeder, do. This is particularly important on Leap Day, when Neil Gaiman believes it should be traditional for non-writers to take a writer for dinner. Please do, non-writers. We need food. If you can't find a writer-feeder, make sure you have something quick and easy to eat when you're in the grip of inspiration and just can't stop writing (or when your tutor just reminded you that your essay is due in five minutes). Recommendations: nuts, dried fruit, crackers, marshmallows. Maybe some chocolate. One way to resolve the food issue is to work somewhere that supplies food. Or check out Writer Food from A to Z.

7. Take advantage of the library. When you're a student, the library is usually the one place you don't want to go. It represents a hub of suffering, a prison for the procrastinator. Yet outside uni, most of us writers and readers are quite keen on libraries, and we're damn lucky to have them. Check out your university library in your spare time – if you have any – and see what it has to offer. There's a gorgeous room in the St Anne's College library called the North Room, which is small, dingy, and chock-full of big dusty books. It also has a winding iron staircase and barely any light. There's something cool about studying in that kind of Udolpho-esque space. 

8. Get up early. If you can. I always feel lazy and irritated if I drag myself out of my bed at 10 A.M. – I tend to start thinking "well, I missed that lecture, might as well make a day of procrastinating". It feels so much better to get up early and be ready for the day. But Rule #5 is more important. 

9. Exercise. I used to swim every day when I had a membership to the local health club, but when that ran out I stopped for ages. When you're trying to be a student and a writer, two problems with exercise arise: [a] your two pursuits mean you're almost constantly sitting down, and [b] you're almost constantly short on time. I now do about 20 minutes of exercise in my room every evening, before I go to bed (hoping to increase this time as I get better). I use videos by FitnessBlender, which provides short exercises that generally don't require equipment. Once I'm done I'm worn out, so I tend to get a good night's sleep.   

10. Keep calm. Remember, you never have to cope with stress by yourself. University is a high-pressure environment – you're away from home, you've got a work-life balance to maintain, and you may feel that everyone else is doing better than you are. There is no shame in asking for help. If you need to talk to someone, most universities provide Nightline or a similar peer support service (find yours here) to help. Nightline volunteers will listen, not lecture, and give you advice if you want it. There are also welfare officers and university counselling services if you're getting snowed under. Never be afraid to ask for help if you're getting upset or exhausted. You're not alone. 

 Are you a student writer, or do you know one? Any tips to share?


  1. Firstly yay for becoming a Nerdfighter! Whoop :D
    Secondly, I love this post about being a student and a writer so much!
    I really struggle with that balance sometimes - like sometimes I really want to work on my story, but I have uni work to do, or I feel like I haven't acheived anything even if I've been staring at a computer all day (a little like today to be honest). You're so right that it's all about time management. I guess that's the crucial thing really.
    I've also found that having my writing has been so important to me as an opportunity to switch off from uni stuff and do something different. I don't know what I'd do without it.
    COFFEE is DEFINITELY necessary too. And good cafes. There's a brilliant student/writer friendly cafe where I am and I spend a lot of time there getting stuff done.
    Great post!
    p.s sorry for the ramble! x

    1. It's okay, rambles are fine! I am enjoying being a Nerdfighter. I kept hearing about John Green but never sat down to watch the videos. Next goal: buy his books.

      Don't worry, I struggle with it too. It was especially tricky when I had my editing deadlines AND essay deadlines (I was due to hand in a big edit of 'The Bone Season' write before my coursework was due in last term). I agree that writing is a great opportunity to switch off, though. It's great to have a break and do something you enjoy.


  2. I'm so excited to see your cover! Congratulations on selling foreign rights to Slovakia.

    Haha I love your coffee warning. Heart palpitations = bad. I also loved your description of the library as the hub of suffering :) :) :).

    Sadly, no one told me about rule five. A sleep debt is horrible. I think it took me a year after I finished university to stop feeling like hadn't slept the night before. Sleep keeps you pretty :P

    1. Thank you!

      I constantly had a sleep debt last term (hence my massive caffeine consumption). I started feeling sick all the time, so I started a routine of going to bed and reading for a while before I slept. It really helped.

  3. Hi Samantha - thanks for the tips and advice you've given on your blog so far!

    I just wanted to ask -
    When it came to re-drafting your manuscript alone(before you submitted it to your agent), how long did you wait from finishing your first draft to starting your second draft?
    And how many drafts did you do until you felt it was ready for submission?

    1. Hi Rose,

      I only did one major re-draft on The Bone Season. I finished a first draft in early 2012 and had done a basic edit by February. I started re-drafting pretty much straight away. I also did a very quick edit before sending it to my agent. So one big draft and one small.

      I'd recommend not doing too many drafts or you'll never send it off! Publishers often buy on the strength of ideas as well as the writing. You do need to demonstrate that you're a capable writer, but the manuscript doesn't need to be perfect when you submit it – just strong enough to grab and hold an agent's attention, and to back up a strong idea. There are editors to help you smooth it all out.

    2. Thank you so much for this Samantha - your recommendation will definitely be taken on board. x

  4. I love john and hank! haha sami you should read looking for Alaska by John its soo good :D
    Can't wait to read your book misses
    Love Hazzy-B ;)

    1. They're AMAZING. I'll read 'Looking for Alaska' soon, might try 'The Fault in our Stars' first :) Hope you're well!


  5. Question: do you get RSI in your wrists? If so, how do you deal with it...

    1. I do get RSI, yes - I'll talk about that on Sunday.

  6. Hi! I don't know if you remember me, I wrote a comment on your blog in the summer. I'm also a student writer and am in the midst of signing my publishing contract although not nearly as impressive as yours :)

    I'll admit trying to juggle writing and my final year at med school is challenging, but I think a lot of your comments were pretty good! I'll add

    1) Setting achievable goals i.e. 3000 words a week, 5000 words a week. This way you can gauge what you are actually doing

    2) Lead a varied life - go out, have fun, study hard! The more variety you have, the more things you are doing, the more fresh you are for when you write in my opinion. I try to do a bit of everything, and that way everything is fun. If you have writer's block, just get out of your room, uni is the best time of your life!

    ps just read Looking for Alaska (like 2 weeks ago), its really good!!

    pps - can't wait to read your book :)

    1. Hi Steven – yes, I remember you! Many congratulations on your publishing contract! What's the title of your book? I'll keep an eye out for it.

      Thanks for the goal suggestions! I'll be reading LfA soon, will buy a few John Green books next time I go to Waterstones.


    2. thanks! It's called The Kingdom Lights but it won't be out till "early 2014" !! God, I never realized how long these things took...

      Don't worry when it's out, you'll be the first to know :) Can't wait for your cover

  7. This is so exciting for you (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) and I always find it inspiring when I find books whose authors are still in or newly out of college. And slightly intimidating because I start college next fall and HECK I wish I could whip out a full fledged novel in my first year. I still have no idea what I want to do with these thousands of days of my life that are left. This will just have to serve as more motive for me to make good on the book idea currently swirling around in my brain.
    I discovered your book through EW.com and their exclusive with you and your now released book cover! It has certainly caught my attention and I added it to my goodreads.com "to-read" shelf to remind me as the release date is so far in the future. AUGUST! NO! And actually I've read September 12th somewhere too.... And its still snowy January.
    I really like the cover too! And the fact that you're writing a series instead of a trilogy which is all we seem to get these days in YA novels. Hopefully I'll love lOvE LOVE your book!
    The tips were great; I defiantly agree with the exercising one because whenever I'm doing something mechanical like taking a shower or exercising, my mind is open and ideas and book details seem to plop right in.
    So that was a long comment whew! but I am reeaalllyyy looking forward to reading your book and am so happy for you in writing this thing and getting it published. I just wish it were sooner in the U.S!
    ALso, you should do a post on what some of your favorite YA books are!

  8. Welcome to the realm of Nerdfighting.
    My aunt put me onto your blog, because she is currently in the throes of editing my first book, which I've been writing through my GCSE and AS years. I've found it so difficult to upkeep a healthy balance between writing and working, but I do agree - coffee is, and always will be, my saving grace. I certainly couldn't have gotten through the last year without it.
    A question: did you find it hard to be taken seriously when you were approaching agents and publishers because of your age?

    1. I hope you find the blog helpful! It is difficult to keep a balance, but possible.

      I've never been judged for my age by my agent or my publisher. They really don't mind, as long as you seem like someone they can work with. My agency represents a writer who is now 17, although I believe she was taken on at 15, and Bloomsbury and HarperCollins have both recently taken on writers of 18. There are more young, published writers out there than you might think.


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