It didn’t feel right to talk about this before I finished my graduate school work. So, here I am in this candid moment to tell you about balancing graduate school and writing. I don’t feel the most qualified, as I don’t have an agent, don’t have anything published, and have trunked a project. But I did write 2+ books in 15 months, so that’s…something.
Background on My Program
I attended Northwestern Medill to pursue a degree in Integrated Marketing Communications (I.M.C.) from September 2016 to December 2017. The program lasted 15 months, or 5 quarters. Quarters 1 through 3 had 4 classes each. The 4th Quarter was known as Immersion Quarter, where I worked for 10 weeks with a team on a marketing challenge for a company called vAuto. In 5th Quarter, I took 3 classes and, in true “my luck” fashion, they all took place on Monday. The program is intense and challenging, mostly due to juggling a whole bunch of group work. I also was the editor for the Spiegel Research Center‘s Impact Marketing Team.
As I mentioned in the introduction, I also added on writing. Going into my big move from New York City and Chicago, I debated taking a break for the duration of graduate school. I am not like that. Over these 15 months, I:
- Rewrote a book
- Requeried said book
- Trunked the same book
- Wrote one project
- Revised said project
- Sent the project to beta readers
- Outlined a new work for National Novel Writing Month
- Won National Novel Writing Month
(Holy Christ, I need to give myself more credit)
I’m going to go into some advice I wish I had when I started because this article is really for me from 15 months ago.
Tool I Wish I Had: Rachel Aron/Bach’s 2K to 10K
Before embarking on my graduate school journey and trying to write at the same time, I wish I had this blog post handy. There was no excuse for me discovering it so late, given that it came out in 2011. This post has been instrumental in me increasing my word count and writing more efficiently. In addition, it forced me to plan my writing instead of pantsing it. Reliably getting 600 words done in half an hour really made a difference during National Novel Writing Month. Speaking of which…
In the Weeds: #NaNoWriMo + Midterms/Finals
If I recall my time at college properly, midterms always happened in November, for the most part (I went to Cornell, where we had these dreadful exams called “Prelims” that happen 2-3 times a semester).
At Northwestern, it was finals season. I still haven’t decided if that’s better, but it’s a bit late for that.
As with the majority of the advice featured here, it’s up to you what you want to do. In undergrad, I did not participate. During internship/unemployment purgatory, I won the 50,000-word challenge with relative ease. Because I had essentially relearned how to draft over the summer of 2017, I decided to try NaNoWriMo again. Even though I knew my friend was staying with me for a week (cue “Why am I like this?”).
Building the discipline all year round is paramount. It’s also perfectly okay to sit out of NaNoWriMo if it’s only going to hurt you. Writing some words is better than no words, but no words is better than burnout.
Making the Time: Homework vs. Writing
When in graduate school, please consider choosing homework first. School isn’t easy and the homework can seem like a lot, but it’s about finding balance within the non-class hours of your life. My program had plenty of group work and meeting lengths were rather hard to predict. So I made very vague writing goals. Most of them were around time spent writing instead of word count or scene goals. Again, if I had read Rachel Aron’s post, this would have looked different and maybe I could have written more (cries in “being too hard on myself”).
In addition, sometimes the readings helped with my writing. Delving away from my written worlds also proved beneficial. It’s about focus and the things that are important in that moment. Graduate school is also expensive, which was a major factor in how I managed my time.
Job Hunting & Sending Queries
If you can avoid it, don’t do these things simultaneously. Granted, no matter when you query, the timeline of responses can vary. In my case, I put myself out there for both at the same time. I had to revamp my self-care protocols.
Currently, I took a break from querying to focus on other projects while I’m working on the job hunt because rejection on a professional and a creative-professional front are difficult to deal with. I do not have that kind of strength, unfortunately.
Feel free to comment with any additional questions or just to vent. I wrote this piece as a resource I wish I had before trying to be a writer while also winning at graduate school. Somehow I managed to find balance, as I’m getting my shiny degree on Saturday.
Until next time.