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From the Blog: How to Make The Best of Both Exam Season and Writing

Spring! The weather gets warmer, the flowers bloom - and of course, Camp NaNoWriMo begins. But for many people at school or university, the spring season is also a time of exams. Just taking part can seem daunting. Fitting writing in is hard at the best of times, but committing to a new challenge alongside studying can sound impossible.

Last November I completed NaNoWriMo alongside a grueling schedule of law school exams - and yes, my Mum did disapprove. While it was a huge learning curve, I definitely learned what worked (and what didn’t).

Block off time

Have a study plan and stick to it. When I was revising, I kept to office hours, and refused to work before 9:00 am, or after 6:00 pm. Having a set amount of time made me far more efficient with my studying, and helped preserve my sanity. Don’t beat yourself up for taking care of yourself; it is absolutely not healthy to study 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. When I came to writing after a long day of revising, I could think of it as a time for my mind to relax and be creative.

Create separate habits

Everyday I tried to write for 20 minutes in the morning, and 1-2 hours in the evening. To make this as painless as possible, I created really strong routines to signal to my mind that we were being creative now, not studying. For my morning sessions, I sat down at my kitchen table at 8:30 every morning, with a cup of tea, put my headphones on and put on my writing playlist. In the evening, I would write sitting in the same place, with the same music, and a cup of herbal tea. Crucially, I never wrote at my desk - that was for studying, only. Creating separation is so important in exam time, to avoid feeling like work is taking over your life. Keep your studying, writing and sleeping as separate as possible, to avoid cross-contamination. Having a routine will make docusing 100% easier; as the month went by, I found it got easier and easier to ‘get in the zone’. As soon as I put on my headphones and sipped my tea, I was ready.

Just do it

Being time-poor can work to your advantage, because you don’t have time to overthink, start re-reading, or get distracted. My 20 minute morning writing session was a revelation in efficiency. I would set a timer up on my phone, and prop it up out of reach, somewhere I could see it. And because I knew that I had only this time and I couldn’t mess around, I would just start typing, and not stop until the timer went off. By the end of the month I was often writing 500 words in these 20 minutes. It can be hard to force yourself through when you feel like everything you write is garbage. Adding some time pressure will cut through your agonizing thoughts.

Take set-backs in your stride

One week I did hardly any writing, because of an exam I was incredibly worried about (Solicitor’s Accounts, if you’re interested). The exam went alright, but afterwards I was still upset, thinking it wouldn’t be possible to finish NaNoWriMo anymore. My sister advised me to start writing again, and just try to finish the month. ‘Even if you don’t make 50k, you’ll still have written a lot’, she said. ‘And that’s the whole point, isn’t it?’ She was right. I started writing again, quickly got back in the swing of things, and ended up making up for the time I’d lost.

Don’t beat yourself up. What you’re doing is hard! Just make sure you get back on the horse!

Finally, take care of yourself!

Don’t let exams be an excuse to neglect everything else! Try to eat healthily, get enough sleep, get outside, drink lots of water, and give yourself time to unwind. If you’re stressed out and exhausted, nothing you write - whether in an exam, or your WIP - will be any good.

And don’t panic - you can do this!

Liv Will is a law student by day and writer of historical fantasy by night. She lives in London and spends most of her time trying to write, and blogging about pop culture, books and history at

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