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A student's guide to creative writing in college

Table with paper, coffee mug, plant, and hands poised to write on the paper

Jason Keller
October 25, 2018

If you’re a writer, or you create as a hobby, then you’re familiar with that awful, urgent inner voice that says, “You should be creating right now,” and you’re probably also familiar with the phrase, “I don’t have time!”

When you're in college and taking 15 credit hours, you have the equivalent of a full-time job, and that’s not even counting extracurriculars, taking care of yourself and the occasional few seconds allotted for breathing. So where does writing and creating fit in?

Here are some strategies to make sure you keep your nose to the grind and pen to the paper.

1. Join a writing club or literary journal

Here’s the thing: Unless you’re an obsessive, reclusive writer, you’re not always going to have the incentive to practice your craft. A writing club’s function is to keep the literary hounds at your heels. Weekly workshops, peer edits and check-ins will provide the formal structure you need to keep cranking out words.

2. Act upon the urge

Oftentimes, writers get the spontaneous urge to write something — a passage, a few lines of poetry — but they don’t act on it. When asked at the 2018 Rosenberry Writer’s Conference how she get started on her novels, fiction writer Naima Coster said, “You need to act upon the urge to write. Don’t ignore it.”

3. Plan it

There is a special kind of zen that comes from setting aside time to be creative. Just make sure you pick an environment that will aid you as a writer. It’s cliché, but coffee shops are a favorite among budding young writers.

4. Maintain a journal

“A journal? What am I, a middle schooler?” The idea of a journal isn’t to write flowery love letters to your crush and dot the "i"s with hearts. It’s a place to put down ideas, practice writing or just take notes on life. Even dream journaling can have benefits for mental health. Plus, our best ideas often come right before sleep, when having a pen and journal at the ready would come in handy. This could be the place where your great opening lines first take shape.

5. Practice

There are two types of writers: Those who write, and those who lie to themselves (and others) by saying what they will write. The truth is, anyone can be a writer, just like anyone can be a runner or a painter, because writing is a habit. Just start writing whenever you feel the urge. Use the “writing prompts” subreddit if you’re starved for ideas. Read everything, including blogs. Just practice.

Annie Dillard wrote in in her 1989 New York Times piece Write Till You Drop, “Write as if you were dying.” If not writing is your idea of dying, then you’re already on the right path, and if you’re not sure yet, refer to the first header and work your way down until you’ve achieved the desired effect.

See how UNC’s Writing Center can help you work on your writing — for free.


is a senior at UNC and is planning to graduate in December 2018. He is studying journalism and writing, with an emphasis in news and multimedia. He has a passion for marketing, technology and writing, and hopes to work in marketing after he graduates. When he's not at work, he likes to listen to music, read, study, write and spend time with friends.