Have you ever been so busy that you think your world is most certainly going to implode? The fiery balls of flame are coming, the hail that is dropping from the sky will pop open to reveal deadly pink parasites, and the man that lives on the moon is sending an Earth-sized atomic bomb our way. In other words, there is no longer such a thing as free time. I know anyone that has ever been a high school student, or a student of any kind for that matter, understands what I’m talking about. Essays, exams, studying for exams, projects, extracurricular projects, regular homework, chores…the list goes on. At some point you decide that there is no way in hell that you are ever going to have the time, energy, or inclination to write again.

Now, with the advice in this article, I am not suggesting that your schoolwork is unimportant and should be shunted aside for writing (on that note, I really should be writing an English essay right now…). But there are ways to squeeze your writing into slivers of time, slivers so tiny and negligible that you won’t feel compelled to crack rocks against your head as punishment for that incomplete research paper. By parceling out your creative impulses with these time-saving measures, you’ll keep your writing skills up to scratch –-and even better, you’ll shed some of the many layers of stress you’ve accumulated through creative release. And no, this is not an advertisement in disguise for quick-and-easy microwave meals.

Here’s a list of the simplest ways to fit your writing into bite-sized pieces. These techniques can also be useful for writing practice when you find yourself lacking in that mythical miracle substance, inspiration—or if you just have the luxury of being really bored, in which case I wouldn’t mind trading places with you for a while. Some of these have been previously discussed on II, and probably with much more wisdom than I have to offer, but I thought I’d do you a favor—or a disservice, depending on your outlook—by lumping them all together into a self-help format. No need to pay me.

1. Revision. Don’t look at this word and run from the room screaming. Revision often has a bad reputation among those who haven’t tried it out. But it is your best friend, even if you don’t know it yet. I was converted to the cult of revisionists after the terribly ugly state of some of my old poetry and prose came to my attention; at first glance, much of my writing seemed beyond repair. Yet buried beneath a thick spread of clichés, awkward grammatical constructions, and generally disgusting sentiment, some stuff wasn’t that bad. In fact, I really liked some of the ideas I had stuck into my clunky old stanzas and paragraphs. This is where revision comes in. By focusing intensely on one poem or paragraph at a time for a short while—10 minutes or so—I was able to pull out all the material I liked, mash it together, and turn it into a decent piece of writing. You can’t imagine how satisfying it is to take old ideas—ideas that might merit the adjective “inspired”—and make them better, clearer, elegant, perhaps even eloquent. To put it simply, make them shine! This process demands no particular chunk of time; you can spend as little as sixty seconds or as much as an hour revising. Whether you change one word in a sentence or use a few key ideas from an old work to write an entire story, you’ll be amazed at the beauty of this technique. Try it. RIGHT NOW.

2. Wordplay. This really is just wordplay. Take a word—preferably a long one, maybe something you’ve taken from a dictionary or just something that sounds fun to your ear—and play with it on a page. Make variations on it; tell a story; make up a conversation with this one beautiful word. This will feel slightly ridiculous, but it’ll loosen up your writing “arm” and perhaps even your brain. Better yet, take the sound of a word in your brain, or the sound of several words, and mix them up to make a new word—and then do something with that word. Here’s a poem of mine, by no means worthy of applause but still a poem, which was written as a wordplay exercise:

Prithee! Amok we run
Sky tasting clouds,
Of snow before it falls
I tell you, numerous times,
Frosted and frettled like
Ink swells and parlay paper
Quantum leap! Quantum—
Chime, my friends, we chorus-sify,
If we please, so mote it be.

As I mentioned, not much of a poem, and certainly nonsensical. But I thoroughly enjoyed writing it, I got to make up at least two words that have never been seen before, and I at least knew that I had written something that day, even something ridiculous.

3. Write a poem. Ok, so this is kind of general advice, and many of you have probably done this already. But I know there are plenty of people who might not write poetry at all. Perhaps you don’t like poetry, or you don’t think you’re cut out for it. Well, trust me, anyone can write a poem (Yes, anyone. But, as is clear from the poem I’ve included here, writing a poem does not at all ensure that it will be good). And if you don’t like poetry, that’s ok too. I used to think poetry wasn’t much to look at. Yet you’d be surprised by the freedom that writing poetry brings you. There are no constraints of storyline, context, even simple coherency. Plenty of poems do have a storyline, a context, and coherency. But these things are not required. Sure, prose doesn’t require these either, but I’ve found that when I write prose, I feel obligated to explain things, even if I’m not writing the prose for anyone but myself. And from what I’ve heard from others, this is true for a lot of people. So try a poem. Poems can be really short; they can be about nothing, or anything; they can be pretty, ugly, strange, deluded, plain crazy, or hilarious. You don’t have to be inspired or genius-like or beautiful to write a poem. Pick some random object from your room or an idea from a book you’re reading or a movie you’re watching and go crazy with it in a poem.

4. Go truly crazy. Take your writing to the outermost limits of reason and beyond, no matter what kind of piece you’re working on. Permit yourself to write anything at all—you can always erase it or delete it or burn it in a ritual bonfire. Once you’ve gone fully insane and spat out all the words in your head and channeled all the stressed-as-hell emotions in your mind into a poem or prose piece or something betwixt and between, you’ll feel pretty damn good. So good that the loathsome piles of homework lying around your room will miraculously take on the appearance of a hot fudge sundae, that upcoming AP exam will appear as light and bright as the morning star, and your sinuses will be dancing with clarity. I swear on my life, I am not peddling some miracle drug here. Just you, your keyboard and/or pen, and some crazy.

Ok, now I really have to go write that English essay


  1. Artimaeus on 10 May 2009, 08:25 said:

    Finally, a new article!

  2. Puppet on 10 May 2009, 10:51 said:

    Hey! that’s what I was going to say. And nice article, Ty. :)

  3. lookingforme on 10 May 2009, 12:49 said:

    Thanks for the great advice! I used to like writing prose/short stories better than poetry, but poetry is perfect for capturing the moment—if you’re really stressed out (and, as I have an IB exam to study for, a World Literature paper to write, and an edition of our school’s literary magazine to salvage, I can assure you, my hair is positively turning gray)it’s nice to be able to rant and still call it “art.” I like the “go crazy” method too—although it often leads to very strange tangents. And by the way, I thought that the wordsmithery of your poem was quite nice—in fact, I liked it a lot! Thanks again!

  4. SlyShy on 10 May 2009, 13:41 said:

    This is very appopriate, as several of us feel like the world is falling apart currently. :)

  5. Dan Locke on 10 May 2009, 14:53 said:

    That was the worst poem that I ever read.

  6. SlyShy on 10 May 2009, 15:01 said:

    There’s an exageration if I’ve seen one.

  7. Snow White Queen on 10 May 2009, 15:15 said:

    Yay, new articles!

    Yeah, I’m one of those people who ‘never have time’…I’m going to try and squeeze it in from now on.

  8. Ty on 10 May 2009, 15:42 said:

    lookingforme, I hope your hair survives! Do anything to save the hair!

    Sly, the world is definitely falling apart. I have hard evidence lying around somewhere beneath all these textbooks.

    Thank you, Dan, for confirming my suspicions. Now if I’ve done my job at all, you’ll go and try to write something better!

  9. Artimaeus on 10 May 2009, 17:10 said:

    Heh, it’s nice to see a fellow IB Junior. Our english teacher had us turn in that World Lit paper on the same day as the AP Lit test, which, for me, fell on the same day as my IB math and IB environmental science tests (that was last thursday). And I’ve got AP Psychology and AP env sci. this coming tuesday.

    Yea, f*** my life. Are you not taking AP tests?

  10. Snow White Queen on 10 May 2009, 19:17 said:

    I’m not looking forward to taking the tests for Chemistry and Calculus next year…shudders.

    But that sounds horrible, Artimaeus. I always thought they scheduled the tests so that they don’t interfere with each other.

  11. The Angel Islington on 10 May 2009, 21:00 said:


    Eff that noise.

    Good article, as I was just thinking the other day just how much I didn’t have the inclination to write till summer.

  12. IB Victim on 10 May 2009, 22:35 said:

    I would just like to send out a message of sympathy for all those students stuck writing IB exams… It’s torture.

    HL Biology is something no one should ever have to face…

  13. OverlordDan on 11 May 2009, 07:58 said:

    Great article, and I hope everyone does good on their testings.

    Good Luck!

  14. Artimaeus on 11 May 2009, 10:47 said:

    @ SWQ. Not really. The time/date of the AP and IB tests are predetermined by independent organizations (the College board and IB headquarters respectively) so it’s possible to have wholly miserable days interspersed between a bunch of completely free days. The bright side is that we don’t have to come to school on the days we’re not testing, so we can surf the web and hang out study.

  15. Golcondio on 12 May 2009, 08:03 said:

    Excellent article!
    It reflects the same approach I’ve been using for music practice and composition, and it feels absolutely satisfying.
    The only drawback is that you need to always carry around the “tools of the trade”: easier for a writer than for a musician!

  16. lookingforme on 13 May 2009, 13:17 said:

    Artimaeus--this is SOOOO weird! I just finished all my exams (!!!!! OMG! SO VERY HAPPY!), and now I am way behind on my World Lit paper.My paper isn't actually due until the end of May--how come your teacher made you turn it in so early? For me, it's only going to be a school grade, as I'm taking AP English and French next year. I only took the IB History and Economics tests this year, and as I mentioned, I finished Paper 2 of the Econ test yesterday (again, !!!!!). I'm NOT looking forward next year--I have FOUR HLs (Bio, Econ, History, and Math). Anycase, I'm done with my rant now, and I wish you (and anyone else stressing out about an exam) the best of luck! Ty—thanks for your concern, but my hair grows back rather quickly :)

  17. lolwut on 15 May 2009, 13:03 said:

    I think half the people who bitch about IB are faking it. Even the higher levels were pretty straightforward.

  18. Steph on 16 May 2009, 05:32 said:

    This article rocks!

  19. Rand on 17 May 2009, 12:25 said:

    How about writing in a journal?

  20. SMARTALIENQT on 23 May 2009, 22:10 said:

    Thank you! My world started to implode several months ago, and it always takes me forever to restart. Thanks for the help!

  21. Max on 4 November 2009, 15:15 said:

    What about when your story’s world is actually being deconstructed to create a new one?

  22. madsimack on 8 January 2010, 03:00 said:

    I googled “how can I go to school when the world is falling apart?”
    I read the article, it’s inspired me to get more active, thank you. I like the go crazy idea. I’ve already done a fair bit o’ revising. Dry spells are good for that. They aren’t so dry then.

    Trying to decide whether to go back to school.

    the unsure bunny

  23. Steph (what is left) on 11 January 2010, 01:53 said:

    Go back to school. Or transfer or something if it’s that bad. Or just keep your head down. In my experience, if you don’t make waves, people forget you exist and stop teasing you.

    Unfortunately I was never very good at the whole quiet act.

    (If that’s your problem.)

    Love the bunny.