What I Wish I Knew Going to College

I have an incredible, and probably unhealthy, fondness for my college years. Even now, part of me misses the dorm rooms and the close sense of community. Although, not so much the cafeteria food. It was four years of making friends, jumping from social events to extra activities, and getting far too little sleep. 

It's the time of year where college students are getting ready to move into their dorms, are planning out their schedules, and making those last minute plans for the semester. I have to admit,  when I see college students running around Target looking for those last minute items they need, I have many flashbacks to my days on the Welcome Team.

Yes, I was on the welcome team. Stop judging me, we were awesome.

Yet, as I look at my life now and my life then, so much has changed, and I can't tell you how many conversations my old roommate and I have of "if me back then knew what I was doing now..."

There are so many things I wish I could go back and tell my former self about college and the years after. (Like how to be sure I don't look like a total slob at all times. I swear, I didn't figure out how to dress myself until I was 25. It's a shame really. So many years of potential hotness wasted!) So, here's the next best thing. A few words of wisdom for those of you either starting off college or getting back into the swing of things for the start of a new semester.

Organization and Time Management

College is one of the first times where how you spend your time is COMPLETELY up to you. Yes, you have classes, but you can choose whether you go or not. It's a lot of freedom to get used to and can be overwhelming.

  • Use a planner and keep it with you. I don't know about you, but I remember things better when I write them down and have them in a calendar I wrote out myself. I still use a planner and I love it. They even have super cute ones with a ton of stickers now! But, they can be hard to keep up with. Which is why I say keep it with you in your bag. If it's always on you (especially as you're going to classes), there isn't much of an excuse to not use them.
  • One thing you all have that I didn't when I was in college (cause I'm SO OLD), is this handy thing called a smart phone. There are a ton of apps out there for calendars, reminders, tasks, etc. and you can set alarms for yourself. My schedule was always all over the place in college, and it would have been so handy to have my phone with me so I could jot down assignments, meetings, etc. right away. 
  • Post-It Notes. I used to swear by these, especially when it came to midterm/finals week. I was that over-achiever who constantly had a million classes, projects, jobs, extra activities, and social events I was paranoid I was going to forget something. In order to not forget, I'd write each task I needed to accomplish for that week on a post-it, then stick it up on my desk. It was in my direct line of vision every single day. And let me tell you - pulling that post-it note off and throwing it away always felt so good. 
  • Plan ahead. I know, I know. You're in college and you want to be spontaneous. I get it. But, it's good to have a game plan going in. At the start of each semester, I'd map out my weekly schedule and color code it. (As I said, I was an overachiever.) It gave me a good idea of when I'd have free time so I knew when I could study and see friends. 
  • Eat. This one seems so obvious, but it has to be said. Especially by the last year or two, I can't tell you how many days would go by and it'd be 2 pm and I'd realize that literally the only thing I'd consumed that day was coffee. DON'T FORGET TO EAT. 

The Dorm

  • Plan out when you're going to clean. I was, and still am, the worst at cleaning. I'm amazed that my roommates didn't yell at me more for not helping to clean the bathroom as often as I should have. It was bad. So, when you're mapping out your schedule, find places where you can clean the dorm. Whether it's one big chunk of time during the week, or one tiny thing per day. Trust me when I say, when your space is clean and clutter free - you'll feel much better and less stressed.
  • Learn when to close your door. I don't know about other schools, but a big part of the culture of the one I went to was having your dorm room door open and/or unlocked. In fact, I had a couple of friends who kept duct tape over the lock of their door so we could come in and out as we pleased. I love the open community concept. But, sometimes, you need your space. Whether it's to study, sleep, or just get some alone time. 

Planning for Your Next Steps and Your Time Now

  • Enjoy the time you have right now. For a lot of my friends and I, we wasted so much time just anticipating our next phase of life. Of not having to take classes anymore and to just get going on what we REALLY wanted to do. Now, I look back and wish I had taken more advantage of what I had back in those days.
  • Take advantage of opportunities. And I don't just mean the ones for your potential future career. I was so focused on my major, I never even entertained the idea of studying abroad or doing a Disney internship or anything like that. Or even just going somewhere new and different with my friends on spring break or over the summer. Now, I wish I had because who knows when I'll be able to do those things. Contrary to popular belief, college doesn't have to be JUST about getting a good job at the end. (But don't ignore that aspect either, obviously.) It's education in general. In class, yes. But in life too. Most of what I learned in college took place OUTSIDE of the classroom.
  • Remember that things change, and you might not know exactly what you want next. Some people know their chosen career and are driven and have a one track mind. I was one of those. But guess what? Awhile down the road, I realized I didn't actually want it. (Cue existential crisis.) What your passion is now, might not be your passion in a few years. If you don't have a passion now, it doesn't mean you won't find one. 

A Couple Things NOT To Do

  • If you skip class - be smart about it. I won't judge if you do because Lord knows there were some classes (especially in my final semester) my profs were lucky to see my face. But, also know when you CAN skip, and when you CAN'T. A bad time? When your World Religions class is teaching on Islam but the guy you like wants to hang out. You might not want to miss class that week.
  • Not sleep. I barely slept at all when I was in college, and it probably wasn't a good choice. Yes, I was 20 years old and had a ton of energy. But I probably would have done better in everything if I made sure I had enough sleep.
  • Say yes to everything. I was the crazy overachiever who would take 21 credits in a semester, volunteer for ALL OF THE THINGS, and then go out and eat with my friends at 1 am before hitting up the 24-hour computer lab to finish a paper. I loved all of the things I was doing, but eventually, I burned out and had to say no to things later than I should have. Prevent burn out before it happens.

There you go college students. A few things I learned and I hope you don't make the mistakes I did. And have fun!

What would you tell your former college self?

Or... Not Getting It Done

Well... I was a tad over-confident in my being accomplished skills last week, wasn't I?

Because this morning (Tuesday) I sat at my desk, looked at my to-do list, and do you know what I did? 

Well... not my to-do list. Let's say that. I'm leaving for Florida in two days because I'm in a wedding and then spending a few days after going to the parks. Which, I'm excited about. But, I saw all I wanted to accomplish before I left and basically shut down. 

What I Actually Did

  • Wrote a blog post about my procrastination. (But three blog posts in one month. WHAT? Who am I?)
  • Watched YouTube videos.
  • Finished reading A Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue. (Although, I would argue this was one of the best life choices I've made as of late. Even if it wasn't actually useful to my current situation.)
  • Went to the library and picked up two more books along with some McDonalds.
  • Played Dragon City and Magic Kingdoms on my phone. (I'm so close to leveling up Prince Charming you guys...)

What I Should Have Done

  • Revise the first chapter of my novel so it's ready to go for PitchWars in August.
  • Get started on packing for my Florida Trip.
  • Finish up the Vlog Every Day August (VEDA) calendar for WeVlogCollective.
  • Pre-film videos for VEDA.
  • Check in with my critique partners on their novels.
  • Schedule Tweets to promote VEDA so I don't have to worry about it on my trip.
  • Take a picture for this silly blog post so it could look pretty and marketable. 

 

Then, before I knew it, I had to go to my last day of work before my trip. (My kind manager gave me the day off so I had time to pack.) So... at least I have another day. As long as I don't waste more time on the Internet. 

So much for tooting my own horn about how efficient and productive I am. But, we all have those days, right?

Now I can maybe focus on something truly important:

Which books I'll be reading on the plane. 

Getting It Done

Things I hear people say a lot:

  • I wish I could read more!
  • I need to write!
  • I wish I had more time!

Friends, the struggle is real. We all wish we had more time to do the things we want and to accomplish our goals. If only there were more hours in the day. 

But, I wonder if more hours in the day would actually help. I have a suspicion I'd just spend it sleeping or watching Netflix/YouTube videos. 

Still, I get the struggle. I have an odd work schedule, and it makes it difficult to plan anything or to map time out. I only get my schedule a week at a time, and more often than not my shift switches throughout the week. One day I'll work in the morning, the next in the evening, and the next randomly in the middle of the day. Sometimes I'll have three days off in a row, and others I'll work 8 days in a row. 

Yet - I still read 124 books last year. I was consistent with my YouTube channel. I did a complete overhaul on my novel which started at over 600 pages and I cut it down to 300. 

I'm not perfect at time management and doing all I want. But, I'm getting the hang of it. Here's how.  

Yeah, it's some tough love. But trust me when I say - most of this is me preaching to myself. This blog post is actually me procrastinating on editing my novel. Sometimes, I need to kick myself in the rear to get going. 

My planner last week. Note all of the changes I had to my goals, but also how a lot of them still got done. 

My planner last week. Note all of the changes I had to my goals, but also how a lot of them still got done. 

Prioritize

Sometimes, you have to figure out what's the most important and let other things slide. It's hard because if you're like me, you want to do all of the things

But guess, what? That's just not realistic.

Last year, I was focusing a lot of time on my fiction writing. Which meant, I let my blog go by the wayside. It was sad, and part of me wishes that I hadn't let it happen. Yet, I'm glad I did it because my novel got the focus it deserved and needed.

This year, I decided to actually read fewer books because I saw I wasn't spending as much time out, experiencing life, and seeing my friends as I wanted to. I'm not sure how well it's working thus far, but it's a goal of mine because the people in my life need to be a priority.

Then, with books, I've become more cut-throat as to which books I decide to read and finish. If I'm not enjoying a book, I don't have a problem putting it down and returning it to the library, giving it to someone who'll enjoy it more, or sell it to a used bookstore. Life is too short to read books you don't like! The same can go for TV shows, movies, etc. Been binge watching a show because everyone says you should but you aren't actually liking it? Then stop watching. It seems logical, but when you think about it, it's amazing how much time we waste reading/watching things we don't actually enjoy. 

Make A Routine

With my work schedule, it's almost impossible to have a regular routine. 

Almost.

I plan out each week. Once I get my work schedule, I write it all down in my planner and look at the times I have available. Then, I schedule in the times I have to write/blog/film/edit/etc. I treat them like appointments or meetings that I have to stick to. 

At the start of each month, I write out my goals in my planner of what I want to get done and make sure I check them periodically to see how I'm doing. 

The big thing I've had to learn is that even when I work later in the afternoon, I still need to wake up earlier. I'm not saying be up at 5 am every day. But sleeping in until noon to get to work at 3 pm? Nope. That's just not for me.

The days I work in the late afternoon/evening, I make sure I get to bed as soon as I get home, and then I get up in the morning. Once I'm up, I get my coffee, and I get to work. Sometimes, that work is catching up on YouTube videos so I can get myself woken up and focused. But once I am, it's crunch time. 

Then, I schedule which projects I'm going to work on each day. I have three writing projects I'm working on outside of my blog, and I've learned I can't work on them all in the same day. So, I'll make one day focused on revising a novel. The next day writing my new one. The next day working on my short story. 

Know How You Work Best

Some people are night owls and can stay up late into the night to get things done. Other people can get up before the sun is up, finish their to-do list, take a nap, then go to work at night or in the afternoon. 

That's not me. 

I've learned the days where I work early in the morning and get home mid to late afternoon, I'm pretty much wiped. I tried to set up my schedule where I would get writing done after those shifts, but it just doesn't work for me. Instead, I make that time after work my days to catch up on reading, watching YouTube videos (as a YouTuber, this is super important), or simply relaxing.

Relaxing is important too! If you can't recharge, you can't accomplish anything later. Don't burn out!

Utilize Empty Spaces of Time

At my previous job, I had a really long commute. At first, I listened to music, and it was fine. But, I also realized that was a lot of wasted reading time. So, I got into audio books. Audio books are amazing! I could get through them so quickly with my commute.

I also decided to use that time to listen to podcasts. At least when it comes to learning about writing and publishing, I have replaced reading blogs with listening to writing podcasts. Even though my commute is much shorter now, it's still a valuable time where I could be learning.

This is simply a way I found to use that time. And there are days I need to turn my brain off and I jam out to all of the Broadway Original Cast Albums on my phone. But, it shows that you might have random chunks of time in your day which could be utilized more efficiently.

Recognize That It's Hard

Yeah, it's hard. I love writing and making videos. But guess what? Sometimes it's work. It's work I like. But it's still work. There are days I can't focus, or I don't want to write, or filming a video is a chore, or editing my videos make me want to throw my computer across the room. 

That doesn't mean I just say "well... I guess I won't get that done today." Sometimes, have to push through. Most of the time, it's worth it.

Yes, there are days when maybe you truly need a break. Or there were a couple of months I barely wrote a word. (Remember what I said before - relaxing is still important!) But when you notice every day you're neglecting your goals... something isn't right. Re-evaluate and get to the bottom of what's going on. Maybe it's time to switch what you want to accomplish. And that's okay! (Back to the whole priorities thing I said at the start.) Don't simply stop though because it's hard. 

 

I also sometimes listen to the Hamilton album and think about how A.Ham would be disappointed in me if I didn't write all of the words. 

What are some of the philosophies you have for getting things done?

Life at 29... +2

There's something about my birthday which makes me motivated to do ALL OF THE THINGS. Like updating my blog, changing how I subscribe to my favorite blogs, and completely redoing my Facebook page. Maybe the thought of getting older makes feel as though I need to be productive and show "YES! I am doing things with my life!"

Who knows? But, here I am, exactly a month after my last blog post, I'm writing again. Which is better than the several months or even a year between blog posts. Progress!

As I was catching up on bloggers I used to follow almost religiously but have fallen by the wayside, I decided that if I do want to blog again, I should maybe give you an update on my life. 

My most recent selfie, taken a couple of days ago when I went to go see The King and I. 

My most recent selfie, taken a couple of days ago when I went to go see The King and I. 

Honestly? My life doesn't look a whole lot different than it did when I blogged regularly. 

I'm still working the front desk at a hotel. I different hotel now, I switched in April, but it's the same corporation and position, just a different location. This one is closer to home and the commute is infinitely better. 

I'm also still living with my parents - which I honestly don't mind. We're helping each other out, and I like that I can be so close to them, and my sister and brother-in-law come by all of the time. It also doesn't hurt that my dog, Bandit, always has someone to keep him company.

Yes, Bandit is still doing well and is as awesome as ever. He's even starting to get along with the cat, Peanut.

Speaking of family - my sister and her husband are expecting their first child! This is the biggest news in my family's life, and we're ridiculously excited. They are finding out the gender today (it's a girl!) and we can't wait. Life has been filled with baby shower planning, visits to Babies R Us, and searching Etsy for the cutest clothes.

I'm still reading an obscene amount of books. I had created a goal to actually read less this year because I wanted more balance to my life so I could spend time with family and friends and work on other things. Since I am currently on my 54th book of the year... I'm not sure how successful I've been in this goal. 

I've been attempting online dating - and it hasn't gone well and recently deleted one of the apps and have felt like a weight has been lifted off of my shoulders. I might do a blog or vlog series on it. We'll see.

Then there's my writing. I completed the third draft of my novel after having to cut thousands upon thousands of words to make it ready to send out to literary agents. In April, I began querying. Which... has been a learning experience. (See my most recent post before this one.) But, I recently found a new critique partner and she and I are working together to figure out what's going wrong with my pages and why agents aren't biting. (And I'm reading and sending feedback on the manuscript she's currently working on.) She's been amazing so far and SO helpful. 

In the meantime, I was trying to work on a new novel to distract myself from all of my literary agent rejections. It worked... kind of. Then, around the time I was getting started at my new hotel, I hit a writing wall. Not writer's block per say, because I had a general idea of what I wanted to write. But I couldn't find the motivation and each time I sat down at the computer I couldn't get myself to put words on the page. 

So, I joined a short story contest. I figured having deadlines, a goal, and short story to work on would give me motivation to just get writing again.

It worked. 

You can read it here: http://shortfictionbreak.com/summer-17/ and find the story "Mixed Drinks by Emily Hornburg." The stories are organized by author last name. It's not the best one of the bunch I'm sure, especially since this was my first attempt at such a short story. (Our limit was 1000 words!) But, it was a good exercise for me and gave me inspiration for other short stories. The winners won't be announced for awhile yet as the judges are still reading all of the submissions, but you can vote for readers choice and read all of them. 

Now, I'm working on my next novel, which is a fairy tale mash-up and I'm excited to finally be making progress on it.

Honestly - that's about it. I'm impressed I was able to find so much to say! I would love to hear what's going on in your life and... maybe it'll be sooner than a month from now when I blog next!

If you want regular updates, check out my Facebook page and/or subscribe by email! The form is at the bottom of the page. 

Query Struggles

There's nothing quite like starting a Monday morning and opening up your email to find yet another message from a literary agent saying:  "Thanks for sending me your query, however..."

Photo by mactrunk/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by mactrunk/iStock / Getty Images

For roughly three years, I worked on my novel. Writing, rewriting, filling in plot holes, cutting 50k words, adding more words, outlining, sending it out to beta readers... repeat. To be perfectly honest, I'm sure there's even more work to do. But, there is a certain point where you have to try to put down the pen and see where it goes.

So, I wrote a query letter. And another and another and another, until it was all nice and pretty and clean and polished. I had done my research and a big spreadsheet was saved in Google Docs with all of the agents I wanted to send letters to and their submission guidelines. I followed them on Twitter and visited their pages. Everything was set to go and I clicked "send."

I knew the reality of the querying process. I'd heard enough authors talk about it and read enough articles and listened to enough podcasts to know that it is long, hard, and frustrating. Some authors spend over 10 years querying before they get a book sold. Maybe even more. 

But there's always that thought in the back of your head "but it could happen now..."

That thought goes away really quickly after a couple months and your inbox is full of "thanks but no thanks" messages. 

Honestly, I've been fortunate with these emails. I haven't had a single person tell me "you're a terrible writer" or "you need to practice more" or "don't quit your day job." While all of the replies have been short, they've also been encouraging. Things such as "you're a great writer, this just isn't the story for me." I even had one say while this book wasn't for them, they'd be open to having me send them a future project if the opportunity arises. They all tell me to keep going and they're cheering for me.

Which is wonderful and encouraging.

But it also really sucks.

Because I love this story. I love these characters. I want other people to love it too. And while I know it isn't an agent's job to give critiques... this doesn't help me in knowing what I need to improve on so the next time I can do better.

A couple months ago I listened to Lauren Graham's (Lorelai Gilmore) audiobook "Talking As Fast As I Can" where she shares her journey to Gilmore Girls and her acting career. There was one quote which stuck out to me when she was talking about being a young actress going out on auditions.

Am I just paying my dues? Or is this all the beginning of what's to be a waste of my time?

Okay... that's not an exact quote. I couldn't find the exact one online to copy and paste... but you get the idea.

Even if I do someday get an agent and one of my books is published, I'm okay with it never being a best seller or making millions of dollars (or even thousands...) off of it. I just want other people to read it. 

I have thought about self-publishing. In fact, not long ago I talked to a friend of mine who used to design covers for a self-publishing company. She said if I do decide to go that route she'd be happy to design my cover for me and to help me research the best ways to go about it. Which is wonderful, and I know there are tons of authors who self-publish and do great work and are successful. 

Yet, I also know my strengths. Marketing is not one of them. I don't want to set myself up for failure. 

I've also thought about if the traditional publishing thing doesn't work out, I could just put my book out there on Wattpad. I have an account, but I haven't posted anything there yet because once you do, that particular story isn't able to be traditionally published.

If the point is just to get the book out there and let people enjoy it, then these are great options. 

I'm in no way giving up on my querying and publishing journey. I have a whole list of agents to send this book out to still, and if this one doesn't work out - while I'll be heartbroken - I'll move onto the next book and either self-publish/post on Wattpad this current one.

But... the struggle is real my friends. Lately, when people have been asking me about my writing, I haven't wanted to talk about it. Or, if I do want to talk about it, all I'll do is whine and complain about how it's hard. 

So, for those of you who have been wondering how it's going... there it is. I'm sure it's going to be going this way for awhile because that's simply how the querying process is. Hopefully, I will be able to update everyone with something more exciting and positive... someday.

For now, it's waiting. And sending out letters. And revising letters. And trying not to think about it.