If those trips down to the demos in Westminster have left you behind schedule for your end-of-term assignment, you may well be forced to write in the small hours this week. Here's how to pull it off safely and successfully.
12am: Get as far away from your bed as possible
Before you begin, avoid warmth and soft furnishings. Propped up on pillows in the glow of a laptop may feel like savvy ergonomics, but your keyboard will start to look pillow-like by midnight, and 418 pages of the word "gf64444444444444444444" will detract from the force of your argument. You could try the kitchen. Or Krakow. But your industrially lit 24-hour campus library should do the trick.
12:25am: Take a catnap
Thomas Edison used to catnap through the night with a steel ball in his hand. As he relaxed and the ball dropped, he would wake up, usually with fresh ideas. "Caffeine and a short nap make a very effective combination," says Jim Horne, director of the Loughborough Sleep Research Centre. "Have the coffee first. This takes about 20 minutes to work, so take a 15-minute nap. Use an alarm to wake up and avoid deep sleep kicking in. Do this twice throughout the night."
12.56am: Reduce your internet options
Temporarily block Twitter, Spotify, Group Hug, YouTube, 4od and anything else that distracts you. Constantly updating your word count on Facebook may feel like fun, but to everyone else you'll look like you're constantly updating your word count on Facebook.
1-3am: Now write your essay. No, really
You've widened your margins, subtly enlarged your font and filled your bibliography with references of such profound obscurity that no one will notice you're missing 3,000 words. It's time to brainstorm, outline, carve words, followed by more words, into that milk-white oblivion that taunts you. Speed-read articles. Key-word Google Books. Remember texts you love and draw comparisons. Reword. Expound. Invent. Neologise. Get excited. Find a problem you can relish and keep writing. While others flit from point to point, your impassioned and meticulous analysis of a single contention is music to a marker's eyes.
3-5am: Get lost in your analysis, your characters, your world Write like you're trying to convince the most stubborn grammarian about truth, or heartless alien invaders about love. Don't overload with examples – be creative with the ones you have. Detail will save your life, but don't waste time perfecting sentences – get the bulk down first and clean up later. "The progress of any writer," said Ted Hughes, "is marked by those moments when he manages to outwit his own inner police system." Outwit your own inner police system. Expect progress. Ted says so.
5:01am: Don't cheat
It's about now that websites such as easyessay.co.uk will start to look tempting. And you may sleep easier knowing that a dubiously accredited Italian yoga instructor is writing about Joyce instead of you. But the guilt will keep you up between now and results day. And you'll toss and turn the night before graduation, job interviews, promotions, dinner parties, children's birthdays, family funerals . . . you get the idea.
5.17am: Don't die
Sounds obvious, but dying at your computer is definitely trending. And however uncool it may seem to "pass on" during a five-day stint at World of Warcraft, it will be much more embarrassing to die explaining perspectivism to no one in particular. So be careful. Stay hydrated. Blink occasionally. And keep writing.
5.45am: Eat something simple
"There are no foods that are particularly good at promoting alertness," says Horne. "But avoid heavy and fatty meals in the small hours. Avoid very sugary drinks that don't contain caffeine, too. Sugar is not very effective in combating sleepiness." Fun fact: an apple provides you with more energy than a cup of coffee. Now stick the kettle on.
5.46am: Delight in being a piece of living research
If you happen to be "fatigue resistant" you should now be enjoying the enhanced concentration, creative upwelling and euphoric oneness that sleep deprivation can bring. If not, try talking yourself into it. "Conversation keeps you awake," says Horne. "So talk to a friend or even to yourself – no one will hear you."
6am: Console yourself with lists of writers who stuck it out
Robert Frost was acquainted with the night. Dumas, Kafka, Dickens, Coleridge, Sartre, Poe and Breton night-walked and trance-wrote their way to literary distinction. John and Paul wrote A Hard Day's Night in the small hours. Herman the Recluse, atoning for broken monastic vows, is said to have written the Codex Gigas on 320 sheets of calfskin during a single night in 1229. True, he'd sold his soul to the Devil, but you're missing out on a live Twitter feed, so it's swings and roundabouts.
7am: Remember – art is never finished, only abandoned
Once you accept there's no more you can do, print it off and get to the submissions office quick. Horne: "You're not fit to drive if you've had less than five hours sleep, so don't risk it. Grab some exercise." Pop it in with the breeziness that comes from being top of your marker's pile. Back home, unblock Facebook and start buffering The Inbetweeners. And then sleep. Get as near to your bed as you can. Euphoric oneness doesn't come close.
Matt Shoard teaches creative writing at the University of Kent.
Fine! I’ll do it! I’ll admit to my crime: I am a master procrastinator!
Through my university experience, pretty much most, if not all of my essays, and in all of my written exams actually, I have left them last minute. I used to do the International Baccalaureate in high school, which heavily emphasised writing, so it’s easy for me to organise and think up a few hundred words, so sometimes I leave it last minute because I know it’s an easy task for me. But it’s also because I easily get distracted doing other stuff. Normally you’d think that this is a horrible thing and I get bad grades because of it… but strangely enough I usually get good grades in uni. I can only think of once in my first year when I got a below average grade, and very few times I got an average, but none of them were a fail, and most of them I got either an above average, or sometimes a top grade! But why is this so? Why am I such a master at leaving stuff at last minute and always ending up with a good grade?
Well, the answer to this is that… well, I just know how to do it. And I’m not the only one: I bet there are people around the world who can write last minute essays perhaps better than I can. I’ll tell you the stuff here in this article, but let me warn you that what I’m doing here isn’t exactly correct. I think that the best way to procrastinate and leave things last minute is if you don’t. I’d recommend you guys to take your time to organise your essay properly. You’d probably end up with a better grade than usual, because you have more time to proof read your essay, and make multiple drafts until you get it right.
So here are my personal tips to you guys, based on my experience of writing essays, especially through the stuff I learned in the IB, as well as personal experience. I will teach you all: How to Write a Last Minute Essay Like a Pro!
This is rule number one, and perhaps the most important one… no, it’s THE most important rule:
1. PLAN. PLAN. PLAN.
You have to know what your question is about (if you’re choosing between one question out of a list, choose the one that not only you like, but you know you can answer). You have to know what books you need to use. You have to know what you’re going to write.
So if you think you might procrastinate, or will procrastinate for sure, you should do all this beforehand: look back at your notes and write them down for your essay, pick out every single book or source you might find useful to (including drawing on relevant reading, you need tons of resources: at least 5 books from your library, articles, videos, and the rest from online), and of course: write an essay structure (introduction, body and conclusion; and make sure that you know what to write there as well). And if you can, ask your teacher for some tips too (and write those tips down… you won’t believe how easily you forget). Also remember to source the bibliography properly. I’d recommend you to source your books beforehand so that you spend your time writing your content as opposed to trying to spending so much time writing your bibliography. And another thing you should do beforehand is to write an introduction; an idea of what you’re going to write and aim to argue (go search how to write a good essay introduction).
This is obviously important, not just when you’re doing it last minute, but when you’re doing every essay and assignment. You have to know what your assignment’s about and what you’re aiming for. What are your arguments and how do you attempt to explain them? You have to be prepared for these kind of stuff.
What happens when you don’t plan? I’ll give you the scenario: you go to your computer, open Word, stare at your keyboard and then say, “… What the heck am I doing?”
Preparation is key.
2. Online research.
It’s much better if you get more books than online material. You get a much higher mark for researching tons of sources. But if you feel that you’re limited in books that you’ve found, you can find more stuff online. Go to either Google Scholar or Google Books where you can find a range of material for your essay. Search for key words and theorists related to the subject that you’re talking about. Another useful site is EBSCO. All of the stuff you find there, from articles and books, can be useful for what you need to write. But make sure it’s relevant to answering your question. Don’t just include lots of books just because you think it sounds smart. Get a lot of useful information. When you search, type the key words which are relevant to answering your question. Even search the question itself to get an idea of what you should answer. But remember: Do not plagiarise, under any circumstance! Don’t!
3. Keep calm. Relax.
When you’re writing your essay, it’s important to keep a cool head. If you keep whining or complaining about the fact that you didn’t finish your essay or that you won’t be able to finish your essay on time, then you will never get your work done, or at least won’t do your essay properly.
Calm down. You can finish your essay. You can do it. You know you can. You need to keep yourself motivated, and the first step is to calm down and tell yourself that you can do it.
If you just keep yourself focused and relaxed, you’ll be able to do your essay much easier. If you become nervous, it’ll be much harder to work or write anything. You’ll become stressed, and the least you want is to be stressed.
With that said:
4. Take multiple breaks.
I take a lot of breaks every time I work on an essay last minute. Sometimes I was watching YouTube videos, and sending messages on Facebook, etc. I remember once I was watching Johnny Bravo cartoons on YouTube, and that cheered me up a lot (I just realised how much I loved Hanna-Barbera cartoons after that!). I also always move away from the computer to stretch my legs around my home.
Yes, time is of the essence here, but so is your sanity! You’re still a human being, and although work is important, you need to balance it out with play somehow. The moment you feel irritated, taking a break (like a TV break, a short nap, etc) with a certain time limit every time will keep you less stressed about working on your essay… at least it did for me. So far, it’s been very useful.
5. Have snacks.
That’s one thing you can do when having a break, but I like to have snacks while working on an essay as well. Whether it’s something healthy like a banana or an apple, or something like pretzels or a toast and melted butter (yum!) it’ll help you to act calm as you work.
Let’s just hope that by the end of finishing your essay you don’t gain about 5 kilos!
6. Drink lots of water.
If you’re not the kind who likes taking snacks at night, or you’re on a diet, an alternative is lots and lots of water. I once had a jug of water to refill the glass so that I didn’t have to keep going to the kitchen so much! Oh yeah, and you’re gonna want to go to the bathroom for drinking so much water. Bathroom breaks are important too. Duh.
But at the same time, you should always drink water so that you stay hydrated. I would not recommend having soda, because it has tons of sugar, and it doesn’t keep you as hydrated as water does. Your brain needs water too so that you can work.
And my final tip…
7. Learn how to type fast.
Ever wonder why I have so much time to write all these articles? Why I can whip a few hundreds of words so fast? Aside from knowing what I want to write, which is super important, I can type really quickly. An average typer writes about 36 words per minute. I write about 50-60 words per minute! My record so far is about 70! I know this because I did a bunch of typing tests online to check my speed.
Suppose you write a long essay for 10 hours at an average writing speed. Writing over 50 words per minute actually saves you about 4 hours! Writing about 60 words per minute saves up to 4.5 hours within 10 hours! This is really useful when you don’t have a lot of time on your hands. But I know people who are much faster at typing than I am, and they’d be able to finish an essay faster than others. If you can write over 70 words per minute, all the power to ya.
IF you can, practice your typing. Type, type, type until you get used to your keyboard and type really fast. Or go and search for some tutorials on how to type faster. (But at the same time, don’t spend too much time on the computer… Go outside! Play with your friends in the great outdoors!)
And those are my tips to write a last minute essay.
If you’re not planning to procrastinate or leave your essay last minute, the best way is to do your essay little by little before the deadline. Start with getting multiple resources, write tons of notes, write a plan, and each day before the deadline write about one paragraph, which depending on the word count could be about 100-200 words, but that varies from essay to essay. After you’re done writing the paragraphs, make sure the sentences are clear, relevant, flowing and consistent with each other. Include some relevant references, and make sure you write the bibliography. Always proof read the essay for typos or re-writes. Ask your teachers, or friends, or search online how to help you with your essay writing skills.
Again, I’d recommend you guys not to procrastinate! These tips are based on the way I mange to write an essay quickly, and also based on my experiences of writing multiple essays during high school and university. There are some people who have trouble writing essays, so they should obviously not rely on procrastination to do their work, because it’s difficult for them to write an essay. They don’t have the talent of writing super fast or writing their essays well. They should take their time in their work and do it with great care. It won’t always be easy, but that’s the proper way. All joking aside, as addicting as procrastination is for me, it’s nothing but the easy way out. And no, I don’t always procrastinate, I do take careful time and planning in some of my works. Heck, I keep re-writing my articles in my blog because there are always things I want to add or re-write! I only began procrastinating when I started uni. It’s better not to leave it last minute, because that way the essay has more time to take shape, and you can find more ways to re-write it and fix it up. It’s problematic both because of the quality of your essay, and also because of time management. No, you won’t always get a masterpiece even if you take your time, but at least you did take careful time and planning, and you will get a good grade at least (also depending on your experiences with essays). Even if you can write essays really fast and end up with a good grade, I think it’s better to allow the essay to take its time so that you can get an even better grade. I only leave essays last minute because I’m just so used to doing it, and I only get lucky with my essay skills because I’ve had tons of experience writing essays properly, and I kinda know already that I have a talent at writing essays. These tips will probably be much more useful to someone who has done experience with writing essays and mostly getting good grades in them, because they know what they’re doing. Still, I need to get used to organising my time with essays properly so that I can write even better essays instead of rushing them. I need to procrastinate less. That way instead of being a good student, I can be an even better one. And I’d prefer it if others do that too.
Besides, I don’t want to sleep late again!
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