Wednesday, April 1, 2015

An Anxiety-Ridden Procrastinator's Guide to Writing an Essay

Hey! So, guess what I should be doing right now? If you read the title, you probably guessed correctly. That's right; I'm supposed to be writing an essay! It's the usual story: I got the assignment more than a month ago, I just had two weeks of spring break, the thing is due Friday, and all I have is an outline. I also currently do not have the book I need for this essay in my possession, because I lent it to someone.

I guess it'd be fine if I was JUST lazy, because then I wouldn't care whether the essay got done or not. But naturally, my brain is screaming IF YOU DON'T GET THIS ESSAY DONE WITHIN FIVE SECONDS THE ENTIRE WORLD WILL IMPLODE. So, that's fun.

The combination of procrastination and anxiety, over the many years of my academic life, have led me to create a formula of how to get long essays done in half the time they're supposed to take, without flinging myself onto the floor and lamenting the human condition. Obviously, this formula is not actually a concrete formula and is really just a cobbling-together of random stuff I've done in the past, but I thought I would share it anyway.

There are a LOT of parts here which might make you think, "Isn't this just making the whole thing more complicated?" But the reason there are so many parts is because I need to break every task into infinitesimally smaller tasks so that they seem less overwhelming. That's tip number one: turn each task into ten tiny tasks. 

PART ONE: The Outl- Just Kidding, Part One is Wasting Time for Four Hours

Ha ha, did you really think I was going to start my essay now even though I reasonably should have started it a week ago? No.

PART TWO: The Outline

Uggghhh. But outlines are HAAAAARRRD.
OK. Breathe. You can do this. Stop typing "" into the address bar. Close the Internet. Press the X button. OK... and... good. Now open a Word document, or better yet, a notebook. Take your notebook and go as far away from the source of Internet as you can.

Sub-Part: Brainstorming Out Loud
Now, what's the essay about? The teacher gave you a prompt, right? Get that prompt. The first step to doing your outline is pretending that you are on a talk show where the topic is your prompt. Since that is easy and somewhat fun, you won't entirely hate it.
Make sure you are in a place where nobody will look at you with a "ew, are you crazy? why are you talking to yourself?" face. Then just start talking about your prompt. Just say whatever. Remember, on your imaginary talk show, the audience loves you and they don't care how stupid you sound. So just talk out the prompt. Say everything you remember about it from class, from the textbook, stuff you thought about in your own head, every opinion you've ever had about it.
(You can skip ahead to the next part during this if you find that it's easier to write stuff down every time you say something good, instead of waiting until the end to write it down.)

Sub-Part: Writing Down All This Stuff

You probably just said a lot of utter nonsense, but there were probably some good ideas in there, too. Write down all the good ideas you remember saying. Don't bother about an order; just get down all the ideas you had. Because this is still hard and boring, make sure that you write it in the most ridiculous profanity-ridden slang ever. Kind of make fun of the prompt. This is still the outline so you can sound as informal as you want.
Last year I made a masterpiece of an outline like this, but tragically it got lost. But I have an example of what I did for the essay I'm supposed to be writing now. (I have edited it to take out curse words) This is how you should write your outline:

 "You’ve got the struggle between Sharmaji who represents the Old Ways and the boss people/Anna or whatever her name is who represent the New Ways. And why are there new ways? Are they good or bad? As Western readers we’re like, “Sharmaji if you ain’t gonna come to work don’t be annoying about it” but then at the same time he makes a good point. Why is there corruption in the choice of who gets promoted? Why are the old values and the old workers not appreciated, even shunned? This is a hard transition (and why should this transition be made at all? and why to THAT ending why not a specifically Indian-chosen one). And whose fault is it? hit it Said. GREEEEAT BRITAIIIN AND COLOOOOONIALISM!!!"

This is actually pretty formal compared to what I usually do. And I know, it looks really ridiculous and stupid. That's the point. Fulfill all your informal essay-writing dreams. Write down your honest ideas about the prompt in the way you would actually say them. Don't elaborate too much about them, however- details are for later.

Sub-Part: Put Everything in Order

Probably the easiest part of the outline. Take all the scattered ideas you wrote down and put them in an order that makes sense and flows.

Sub-Part: Quotes and Notes

If you have notes or annotations that you did for class earlier for some other reason, pull them out and see if there are any useful ones that you could use in your essay. Stick them in your outline in the proper places where they would be relevant. Same thing with any quotes from any source material you're supposed to write about. Your teacher's probably expecting a few quotes so just pull out a bunch and stick them in your outline. You don't have to use them but at least they'll be there if you need them.

PART THREE: Waste another hour because hey, you did your outline, right?

Ugh. Now's the time to feel bad about yourself because you're wasting so much time. But then, you listen to really inspirational music and think about how this essay doesn't matter in the grand scheme of life. Cry a bit. Take a bunch of deep breaths. Open up a new Word document.

Sub-Part: Format the essay!

Whoo hoo! Change the font to Times New Roman! Make it size 12! Double-space it! Write the header! Make up a snazzy title! Thank God for Microsoft Office making the default font so screwed up so that we can re-format it and feel a sense of accomplishment right off the bat.
PART FOUR: Lower Your Expectations of Yourself So Low that a Baby Could Meet Them

If you are thinking something like, "OMG, this is gonna be the best essay ever! My teacher is going to be so impressed! I'm totally getting an A!" DO NOT THINK THAT. That's just a trap right into procrastination. Because every time you sit down to write the essay, you're going to think, "Ugh, it's time to write the best essay ever. That's probably pretty hard. Better go watch TV instead." 
Instead, think stuff like, "LOL, this is going to be the worst essay ever. It'll suck so much. My teacher will probably laugh at it." This may seem counterproductive and like it's ruining your self-esteem, but it's actually great. Because now, when you sit down to write the essay, you'll think, "Well, no big deal if it's terrible, because it's going to be terrible anyway! I guess I don't have to put in that much effort, and therefore, I may as well do it because it is not so overwhelming of a task." The irony of this is that in this relaxed atmosphere, you'll probably end up writing something pretty good. But don't think about that!

Also, don't fall into the trap of thinking that everyone else in your class is ahead of you. They are not. There may be one overachiever who did the essay already. Don't think about that person. (I was that person in ninth grade. Everyone hated me. It was fun.) Think about the laziest person in your class. You're ahead of them, right? That's pretty relaxing.

PART FIVE: Background Music

For me, background music is necessary. This is the stage where I pick ONE song to listen to on repeat during the entire essay. It has to be a song I vaguely like, but not too much, and it's kind of calming. Also something I've probably written an essay to before, so I subconsciously get into the essay-writing mood. My default for French essays is "Candles" by Daughter. It's not even a French song. There's no logic behind it. But it helps get me into an essay-writing rhythm. 

PART SIX: NOT the introduction

Introductions are a pretty easy way to ensure that you continue procrastinating, because the intro is such a weirdly precise paragraph. It has to say what the essay is about, but not give away too much- blech. Skip the intro.

Instead, go straight into the body paragraphs. You already have an outline for them, so you already know what to write there. Plus, you can put as much information as you want there, because they're the body paragraphs. They're supposed to have the information of the essay.

Unfortunately, you cannot write these in a hilariously fun way like in the outline. Instead, write them in an academic way. Laugh at the way you write unnecessarily long sentences to meet the word/page count. Yes, I am encouraging writing nonsense to meet the requirements. Sorry to any teachers that read this. But don't mess with the page margins or anything, because if your teacher knows how to see that, they will take off points, and it will suck.

So yeah, write extra sentences that you don't need. Make phrases longer. And be sure to add in all the details and elaborations that you didn't put in your outline, as well as all the quotes and stuff. The reason I'm saying to do this is because sometimes page/word requirements are stressful and it's relaxing to know that you are getting any closer to them. You can always go back and take stuff out if it gets unnecessarily long.

Keep your will strong. This is going to be the part where every time you get stuck on a sentence, you think, "it wouldn't hurt to go on Reddit for five seconds." NO. If you get stuck, just say, "no no no no no" a bunch and do not open the Internet. A good tip is to tell yourself "OK, I can go on the Internet as soon as I get to the end of page 2." And by the time you get to the end of page 2, you might be so in the flow of writing that you won't feel the pull of the Internet so strongly anymore. If you still do, say, "OK, well, one more paragraph, then I can go on the Internet." Repeat until you are done with your body paragraphs.

PART SEVEN: The Intro and Conclusion

These paragraphs suck, but you have to do them. I found a really excellent PowerPoint on Tumblr that gives some tips on how to write these paragraphs. (Actually, here's the link to the whole thing because it has good tips for the whole essay.) 

That "Hot Pockets" thing has gotten me through so many conclusions. Again, remember that this is not meant to be the best essay ever. This is not getting published in an academic journal. This isn't meant to make your teacher cry tears of amazement. You don't need to write a spectacular conclusion. Just repeat the ideas in a new way.
The introduction will also be easier because you know what you've written. Think about what you've written and imagine how you would introduce someone to it. All "hey guys, you know that book Frankenstein? Know how it talks about a monster and stuff? Well I think a, b, and c about that. Thesis statement!" But in an academic way.

PART EIGHT: "Edit" it

Again, sorry to any teachers that read this, but nobody's editing their papers. To be honest I'm just proud of myself whenever I finish writing the thing; I'm not going to put in all the effort to properly go over it and edit it well.
But, it doesn't hurt to comb it over before printing it or emailing it or whatever. Make sure that in your probably-exhausted-by-now state, you didn't write something that makes no sense or make any typos or anything. If this essay is like 30% of your grade or something, actually edit it by reading the whole thing and every time you think something sounds weird, reword it.

PART NINE: Send it out into the world

Pray to the gods of printing and then print it, or email it to your teacher at 11:59 pm of the day it's due.
PART TEN: Just... go crazy

You didn't know this kind of world existed. A world where your essay is over. It's so... beautiful. You probably have some other homework to do but screw that, you can probably do it tomorrow. THE ESSAY IS DONE. THE MOUNTAIN IS CLIMBED.
Open the Internet. You can do it now! Walk out your door into the Swiss Alps and sing "the hills are alive! with the sound of freedom!" Or, more realistically, collapse into bed and sleep until morning.

Yeah, so I have no idea if any of these tips will help any of you at all, but they were fun to write. Certainly more fun than actually writing my essay. Now I have to actually get to that essay, so see you Saturday.



  1. Now I know why I would never be a writer...

  2. Yeah, isn't it too bad that writing about writing an essay isn't actually writing the essay? have to write an essay about essay writing.
    You'd think this was easier for kids in the ancient times of pre-internet, but no, I recognize every single step.
    Ah, the good old days, that are finally behind me. Forever.